Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 10)

Moving the plot 

 

I probably could’ve thought of a more creative title, but . . .its my second week back in school. My head hurts.

Anyways. Plot. It seems so easy to craft a plot. Introduce characters. Introduce conflict. Rising action. Climax. Fall action. Right?

Well . . . it is not that simple.

Most books follow that basic pattern, yes, but not all of them, especially not modern books. If they do, they break it up a little. Take Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind—amazing book, really, 5/5 or maybe even 6/5 stars—doesn’t really have much of a resolution or climax. Yes, a bigger problem is solved at the novel’s end, but the story kind just drops off, like, “Hey, let’s stop here.” It also starts at the end of the entire trilogy. You know what? It works. The book is told from the third and first point of view and it is bloody brilliant, (can’t say why: spoilers). For most books such a format would not work. It would read like a clunky disaster no one bothered to get through (like what Joseph’s Heller’s Catch-22 could’ve been).

So. Back to you (or us). The plot should follow a basic pattern, but don’t limit yourself to it. On the other hand, if you decide to go rogue, make sure its damn good. If you want to break the rules, you better break them right.

Generally, I would recommend sticking to the expectations of your audience, (please note: this doesn’t mean you should give them some cookie-cutter story they know the end too before they start reading. Now that I think about it, they might love or hate to have some fundamentals get shaken up. It depends on if you do it right. Sorry, I know that’s not helpful).

Here’s the rule of thumb I follow: make every scene count. There should be no “throw away” scenes. If you can cut it out of the novel and the characters still make sense, the plot still makes sense, and the reader didn’t lose some vital piece of information, then delete it. Don’t clutter your book with scenes that add nothing to the story; it will only slow your story down.

Some people may ask, “Well, what about character development? Or world building?”

Good question. Answer: build characters and world while moving the plot forward. Even in a scene where you’re supposed to learn something about x character or x world, it should move the overall plot forward.

This doesn’t mean every scene needs to become some plot-twisting thriller page. Rather, every scene should build towards something. Here’s where knowing your genre is important. You have a lot more time to build in a fantasy novel than a YA one. On the flip side, fantasy novels run a higher risk of “letting the world get away from the author”.

I try to keep my scenes as tight as possible. If you pointed to any scene in my story and asked, “What does this scene do?” I’d have an answer.

So how do you pace a story?

Again, depends on the genre. If you don’t write or read a lot (then start reading and writing; honestly, you can’t write unless you read), you’ll want to start small. Introduce a character and a conflict right off the bat (in fantasy, introduce the world too). Then, move the character/plot forward; introduce new characters, plot points, and conflicts as they come along. While all that is happening, develop characters, explain plot, and resolve or complicate conflicts.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

This isn’t really something you can be taught. Read a lot. Write a lot. Practice. If you do that, it will come naturally (eventually, maybe).

One thing I will recommend is go through every scene and ask, “What happens here?” If you can’t point to something important, odds are you don’t need the scene.

Reminder: Iron & Glass comes out September 16th! Check it out and critique my plotting abilities. A gold start for anyone who tells me.

Question? Just ask.

 

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Iron &Glass, the author’s journey (part 9)

Find Time to Write

So I’m back in college again this week (sad face). I have my third 16 credit hour semester (sullen face), and most of my free time just ran away from me,  crying laughing hysterically.

Well, most of the time, people are busy, too busy to pursue their hobbies for long periods of time. What does that mean for those whose hobbies take a long time? Say, mountain climbing? Traveling? Or—you guessed it—writing?

Writing takes a long time. Even if you type fast–which I do–it still can take 30+hours to write the book let alone research, plan, and edit it. Ugh. Right?  I have a new internship, a job, and 16 credit hours; I’m swamped, barely keeping my head above water in week one! So how do I/you find time to write?

Not an easy question to answer

First, you have to evaluate your free time. How much of it do you have? How much of that do you want to dedicate to writing? If you’re serious about writing, your answer is: A lot.

I don’t work on weekends, and I don’t have class on weekends. So, just guess what I do on weekends? Yep. I spend most of my time writing. Remember that “writing” doesn’t just mean “writing,” but plotting a story, developing characters, editing, drafting a query letter, researching agents, and so on and so on.

Anyways.

If you want time to write, organization is a must. You might be surprised about how more free time you have if you plan things out. This even goes for people with full-time jobs. Set up some time to write, a hour, maybe two, after work/school and stick to it. Once your sitting in front of you computer, get to it. Don’t stare at a blank page or check out your social media accounts (I turn my internet off unless I’m name searching or doing various other kinds of research). If you find yourself watching a screen and unable to do what you planned, try to do something else writing related. If you can’t write, then edit; if you can’t edit, then plot; if you can’t plot, then write a query letter, or whatever. But don’t waste that time!

Now, you might want to set different times for different things. Like, if you’re actually writing, try to write later at night. A lot of people say when their tired they feel more free to write instead of question every sentence . If you’re editing, try to do it when you get home. If you edit with dropping eyes, you’ll might actually make a mistake instead of fixing one. You get the picture.

Still, dedication to your work and organization of your time will help you write no matter how busy you are.

I managed to write a 180,000 words story during a 17 credit hour semester (+ job, + internship)! Everyone can find time to write, you just have to set time aside and do it.

 

Sorry, this has nothing related to my upcoming novel, Iron & GlassBut . . . what the heck. I thought it might help.

Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 8)

Constructive Criticism 

Every author should have beta readers for their story. No one is perfect. You will make mistakes. Others can point those out for you. Some people may even offer suggestions that are better than your original idea. So, after someone kindly spends their valuable time to read your story, you have to decide what advice to keep and what advice to toss.

You (probably) don’t want to accept everything, but not listening at all is a bad idea. I don’t think there is a black and white way to go about deciding. But, there are some ways I use when looking over a beta readers suggestions.

Remember that not every comment is a critique. Iron & Glass (my self-published novel soon to be released) just had its 4th beta reader (hence this post). The beta reader–let’s call her “Pam” because I don’t know if she wants her name on here or not– asked several questions throughout the story. Thing is, she asked the exact questions I wanted the readers to asking at that point in the story.  Seeing them there felt like a pat on the back. I did a good job.

That being sad, Pam had some questions I didn’t want or anticipate as well. For those, I went back through the story to answer or clarify them.

Rejecting or accepting Pam’s other feedback wasn’t so easy. I had to decide one suggestion at a time.

Some were easy. Pam wanted me to change the name the USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) because it didn’t sound real. Well, it is real. So I’m not going to change the name of a real competition into a fake one to make the it sound more real (sorry, I think that sounds confusing . . . ). There was another case where she wanted me to change the name of a mythological monster because it didn’t sound scary enough. Sadly, that is the creatures name, so I don’t (and didn’t) want to change it.

Not too bad. Rejecting those suggestions was easy.

Other suggestions were easy to accept (sorry my tenses are all over the place. I’m so this is a rough draft blog post). Iron & Glass has a scene that takes place at a restaurant (everyone look shocked and surprised). Pam pointed out how I never tell the reader where these two people are sitting, next to each other, across from each other, on top of each other, or what? Hey, awesome, I can go fix that. I was really happy she pointed it out.

Then we have the “inbetweeners”. Should I delete that sentence? Is this scene necessary to the plot? I want to know more about how this character is feeling. What is the significance to this object? Clarify it. Introduce this character sooner. And on and on it goes.

I, usually, accept about 85% of the changes beta readers suggests. They offer good advice. But, for every suggestion, I have to ask myself: Does changing this better my story or take away from my original intent?

Then it really becomes a judgment call. Just remember to accept the criticism and be willing to make changes, but don’t let your story lose its purpose.

Sorry there not some neat formula, but I’d be happy to answer any questions.

And thank you Pam (you know who are), and my other beta readers! Especially my sister, who read Iron & Glass twice for me.

The Road is Not Easy (and Nor Should It Be) / A Meditation on Pain.

JamesRadcliffe.com

To be human, and to live a human life is to be, (at least in part) almost continually beset by: pain, hardship, and obstacles.

Strangely, far from being the despicable and discouraging news that this, on the surface, appears to be; I believe that this is not necessarily a bad thing….

In fact, I believe: pain and obstacles can be a great impetus to our continuing growth and evolution.  And furthermore: that a life lived without them would be largely useless and benign; bereft of much of the merit gleaned and accrued from the full gamut of human experience.

But (and here is the kicker), without the correct approach to these things, without the correct guiding idea, we can all too easily spiral down into a dark pit of: victimhood, learned helplessness, and general malaise.

How can I possibly prove all this?  Why am I even…

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Iron & Glass, the author’s journey (part 7)

Staying Focused 

I personally struggle with staying focused on a single story. I’ve got a bad habit of getting amped for a new idea right when I’m about 75% way through the first draft of another story. Writing the last quarter of it becomes a torture as a new, shiny idea fills my head.

So how do you maintain interest in your current project? Running off to chase the newest idea will never help you finish a book—or get published.

Inspiring authors need discipline, discipline to finish a story, to edit it (several times), to query it, and to market it. Basically, you need to stay passionate and committed to your work. If you can’t drag your attention away from the shiny, new idea, then ask yourself: Is my current idea worth pursuing? If the author’s bored, odds are the reader will be too. Or do you lack the discipline to follow the story through?

I’ve dropped a few stories after deciding they bored me because they were boring. Most of the time, I buckle down and finish, knowingI’m just over excited about a new idea.

So how do you tell which ones to drop and which ones to fight for?

Well, there really are no tricks. Either the story is or isn’t worth reading. You’ll have to sit down and think about that on a story-by-story basis. Think about the characters; will it bother you if their story is left untold? Will you feel bad for abandoning them? Do you think others would enjoy this story? How could it benefit people?

Ask questions like that and make a choice depending on your answers.

Now, if, like me, you have ants in your pants and want to jump on new story ideas, then here are the few methods I try when the “new story bug” bites me.

When I first stated writing (which was, what? eleven years ago?), I wrote down the basic idea of the new story and try to leave it alone until I finished the other. However, the  ideas never really sat quietly. New characters and plot points would pop into my head no matter how I concentrated. .

Now, you can force the idea from your mind, if you want, and focus on your current story. From time to time, I visualize new ideas like some sort of ball that I mentally bat away. But, usually, I don’t want to slam new ideas away. I want to let them flower and flourish, even if I can’t expand on them right then.

If you believe in your current story but don’t want to lose the new idea, I suggest two options, depending on the person.

First, try working on multiple projects at once. I do not recommend this, though. Unless you’ve been writing for a while and are extremely organized and focused, this could (will probably) end in disaster.

So why did I put the suggestion on my blog? Because you can make this work. Don’t write two stories at once. Instead, break your stories into stages. Write story A, edit story B, query story C, and develop story D. Or something like that.

I work on many projects at once, however, when I’m writing a story, I only work on that one. If I’m not currently writing, I’ll go ahead and edit one story while querying another and plot pointing a third.

Still, it’s difficult. Dividing my time like that isn’t easy. I want to work on all the stories and end up feeling like nothing gets done on any of them. To avoid that problem, I prioritize and order which stories I consider more important to work on right now. The order is usually based off how much time I have, what I’m trying to do, and whats hot on the market right now.

The second option: Write your current story, but go ahead and write down the ideas that come to you, just don’t develop them. That lets you finish the story without smashing your own ideas. It can also help with writers block. If you just can’t think of what to write for your current story, go and play the idea for the new one. It might help free your mind up a bit.

I’m sure there are other ways, but I’ve personally tried and used those two.

Iron & Glass–the novel I’m self-publishing–was a rarity for me. While I finished up another story when I got the idea for it, no other ideas came to me while I was writing it. I stayed focused on Iron & Glass without any distractions. Yea me!

Anyways, how what ideas have you tried to deal with this little problem?

If you have any questions . . .

The Message Of Saint Paul ! / Infinite Hope & Love.

mysuccessisyoursuccess

“” What will separate us from the Love of Christ ? Will Anguish ,or Distress ,or Famine ,Or Nakedness ,or Peril ,or Sword “”?

No,in all these things we Conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For neither Death nor Life, nor Angels nor Principalities ,nor Present things ,nor Future things ,nor Power, nor Heights ,nor Depth ,nor any other Creature will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

J.M.Sabbagh-http://mysuccessisyoursuccess.wordpress.com

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