February 28, 2011

Running Helps Me Write

I run for fun. (Queue the Back to the Future quotes if you like.) Some people think it's crazy, and six years ago I would have agreed with them. But once I started running regularly, I started seeing the benefits:
clear mind, energy, alertness, general strength and stamina (kinda sounds like Specials by Scott Westerfeld)
and running helps to clear out all the funk and cobwebs that gather when I'm trying to write.

During my run, my mind is especially clear. I can focus on anything. Today I wanted to think about the story I'm working on. I played through the last chapter as my feet kept a steady rhythm below. And the characters came alive. It was magic, I tell you. Pure magic.

And as I was crafting characters and situations in my head, I passed by a house with the door wide open. This house had its front door open the last time I ran past it. (It wasn't an accident because I saw someone walking in the driveway.) As I was thinking about why someone would leave their door open, a smell caught me off guard. I think it was coming from inside the house. I was breathing hard, so I inhaled a lot of the scent and my first thought was: clean. Like the dentist's. It was the perfect scent to put into my scene and I was trying to come up with the right words to describe it and it hit me: licorice. Licorice and mint. And maybe fluoride or something.

So that's why I run, folks. Clear head during the run lets me brainstorm, clear head after the run lets me focus when it's time to actually write, and scenery feeds me material. Like I said: Magic.

February 25, 2011

Wow, it's been a while. I've been busy elsewhere, trying to get out of a sticky situation that's more... long term. But more on that later. At the moment, I'm stuck in The Gingerbread Man. Fortunately, I think this is a quick one, but I'm a little rusty on this particular tale.

I'm standing outside a little cottage where a gingerbread man just burst out the door screaming, "I'm the gingerbread man!" So it was pretty easy to pinpoint the title of this story.

A little old woman hobbles out the front door after the little cookie. She's holding a rolling pin. She doesn't look happy. I take a step back, but then I realize she's really slow. So I take off after the little dude too, trying to pass the old woman as fast as I possible can.

As soon as I'm clear of that rolling pin, I look over my shoulder. The old woman seems a little put-out that I caught up so quickly, but that's nothing compared to her husband. He's just now clearing the threshold of the front door with his cane. Poor guy.

I'm gaining on the cookie, enough that I hear him yell at a cow in the field, "Run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me. I'm the gingerbread man!"

I need to head him off. Think, Ivy. How does this story end?

Then I see a fox dart across my path. It sparks a memory--the river! That's where he gets caught, I think. I head straight for the river, bypassing a farm and a school. That should save me enough time to catch up.

The gingerbread man taunts some more animal and rounds the school play yard. He's getting closer. The speedy little pastry looks over his shoulder and starts to yell at the kids on the playground when SPLAT! he runs right into my leg.

I bend over and peel him off my pajama pants and hold him as tight as I can without crushing him. He's still warm from the oven. It takes me a minute to catch my breath before I can say anything. Just as the gingerbread man's ... uh... mother? catches up, I manage to say, "Run, run, as fast as you can, buddy. I just saved you from getting eaten!"

I hand him back to the little old woman. "I think he needs more sugar. And maybe some molasses."

February 22, 2011

Repost: Building Conflict

Lately I've had conflict on the brain. How do you get more conflict into your story? How do I milk this conflict for all it's worth? Where can I get ideas for a new conflict to plague my characters?
So, as always, I did a little research and found some helpful articles and tools for building conflict and making sure it's rich, interesting conflict.

What is Conflict? -- A great article on writing deep, meaningful conflict and how your characters show it. She gives a great example to illustrate.

The Conflict Test -- A nice little test to see if your story has enough conflict.

External Conflict Worksheet -- "This is an exercise to help you connect your external conflict with your internal conflict."

Eight Questions for Writers -- Questions to ask yourself when you lack conflict depth.

Prop Up Your Sagging Plot Middles -- How to use conflict to keep those middle scenes strong.

February 18, 2011

Conflict Makes the World Go Round

A good story has conflict. That's Fiction 101. So how do you come up with juicy conflict on every single page?

That can be a difficult concept to grasp: conflict on every page. A conflict doesn't necessarily mean a fight. It can be a moral dilema or a really hard decision for one of your characters. The important thing is that (whatever the conflict is) it drives your character to act.

You want a problem or decision that makes your character DO something. Ideally, you want that action to cause more conflict. (That's the good stuff, in my opinion.)

Jason Black from Show Some Character says you can create twisty, mind-boggling, drool-inducing plots full of conflict in 3 steps to a breakout story. (Hint: the key is giving your character a good goal.)

Jane Friedman's blog, There Are No Rules, has a great resource, too. Bring the conflict closer to home. (By the way, if you haven't read Jim Adam's series on The Strengths of the Harry Potter Series, it's worth some of your time as a writer.)

Janice Hardy from The Other Side of the Story helps writers dig into their characters' pasts for good conflict. Basically, going back in your story to find the good stuff you may have unintentionally left behind. Let the Past Haunt You.

Finally, there's a neat little ebook called How To Write Page-Turning Scenes. It gives you the 5 types of conflict that keeps readers hooked and a great trick that lets you show something go wrong, and your reader knows it's gone wrong, and makes them NEED to keep reading to find out why. While it's not a free resource, it's one of the best I've found.

February 14, 2011

Contest: Writing Clinic Giveaway!

Sometimes I talk about writing resources I've come to love. Holly Lisle has created some fantastic online courses that have helped me out tremendously. She also has some writing clinics (in pdf form) that are much more specific.

So I've decided to give away some free writing clinics! There will be three winners, each winner will get one writing clinic of their choice from the options below (you can click on the pictures to get a description):

Okay... the contest rules...

To win one of Holly's Writing Clinics, you have to be a follower of this blog. You automatically get 5 entries. To enter, fill out the form below. (Comments don't count as entries.) You have to fill in the form to be counted.

You get extra entries for...

Tweeting about the contest (+2)

Posting about the contest on Facebook (+2)

Blogging about the contest (+3)

Putting this contest on blog roll/side bar of your blog (+5)

For being referred (+2)

Each person who says you referred them (+2)

Remember, if you use twitter or facebook or a blog, please include the URL in the space provided. Otherwise, I can't verify and it won't be counted.

February 11, 2011

RePost: Ending Your Novel

How do you end your book? You want it to be perfect, but the ending just isn't coming to you.

I'll start with what I do because I never start a novel knowing how it's going to end. (What's the fun in that?)
I usually figure out how it's going to end somewhere past the halfway point. When I want to figure out my ending, I gather information:

  • My characters' values and personalities
  • How my characters interact with each other
  • My characters' goals

Then I need to think about my story. I think about what has changed in the story. My characters have changed, their goals may have changed, the setting may have changed, and the rules of the world may have changed. (Like in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Umbridge changed the rules at Hogwarts, making Dumbledore's Army a pretty scary thing to the people in charge.)

The story (the beginning and the middle) has to matter. So what happened earlier in your book has to guide you to your ending. Otherwise, what's the point in telling the story?

Finally, taking all of this into consideration, I come up with every logical ending I can come up with, including:
  • Good guys win, hands down
  • Good guys win, but with great sacrifice (my personal favorite)
  • The good guys win, but not what they were hoping for
  • The bad guys win, but it's not as much of a victory as they'd hoped
  • The bad guys win, but suffer great losses
  • The bad guys win, hands down
  • **And I always like to throw in: "The planet blows up, killing everyone." It makes me feel better knowing that's an option, even though I haven't used it. Yet.

Then I choose my favorite ending. The one that makes me smile, that ties up all lose ends, that is the most satisfying. If you don't have that happy, satisfied feeling about any of your endings, then I'd suggest you go back and look at your manuscript. Try to find all those little details that might push the story in one direction or another. It might be something you never intended to include.

I'm afraid that's the best advice I can offer from my experience, so I'll leave you with some links. Maybe someone else has a method that works better for you.

Story Logic: A basic how-to for story logic

Hitting the Writing Wall (and how to break through it)

The Rockpile Theory of Plotting (short, but interesting)

February 7, 2011

More Endings

My last post covered a few different types of endings, especially those juicy twist endings. But you can't just throw a twisty device in there because you like twists. It needs to fit with the rest of your story. Kim Davis had a workshop last year with two students who had this problem. You can read about it in her post: Troubles With Twist Endings.

So how do you know when to make your ending a twist? How do you find the end to your novel? I've taken some classes that discuss this at length. One good article you can find online: How to Write the End of a Novel by C. Patrick Schulze. He presents the basic types of endings as well as some tips for how to write the end of a novel. One of my favorites:
Ensure your ending delivers as much emotion as did the beginning and middle.
And something I'm trying to do in my work in progress:
Draw it naturally from your characters’ personalities.
Also in this article? The four unacceptable endings. I'm sure none of you have ever used one of these.

February 4, 2011

How Do You Like Your Endings: Loose? Twisty? Over Easy?

I'm about 2/3 of the way through my first draft, but I have no idea how my book is going to end at this point. I've been thinking a lot about plot twists, cause and effect, and how characters influence the outcome of a story. It's been a fun journey.

Anyway, I thought I'd do some digging on how to end a story, since all good stories must come to an end at some point. Just for fun, I looked up Twist Ending on Wikipedia. There's a list of goodies you can use in you writing including: flashback, unreliable narrator, Anagnorisis or discovery about a character (think Darth Vader when you discover he's Luke's father), irony, red herring, and cliff hanger.

How do you feel about ambiguous endings or a book where not all the loose ends are tied up? Personally, I think all the ends should be tied in pretty little knots one way or another. Either that, or I'd better be able to tell that the author deliberately left it untied and had a good reason to do so.

I know this could stir up some controversy, but Lost is an example of leaving loose ends that were not intentional. I could go on for days about how frustrating that show turned out to be, but the point is, the writers built up some mystery and left it unsolved. Think what you will about the last episode, but you have to admit: Walt's powers were never resolved and they should have been. The numbers had some supernatural power that was never explained. Claire's baby had some doomsday-bringing powers that could only be tamed if Claire raised him, then he was raised by Kate and nothing happened. Like I said, I could go on for days. But I won't. The point is: sometimes you can leave ends open. Just make sure you do it with purpose.

Jennifer R. Hubbard posted about Tying Up Loose Ends and I completely agree with her. She says:
As a reader, I look for a resolution, a sense of completeness, and yet also a sense of continuity. 
Holly Lisle talks about a story's "gravity". Basically, that all the elements of the story pull the characters to a surprising, yet logical point. Whether it's a "happy" ending or a "tragic" ending is up to the author. Usually. :) (Sometimes the gravity pulls too hard in one direction and the author has little choice. It has happened before.)
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