Progress Update 2

Hello again!  Last week I fell down the stairs and badly bruised my forearm (I thought it was broken for awhile); therefore, there was no blog post.

This week it is time to write another progress update.  A lot has happened since the last time I wrote one of these.  First and foremost, I have set a shoot-date for the release of my first book and have begun taking steps in that direction.  I have come up with a working publishing-plan and am in the process of finding a professional editor.  I will discuss this more as I hammer out the details in the coming months.

Secondly, I have joined the Critters Workshop critique group (www.critters.org).  It is an online workshop in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, and I have found it to be a great resource.  Basically, it’s a large community of writers who both give and receive support.  Critters has even devised a way for members to get their whole novel read and critiqued without posting the manuscript online.  Despite its name, the Critters Workshop is full of passionate writers who give thorough and helpful feedback.  😉

I would really recommend joining a critique group for your genre.  Even if you don’t have anything ready to submit yet, joining a group is a great way of investing in the writing world and potentially making some valuable connections.  And if you want to avoid paying for a professional structural edit, this is definitely a must.

That’s all I have for now.  I promise I’ll go into elaborate detail about my publishing-plan when the time is right.

Be sure to tell me about your experience with critique groups in the comments below.  I’d love to hear.

And last but not least, have a great Olympic Opening Ceremony Day!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

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Brainstorming a Book

Brainstorming a Book

In this post, I’m going to discuss the process I go through before ever putting a pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard).  Part of this pre-writing process I go through includes determining Story Concept and Premise.  So if you would like the complete picture of my process, be sure to check out my posts on both of those topics.  You can find them at the links below.

Story Concept: https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/story-concept-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/

Story Premise: https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/story-premise-what-is-it-and-why-does-it-demand-its-own-writing-classification/

I thought my Pre-Story Structure series was going to end with Story Premise, but I think this post will make a nice addition.  I was planning to write about story beginnings this week, but it just didn’t feel right without laying out my pre-writing process in a little more detail.

So, with that said, let’s get into it.  The first thing I do is think up an idea for the plot that sparks my inspiration candle.  I’m not going to go into detail about how I come up with the ideas, usually they just come to me out of the blue.

Once I get the idea, however basic or general, I will spend time working out the details.  For instance, if I get the idea to write a book about a colony of people the size of ants, I’ll ask questions such as: Where do they live?  Why are they so small?  Do they like being so small?  Could the goal of the book be the people endeavoring to find a way back to their normal size?  And so on.

I strive to plan enough plot details to keep my book from blowing in every direction based on my mood, to keep it anchored to some form of structure.  What I don’t want, however, is to stifle my creative freedom while writing.  In order to achieve this balance, I use a checklist.  This keeps me from planning to much or planning too little.

So, before I begin writing my book, I decide my main character’s goal, conflict, stakes, climax, result, and resolution.  This is my checklist.  Now I believe it’s also a good idea to plan some details regarding the setting, other characters, and so forth, but this is the only checklist I hold myself to rigidly.  At least before I begin to write.

My character’s goal will drive the emotion of the entire book.  Every plot point must relate to that goal.  What does my character want?

The conflict will be the thing that stands between my character and their goal.  In some cases, this is an actual villain, but it could be a great number of things.

The stakes are what would happen if my character does not achieve their goal.  If the stakes are too weak, readers will wonder why my character doesn’t give up.  There must be a reason to keep fighting.

The climax is my character’s big choice.  All the conflict and all the tension has come to its head.  “If the character acts on conscience, despite the pressure of self-interest, he attains his goal.  If he doesn’t, his efforts fail.  It’s as simple as that.”  Quote from Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer.

The result is what happens immediately after the climax.  And I always stress that the result should be disaster.  If my character chooses to act on his conscience and sacrifice his self-interest, it should look very bleak for him immediately afterwards.  And then…

The resolution begins once the resulting disaster dissolves and my character attains his goal.  Everything past this point in the story is resolution.  No new tension should be introduced, only tension resulting from the climax should be resolved.

Once I am able to detail those six things, I feel ready to begin my book.  This is my own personal checklist, derived from several books and articles I’ve read, plus experience from my own books, and it has worked very well for me.  The only remaining steps I take are to define my Story Concept and Premise.  Then, I’m off!

I hope you found this interesting and helpful.  I’d love to hear about your own pre-writing process in the comments.

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

Out of Town

Hi guys!

I’m out of town again from this week through next week.   I thought I might have some time to write a post, but it’s not turning out that way.  So, in two weeks I plan to dive into deep story structure.  Hope to see you then!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

Progress Update 1

This week it’s time to write another Progress Update.  In the last one I did, my Progress Report, I discussed daily word count goals and their importance.  In this Progress Update, I am going to add a correction to that discussion.

Since I’ve been writing my third book, I’ve realized how difficult it is to switch writing genres when you’ve spent years writing in a single one.  And how writing projects always vary in intensity and difficulty.

So, based on that, here’s my correction.  Well, not a correction exactly, more like an update based on what I’ve learned since.

Word count goals change based on the project.  This may sound obvious, so let me explain.

Last time, when I discussed what I’d learned about daily word counts, my writing was going smoothly.  I had found what worked for me.  At least… for the project I was working on.  I thought that each person had a hotspot between inspiration and burnout.  That if there was a day where I struggled more than others, I should push through and make the word count anyway.

And that was true.  To an extent.

What I’ve learned from writing this third book is that every project has a different level of inspiration.  Some projects excite me more than others.

This taught me that hotspot word counts don’t come from the person only, they are the result of the person and the project together.

With my third book, I feel lucky to get 500 words out in a day.  And that’s ok.  It’s more difficult, it takes me more time, effort, and careful planning.  But at the beginning, I was frustrated with myself for struggling so hard to meet my hotspot count of 2k.  Figuring out why that was happening and learning to accept it was the biggest thing I dealt with this month.

I wasn’t quite sure if I would talk about this for the Progress Update.  Somewhere deep inside me, I think I still view it as a shortcoming of mine.  But in a larger sense, that’s what these Progress Updates are for.  To document my thoughts, my frustrations, and the things I learn along the way.  To share my writing process as it happens.

So this is one of the things I have learned.  Hotspot word counts can change.  Hotspot word counts should change, based on the project.

Hopefully this is encouraging to any of you who are struggling with something similar, maybe feeling discouraged at a sudden difficulty.  It is ok for your daily word count goal to fall.

But don’t let this become an excuse to write less than you know you can.  You must still be writing steadily, working to push through the obstacle or the project as a whole.

Be sure to discuss your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

Top 10 Books I Recommend

Top 10 Books I Recommend

The title of this post is really self-explanatory.  I’ve picked 10 books/series that I think are not only interesting to read, but are good examples of story structure, and organized them into a list for you.  I will include a very brief description for most of the books, tell you why I chose them, and paste the link off Amazon.  The number doesn’t really matter; these books are roughly on the same level to me.  Let’s start!

#1. The Hobbit

This is just a great book (only one book, unlike the movies) of adventure, peril, and charming beauty.  I would highly recommend it for all ages.  It is a good example of a journey book (a book describing a physical journey), with good structure and unforgettable characters.  For me, this, and The Lord of the Rings, are my classic favorites.

https://www.amazon.com/Hobbit-J-R-Tolkien/dp/054792822X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734345&sr=8-2&keywords=hobbit

#2. The Hunger Games Series

This is just such an obvious choice when I’m faced with coming up with a list of representative books for good structure.  Absolutely brilliant series.  One of the best endings I’ve ever read, if not the best.  Highly recommend.  Great example of trilogy structure.

https://www.amazon.com/Hunger-Games-Trilogy-3-Book/dp/B00PMGUR7S/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734389&sr=8-4&keywords=hunger+games+trilogy

#3. Quest for Celestia

This is another great book, though not so widely read.  Quest for Celestia is also a journey book, a re-imagining of Pilgrim’s Progress.  Don’t be put-off by that, though; it is full of new twists and unexpected encounters that left me hanging on the edge of my seat.  Great structure.

https://www.amazon.com/Quest-Celestia-Reimagining-Pilgrims-Progress/dp/0899578861/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734418&sr=8-1&keywords=quest+for+celestia

#4. Pride and Prejudice

If you’re looking for a good example of romance fiction structure, this book is it.  It’s the story of five sisters in 19th century England, and it’s full of warmth, love, and surprise.  This book really surprised me by being absolutely great.

https://www.amazon.com/Pride-Prejudice-Jane-Austen-ebook/dp/B008476HBM/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734442&sr=8-3&keywords=pride+and+prejudice

#5. Watership Down

This is one of my all time favorite books.  It’s a story about a group of rabbits, which sounds lame, but it really isn’t.  Upon first read, the plot seems divided into two parts with two separate goals, but actually there’s a great general goal of survival, and so I hold this book up as a truly great example of story structure and intrigue.

https://www.amazon.com/Watership-Down-Novel-Richard-Adams/dp/0743277708/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734496&sr=8-1&keywords=watership+down

#6. A Wrinkle in Time

To me, this is a very good example of what sci-fi should be.  A very clever book, with warmth, beauty, and adventure.  It’s the story of Meg Murry and how she rescues her father from off another planet.  I remember thinking that the climax was just slightly cheesy, but this is still well worth the read and a great example of story structure.

https://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Time-Quintet/dp/0312367546/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734518&sr=8-1&keywords=a+wrinkle+in+time

#7. Flowers for Algernon

This is actually a short story (haven’t read the novel, so I can’t recommend it), but this list simply would not be complete without it.  It’s so heartbreakingly innocent and beautiful.  To give away it’s genre would be a spoiler, but this is a great example of a specific kind of story structure.  If you read it, you’ll understand.  I’ll say no more about it; here’s the link if you’d like to read it online.  Yes, it’s free!

http://www.sdfo.org/gj/stories/flowersforalgernon.pdf

#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles

In case you don’t know, this is a Sherlock Holmes novel.  In my opinion, one of the best Sherlock Holmes novels.  Great example of a mystery story structure.  In fact, I’d recommend every single Sherlock Holmes piece ever written, both the novels and short stories.  Brilliant work.

https://www.amazon.com/Hound-Baskervilles-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486282147/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734608&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hound+of+baskervilles

#9. The Maze Runner Series

Yet another example of stellar YA trilogy structure.  Very interesting read as well, full of action, danger, and mystery.  Well worth reading.  Here’s the link to the first book, but I recommend the series as a whole.

https://www.amazon.com/Maze-Runner/dp/0385388896/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734648&sr=8-1&keywords=maze+runner+series

#10. To Kill a Mockingbird

A very, very good classic.  One of those books you’re forced to read in school, but end up liking a lot anyway.  Great coming-of-age type structure.  There isn’t so much a character goal as there is a general book goal, and the end can seem a little detached if you don’t read it carefully.  But under structural scrutiny, I think it holds up very well.

https://www.amazon.com/Kill-Mockingbird-Harper-Lee/dp/0446310786/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734716&sr=8-1&keywords=to+kill+a+mockingbird

I hope you agree with the books I’ve held up as structural examples, and that you go beg, borrow, or steal any of them you haven’t read.  Or, just buy them.  🙂

After the Progress Update next week, I plan to dive into General Story Structure, where I’ll discuss the elements that I judged these books by structurally.  I’m very excited to do that, and hopefully you (and I!) will learn lots along the way.

Happy Writing and remember to comment!

-Courtney

Story Premise—What is it and Why Does it Demand its Own Writing Classification?

This post is intended to be the sequel to Story Concept—What is it and Why is it Important?  If you haven’t read that yet, you can find it at https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/story-concept-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/.

This will be the conclusion of my tiny series (Two posts) on what I like to call “pre-story structure.”  I call it that simply because it is such a pain to fix after your story is written, or even while your story is in the works.  This is the stuff that should come first.

So what is story premise?  According to Larry Brooks, whose book, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant, I will continue to use in this post, story premise is, “The vision for the story, without which you end up in chaos, hosting a wrestling match between your ideas and inspiration.”

So it’s important.  But what is it?

If you’ve read my post on Story Concept, you’ll know that concept is the platform from which your story is built.  Think of premise as the structural beams on top of the platform from which your story is then constructed.  It includes main characters, general story arc, and dramatic tension.  It’s your story in “preview format,” as Brooks says.  It’s what’s written on the back cover.  So yes, it’s very similar to concept in that your story is built directly off of it.  This leads me into my second question.

Why does premise demand its own writing classification?

The reason that premise demands its own writing classification is because it is so important for your story to be compelling, both in simple format and in more detailed format.  Defining your concept is how you discover whether your story idea has worth by itself on its most simple level—basically, whether your story is worth telling.  Once you’ve done that, defining your premise is how you decide whether your story is compelling—or intriguing—enough to snag a reader who reads the summary on the back of the book.

It is important that these two things are separate.  Because without a good concept, your premise will sag, and lumping the two together may create an average synopsis, stuffed with interesting trivia that make it seem better than it is.

The only way to really effectively evaluate your story idea is to strip it down to its bones, categorize it into concept and premise.  That’s the closest you can get to assurance of a good story as a writer.  Because if your concept and premise are compelling to you, they will be to someone else too.

So take some time, and write out your story premise!  In order to craft a premise, simply take your concept and add your main character, their goal, the conflict, and the stakes.  Next week I plan to begin my series on general story structure, and in that series, I will discuss good characters and conflict, including a whole bunch of other things such as story beginning, climax, result, and resolution.  All the elements of great writing, fiction in particular.

For now, I hope this was helpful.  For more information on concept and premise, check out Story Fix, by Larry Brooks, at http://www.amazon.com/Story-Fix-Transform-Broken-Brilliant/dp/1599639114.  Where I’ve written two 600-word summaries, he’s written chapters on the subject.

As always, be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Happy Writing and Happy Father’s Day for all you dads out there!

-Courtney

An Unfortunate Truth About Life

I am very sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted.  I’ve been in Europe these last few weeks and intended to still write posts while I was there, but it didn’t work out.  I had almost no spare time.  I’m very sorry for that.

I had a whirlwind trip across Europe, “hotel-hopping” as I like to call it, from London (England), to Krakow (Poland), Murren (Switzerland), Lucerne (Switzerland), Salzburg (Austria), Vienna (Austria), back to London, Amsterdam (Netherlands), and Reykjavik (Iceland).  I also had a brief layover in Berlin, Germany.  It was an amazing trip.  I took lots of pictures, went paragliding in Switzerland, climbed the tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, rode on the steepest railway in Europe (48% incline!), visited a few Doctor Who shooting locations, and just had a great, although exhausting, time.  But this all leads me into one of the unfortunate truths about life.

Life is distracting.

Had I stayed home I could’ve blogged, worked on my book, and spent time making money instead of spending it.  But I still went.

So where should you and I, as writers, draw the line between life’s distractions and our work?  When does our lonely craft justify some time off?

Obviously, there’s no cut and dried, one size fits all answer.  But it reminds me of a quote by Ernest Hemingway, “In order to write about life, first you must live it.”  Now this quote is only good to the extent that it doesn’t become an excuse.  It’d be easy to sit back and live life and never pick up a pen or place your hands on a computer keyboard.

But this quote does stop the opposite train of thinking.  Militaristic writing, holed up in your closet, forcing out an extreme word count, that doesn’t work either.  You need time like that, certainly, but you also need life experience and interaction with people, the basis for your characters.  So I urge you to stay healthy as a writer.  Go to that reunion, hotel-hop across Europe, experience all the joys, sorrows, and situations that life can throw at you.  And then, when it’s time to write, hole yourself up and don’t let the distractions distract.  Stay disciplined.

So I encourage you to find that balance for yourself.  Spend time writing, and then go out and find life inspiration, and then write some more.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Writing!

-Courtney