Friday, March 29, 2019

Free Collection of Useful Writing tools and Update on Patreon

I've been on Patreon for three full months now, and I'm seriously grateful to the people who've chosen to join me. I'd been kicking around the idea for awhile, getting some raised eyebrows, wondering if it wasn't just some kind of weird hubris. However, I'm not lying when I say I'm drowning in information. I used to write powerpoints like people would jot down notes, and I have years of workshops to sort through.

Sometimes I surprise myself (I wrote that??), sometimes I find a groaner (whoa. I wrote that) and sometimes I find things where I was way off because as Chatman (still my hero after all these years) said, "craft is synthesis." Okay, he really didn't say that. I'm actually paraphrasing because I think he was talking about rhetoric. But in my mind, it just means that learning craft is a journey, and we're always adding to our body of knowledge, evaluating and discarding what doesn't work, and tweaking what does.

I know a little more than I did way back in the beginning, simply because I've had the opportunity to work on literally hundreds of manuscripts. So I've had the pleasure of turning theory into practice multiple times. It made me discard what doesn't work, and refine what does. Back in the day, you'd never hear me talking about the literal beginning and end of the story in the way I do today, or being so laid back about telling (showing works, but honestly--so does telling. It all depends).

I did a series recently. The posts weren't a series when I wrote them, they were actually the powerpoints from three different workshops. But if you're interested in how to tighten and deepen your character-driven story, you're welcome to check out these links (and while you're at it, the rest of the public posts I did for my page).

1. A Quick, No-Nonsense Guide to Action and Emotional Through-lines
2. How to Use Time and Action Through-lines for the Strongest Impact
3. How to Work with Theme on Paper 

They're easier to understand in order, and they have lots of pictures, something I've grown to like over the years. Not saying a thousand words aren't better than one picture, but I don't have as much time as I used to have, and this works for me.

Takeaways from Patreon:
  • I really like the email question thing. That works for me. I enjoy questions and it keeps me sharp.
  • People need help with outlines, and I've discovered I like working with them. It's a big picture snapshot and fixes everything from conflict and motivation, to pace and plot problems. Maybe I'm growing into a plotter (nah. Just joking.)
  • Patreon is really not the most intuitive place. It seems simple on the patron side, but the back end is like using a Mac when you've always had Windows XP. It works, but it's awkward and sometimes I'm scratching my head going...uh, where? Probably why I do the bulk of my work via email. Just sayin' but I think gmail is going to be around for the next few decades and I'm glad I got my name while it was in beta.
  • The highest tier I have is a come and go place, where people drop in, get work done, drop out. Not a surprise really since I set it up that way. The other tiers (#2 questions/ #3 chapters) seem to have the most stability.
  • Never really thought about the whole payment thing. I just figured if I was providing services it was better to charge upfront. Turns out if people move upwards to a higher tier, they get charged twice since I charge upfront (totally not cool). The workaround is to sign up, cancel. You still get the month of benefits, and sign up at a higher tier the next month for different benefits. I'm sure there are random variations, but that's what I have so far. Mayra was kind enough to figure that out for me, and I'm thrilled there's a workaround.
You're welcome to check out my tiers too (although you don't have to. It's just in case you might be thinking about some "tech" support for a later project).

On the big plus side, my wild indigo is growing (and if that's not a random shift, I don't know what is)!! I planted it last winter and it's all coming up. I'm so thrilled. I've been trying to grow wildflowers and not doing all that well. I figured if I could just get something growing I could move it around once it's established. Maybe use it to support my irises or something. Wish me luck, because this is the year of the garden. And maybe cleaning up some of my once planned English garden (and current "wild" garden).

Friday, October 19, 2018

Do You Really Need Developmental Edits?

Short answer>> no.

Long answer--I spend a lot of time researching stuff, mostly things like the structure of crinolines, and when tomatoes were brought back to Europe, but in the course of my wandering I've been noticing the way authors are dividing into camps. One camp is firmly on the side of "I don't need no stinkin' edits" and the other is on the side of "...I love my editor."

There are pros and cons to each side, but over the course of many years I have some observances I just want to throw out there.

1. A good story sells. It doesn't matter how big the plot holes are or if the character bounces around like a sweet, sexy, smart and incredibly stupid basketball, it will still sell, and sell plenty.

2. It is a sad but true fact that if you want to sell a lot of books you need to meet your readers expectations. You can do that without me, but you can't do it if you want to win the hearts and minds of "sweet" romance readers and hit them over the head with rampant sexy times then kill the hero.

3. It totally, absolutely, never ceases to amaze the living bejeebers out of me how set some writers are on their characters and universe being a certain way. I once read this post on covers, and in it some people were talking about how to get their artists to change things to reflect their book, and some guy comes along and says, "I don't care. A good cover is a good cover. If the hero has red hair, I simply add red hair to my hero and it's a done deal."

If your writing is set in stone, you honestly don't need an editor. I am available for a small fee to tell you how fabulous you are in words you'll enjoy reading over and over again. Just email me with the subject line "Jodi, tell me you love me!" and I'll do just that on receipt of twenty-five dollars cash money and a synopsis. I might even add a few hearts and a heartfelt "thank you for letting me read your book."

4. Many stories have bad early reviews because the writers are waiting for someone to tell them what they did wrong. It doesn't seem to bother them because it gets buried by later, better reviews, and if you can deal with it, then it seems like a good way to crowdsource your troubleshooting.

5. I get a lot of good, solid stories that could easily sell without edits. I like to think they're better after I work on them, but I also think the people who send them to me are the kind of people who'd polish the underside of their dining table, and that's a good thing, because the world needs more beeswax-on-wood action. It just smells good.

Friday, April 27, 2018

You know how when you choose a path?

So anyway, there I was (I always start out with this in real life, not sure why), way back when--thinking, man all this retraining stuff just isn't working out, I wonder what I can do to make money and support us? And I sat down, staring at the wall. This was way back when, back in the early days of ereaders and stuff. I'd just gotten a job with a small press, but the money wasn't rolling in. I knew I'd have to go back to work (because one of those huge, ultra-changing life events had happened), but I wanted a potential way out that wouldn't suck the soul out of me.

Then Sharon came along. She was looking for someone to present an online RWA workshop (that turned out to be the first workshop I ever did (Running in the Dark for the Black Diamond chapter), and she said--everybody talked to you! She was amazed. Until that point, I didn't know most people lurk. I mean, I talked like crazy (and still do), and when she moved on to help form savvy, I went with her. Between workshops and edits, life has gotten a lot better. I offered my opinion for years before hanging out a shingle, and I still do--I'd probably do it for free if I didn't have a mortgage (a house paid for with edit money! In the Seattle area! The mind boggles) and limited time.

Recently (okay, a couple of years ago) I was fortunate enough to meet Dianna Love, and she's just as nice as she seemed when I first saw her at RWA '09 presenting a workshop with Mary Buckham. She's been fabulous, letting me work with her over at All Writer's.

We've been doing this blurb workshop that keeps selling out and I've been thinking of more quick 1 day workshops that will focus on little bits of workable craft. I dunno, I've been thinking there's got to be a way to distill dev edits into a day--maybe a check list with actionable bits? But anyway. It's been good. And the more work I do, the better life gets. It's crowded, and busy, and sometimes it's freaking insane. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm doing what I like, working with stories, talking to people who like stories, living the dream. And I suspect--if my paths diverged in a yellow wood, just like Frost said, it'd have all circled back.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Excerpt from a workshop #4 (emotional through-lines)

Also remember—and this is one of the most important takeaways from this workshop. Say what you mean, unless you are showing emotions the character doesn’t know they have, or are controlling for some reason or another.

Looking at this paragraph, you used the word and phrase “furious” and “really angry”. From a glance at the rest of the chapter, Jane is “really angry”, she isn’t furious. Furious implies a totally different set of actions and reactions. "Really angry" implies the stuff you already have in place. It’s like a scale. Unless the progression of emotion is still continuing (you know, like she’s moving from angry to furious), then just name it and move on, so you can work on other stuff. The emotional through-line, where she is really angry, will keep going until you do something to derail it. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Story Lines In Plain English

So there I was (and as my daughter says, I start all stories with this phrase), wondering how to explain why it was so important to connect the end of the story to the beginning. Which pretty much means I've dropped into the middle of "this" story without even pausing to explain where I came from. If you've talked to me over the last few years, you know I've been on a "the end and beginning need to sync" kick. Kicking it around, kicking it around, thinking about it.

It's not that the info isn't usable. I think it's more like it's not relate-able. I mean, everyone knows their story works. They write and it ends up where they wanted to go, more or less, and listening to me say a storyline is a force, and should be straight sort of blurs.

A storyline, or at least how I use it, is the story's narrative or all the stuff in it, the plot or sequence of events, the characters, the motivations, the setting, the...everything. I think of it as "stuff" or the story as an integrated unit. Storyline = all the stuff, moving toward the end where something happens. In a romance (because it's the easiest example), it's the happily ever after.

So, storyline = all the stuff moving toward the end of the story where the hero and heroine get together now and forever, or just for now.

Now, strip that down to the word "line", and change line into "plain". We are now on a plain, sort of like the Midwest or something. Chicago is on the plain. NY, Seattle, LA, Alaska. They're all on the plain. Along with people and cars, and houses and supermarkets. It's all a world, contained by a plain, where everyone walks around and does stuff (like in a book :) ).

Imagine we're going to Happily-Ever-After, which is in NY. However, we're still in Seattle, so we're going on a road-trip.  The heroine packs her car, and hits the road. It is 2,854 miles to NY, and somewhere on the road between Seattle and NY the hero is standing on the side of the road, leaning against his sexy black motorcycle, stripped down to a pair of jeans, muscles and tattoos. However, we're going to detour to Hawaii for a tan because we can't go to NY without looking bronzed and gorgeous for the hero.

However, one thing leads to another, the trip takes a long time, the hotel has fleas, and there are all these hot young lifeguards. Before you know it, Sea-tac Park and Fly is calling about your car because it's about to get towed. So, you get back on the plane, fly back to your car and start for NY.

Or, maybe you feel the call of the wild, and head to Alaska. Up the coast, bumping along the Alaska Highway, stopping here and there to look at elk or take in a glacier. You've got friends and your sister in the back seat, a couple of playlists, and long snug nights in cute cabins in the great outdoors. What hero? There's plenty of time to squeeze him in somewhere.

Now imagine Hawaii is the home of backstory. The heroine grew up there, loves the food, has relatives there, and can't let go. It might very well be that her memory hotel turns out to have fleas, but that's the point of a visit, to remember the fleas and have something to eat. A reader can't understand the story without seeing what shaped the heroine before it starts, right? And Alaska is full of friends, family, fun times, and sets up perfectly for a series.

However, Hawaii and Alaska are not on the way to NY, and unless the heroine is on the way to NY, she isn't going to meet the hero and start their journey together. This doesn't mean she can't stop in at a Hawaiian deli and get some takeout, or cruise through a park with the hero, another couple, and a cute puppy. While a storyline is a line, it doesn't mean stuff can't happen. It just means stuff needs to be on a straight line. It needs to be integrated. It needs to be takeout, or a fun day with the hero (and others) at a park. Why does it need to be Denali? Denali is in Alaska. Why not Cuyahoga Valley? Cuyahoga Valley is on the way to NY.

Lines are not just a line. They are a plain. A plain contains all kinds of things, including a road, and sometimes that road includes (minor) detours which quickly get you back on track again. Which leads back to the "end and beginning need to sync."

If you are road-tripping from Seattle to New York, and find yourself starting in Hawaii or Alaska, maybe the story needs to start earlier, or it's not really about the heroine, but someone else.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Psychoanalytic theory--another name for character-driven writing?

So I was reading wikipedia the other day, looking for something, and stumbled on this>

Psychoanalytic theorists believe that human behavior is deterministic. It is governed by irrational forces, and the unconscious, as well instinctual and biological drives. Due to this deterministic nature, psychoanalytic theorists do not believe in free will.

It's from the wikipedia entry on "psychoanalytic theory," which strangely enough I've never read. Freud has a bad reputation these days, but this one bit "human behavior is deterministic" is a gem and the entire theory behind character arc.

Characters react according to their backstory, which makes them deterministic, which makes stories causal, which--yeah, well anyway. I like it and wrote it down on a sticky. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Prologue Structure Part 3

Welcome back! Let’s get back to talking about prologues!

How do I find the right thing(s) to show in my prologue?

Define your story.

I know I put that in all italics, but that’s because it’s super important. Are you plot-driven or character-driven? We talked about that during the first lesson and this is where that knowledge comes into play.

The best way to know "how" to create an effect is to know "what" effect you're going for, because the shape of a story as you create it (the people, story events and setting) remains constant, but depending on where you put the emphasis and how consistent you are with your knowledge of where you're going, the contents can be anything from experimental lit to a Harlequin.

A plot-driven story focuses on story events, and a character-driven story focuses on people. In other words, characters react to story events in a story where the plot takes precedence, and story events develop out of how a character reacts or interacts in a character-driven story.

If I opened Starr’s prologue with a demon in a truck of illegals—all of whom were really hot women, and ended with a shot of the doors opening, and a makeshift brothel with a lot of blood and dead bodies, or simply a detached hand falling out of the door, it would be the inciting incident for a story about dead prostitutes, demons/fallen angels and human trafficking. If I changed the focus in my prologue and opened with a shot of Starr cutting his wings off and walking out of Hell, it would be the inciting incident for a character-driven story about Starr, and the prostitutes would be my “vehicle” to show his transformational arc.

It’s all part of what makes up your voice. Where and how you start your story—what it’s about and where the focus is, needs to do one of two things—show the inciting incident (or why this particular story is about to happen (think Da Vinci Code/plot-based)), or a change which then leads to this particular story happening (Jane doesn’t believe anyone except her loves Suzy/character-arc based).
If you’re familiar with my character, Mercedes, then you know the inciting incident for Mercedes is the fire where she can’t bring herself to go through the fire into the Play Place to rescue her little sisters from the pedophile—there’s too much backstory giving her a fear of fire that goes way beyond “I don’t like fire” to “I’m terrified and can’t move.”

Pertinent backstory/the start of a transformational arc (or core events) depends on how much motivation you need. Jane (the heroine from post 1) doesn’t need more motivation to protect Suzy’s house than her years of friendship with the older woman, because she doesn’t need conflicting motivation to “not” save the house. Jane is in a character-driven story, which means the story events develop from how Jane reacts to events, and she reacts to events by thinking nobody except her cares for Suzy. Her prologue, showing whatever event I pick from her years of friendship (the emotional punch of Suzy’s death, the emotional punch of hiding in the library (see the pattern?) although in this case, I think the death would work better) sets the stage for her arc. Which means somewhere along the line, Jane needs to meet a guy who she thinks didn’t love Suzy, and her transformation (since she’s in a romance) is to realize he did love Suzy, so Jane can put down her anger and find her happily ever after.

In Jane’s case, her story is a solid whole, from prologue to end.

Mercedes also has a strong arc, and there is no doubt she really loves her sisters—she is a protective, loving older sister with a capital “P.” However, like John McClain in Die Hard, she’s up against a strong plot. I need to stop her from running into that Play Place so the story can start. I need to show her conflict.

I know her primary motivation is to protect her sisters because she loves them. Protective love is not a hard emotion to get across. However, the depth of her fear is difficult to convey.

That means if I don’t want to weave it into the story, I need to show it. A little thought tells me that nothing I can show my reader will be as strong as her imagination, which puts the beginning framework around what, why and how.

In this instance, the prologue should do three things:
·         Show the second fire (the what).
·         Happen without the twins, since you don’t want them paralyzed, too (how).
·         And be as awful and mentally crippling as I can make it (and why).

In other words, I’m going to show my reader "another"fire to increase the intensity of Mercedes's fear, put her into a situation where she’s (surely) going to die, jack up her emotions to the screaming point—and end the prologue, using the Kuleshov Effect.

The reader now knows Mercedes almost died (because she’s alive in chapter 1), it was godawful horrible, and that’s why she can’t force herself into the Play Place, and even though Mercedes would die for her sisters, she can’t. Her body simply won’t move. It’s only when the pedophile grabs them that her love can push through her fear (way too late). And the story starts.

A thought here would be that she needs to be confronted with a fire again, at the climax, to prove she’s changed and overcome her fear (not of the fire but of inadequacy, which is a totally different workshop, lol, and easy to see here in this powerpoint), so she can become the woman who can be with the hero (making Mercedes’s story a unified whole, too).

Which means regardless if it’s the story with the prostitutes and gore, or the one focused on Starr and his wings, it would still open the same, with Starr walking down the road looking for coffee because of the Kuleshov Effect. What you show first, influences what the reader sees next.

In the first story, you already know it's a murder-thriller-paranormal because of the prologue, so it’s pretty obvious if we open with Starr he’s going to play a large role in the investigation.

In the second one, you know who Starr is, what he’s capable of, and something about his attitude. So when we open with Starr walking down the street it means something is about to happen to start him on a journey driven by who and what he is. Strongly plot-driven versus strongly character-driven.

It’s all a matter of voice. Prologues work if they’re a logical part of the story, and provide either a reason for or a jumping off point to the rest of the story.

Thanks for being here.