Pacing Matters!

There are times as a reader who also happens to write that I want to quietly pull another author aside and give them some advice. Nine times outs of ten what I want to talk to them about is pacing.

It’d be a quick conversation. “Sweetie, these are really fun characters. Great plot. Your pacing sucks. Could I maybe, pretty please, help you tighten this up? Maybe just… I don’t know, refer you to some really good references?”

I don’t because it’s rude to comment on a finished manuscript like that. If the author wanted my opinion they would have asked for it. And if the book wasn’t good the editor or beta-reader would have put a kibosh on things before the book ever hit the shelves. These aren’t bad books, but their missing a few key elements that would move them from Okay to Everyone Must Read!

Let’s cover the basics of pacing…
1) Set A Time Limit 
— The killer kidnaps the victims seven days before killing them, the bomber is targeting an event next week, the treasure must be found before the house goes on sale the third, grandma only has days to live, if I don’t find a solution I will marry Prince Charming in two days and never realize my goal of taking over the world…

Whatever the source of friction is there needs to be a deadline. Characters who are wandering around for fun are boring. There’s no urgency. No risk if they fail.

2) Never End A Chapter With Sleep
— “It had been a long day. Jane climbed into bed, pulled the sheets over her head and drifted off to dreamland.” is an invitation for the reader to close the book.

Take a tip from the writer’s of Nancy Drew: Always end the chapter in the middle of action. Never give the reader an easy out.

3) Let Characters Be Wrong
— It’s okay if the characters fail. It’s okay if they use bad information and get to the wrong place. Actually, it’s more than okay, it’s good! If everything comes easily to your characters there is no reason to care about the story. The reader knows it will be okay in the end.

4) Let Characters Fail
— Let them die. Let them lose. Let them have heartbreak and sorrow.

George R.R. Martin does a great job of this. You never know when he’s going to kill a character. What you do know is that no one is safe. It keeps the tension up. It means you won’t know until the last page if the character you’re invested in will survive.

 

What tips do you have for keeping the plot tight and the pace moving?

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage

One last day of boot camp and then you’ll be ready to write your novel like a boss!

… okay, so let me be honest here: I could write more. You could do 31 Days of NaNo Prep. You could spend a year getting a novel together. You could skip all of this and make it up as you go along (fiction is beautiful like that). But there are only six days of boot camp for a reason.

To little preparation leaves you flustered and confused. To much and you get bogged down in the world building. Trust me, if you’re a person who loves research it’s very easy to spend a lifetime building a world and never writing in it. You know who you are.

Because the world matters, because the physical stage you set for the characters influences the story so much, it’s important to take a few minutes before you write the book setting up the background.

Exercise 1: Make A List
– Write a list of 25 places your character may go. You probably won’t use them all, but having them saves you trouble later on.
– Pick specific names e.g. Don’t write The Castle write Berringham Flittworthy Castle. Wolven Woods, Screaming Skull Nebula, Starbreaker Catina
– When your hero needs to rushing off somewhere, grab a name from the list and keep writing.

Exercise 2: Pick Your Main Locations
– Unless you’re writing a traveling story (the quest story line) your scenes will probably only take place in four or five stage settings. Decide where the book opens, where any dead bodies or clues are found (fist bump for the mystery writers), and where your four plot twists will occur.
– Don’t feel you need have lots of locations. There are some great books out there where all the action happens in one building or one room. Use only what you need.

Exercise 3: The Setting Thesaurus 
– If you haven’t already, bookmark or buy the print copy of The Setting Thesarus by Becca and Angela of Writers Helping Writers (buy link – not an affiliate link). Then read through.
– Make your own setting thesaurus for your main locations.
– If that’s too daunting list the 3 main stimuli for each sense in each location.

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage 

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration

Let’s practice a little visualization…

You sit down in front of your computer on November 4th with 6,000 words written and the plan to write Chapter 3. You have your notes and your outlines. This is the perfect time of your writing day, and everything is how you need it to be to be the best writer you can be (which is a lot of be’s). You take a deep breath, open the manuscript, and stare.

What the heck should you write?

Nothing comes to mind. Your creativity has flat-lined. You start to panic about making your word count for the day? What are you going to do?

I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to close that document and go get yourself a heavy dose of inspiration. Like a shot of adrenaline, these pre-packed doses of inspiration will fire up your creativity and get you writing in no time.

Exercise 1: Make A Mood Board
– Hit Tumblr, Deviant Art, and Instagram to find images that remind you of your character. Since you’ll be using other people’s art be respectful and keep it for personal use, not promotion. I have a Deviant Art folder just for setting inspiration.
– If you won’t have access to the internet while writing consider saving your mood board images on a page that let’s you rearrange them, like PowerPoint or OneNote.

Exercise 2: Make A Playlist
– You can make one for the book, or one for each POV character, or even mood playlists that help you set the tone for each scene.
– Either buy the music legally, or set up a Spotify or Pandora playlist.
– If you get stuck during NaNo crank up the music and stare at your mood board for five minutes.

Exercise 3: Make An Inspiration List
– Think of what books, movies, or TV shows inspired you. Keep them handy for NaNo.
– If you’re stuck beyond reason, retreat from your writing area and get inspired. Part of an author’s job is to read. Read widely. Read frequently. Read everything. The more you read, the better your writing gets, and it’s better to sacrifice an hour of writing time to a good book than to whining on Twitter about how you suck at writing. Trust me on this one.

Exercise 4: RED ALERT!
– If all else fails, and nothing is working, know when to pull the plug.
– I’m not saying quit NaNo, but know when to call it a day. There are going to be times you simply can’t write. Emotionally or physically you are drained and your brain is gray goo between your ears. Beating yourself up about isn’t going to help. In fact, repeatedly telling yourself that you can’t write will hurt you.
– Plan a non-writing activity that fires up your creativity. I like to go for a Zombie Run. Maybe you like to cook, or paint, or play football, or wash dishes by hand. Go do that thing.
– Forgive yourself, and plan on forgiving yourself for missed days. Remember, the 50,000 words is only a way of keeping score, it isn’t the actual goal of NaNoWriMo. The goal of NaNo is to make good writing habits. Understanding that there are non-writing days is a good habit. Hating yourself for missing a writing day is a bad habit.
– Don’t form bad habits.

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage 

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist

What makes a hero a HERO?

Some people like to think a hero is born special, a Chosen One with a destiny written in the stars. Some people think the hero is simply the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Maybe they’re both right.

Either way, when you’re writing a book, your Protagonist needs to be more than a character that actions happen around. A hero who only reacts to situations isn’t very fun to read about. A hero who could be removed entirely from the book without changing it in the slightest is even worse.

So, before you decide if the color of your hero’s eyes, let’s figure out what your hero’s strengths and flaws are. Shining blue eyes like icy tarns won’t get your hero out of a dungeon, but lock picking skills, charm, and magic will.

Exercise 1: What are your hero’s weaknesses?
– There’s a special name for a protagonist with no flaws: Gary Stu (or Mary Sue if the protagonist is female). A flawless hero sounds fun, and most authors start with one because they’re easy to write, but they don’t make for good books.
– Clumsiness, not realizing everyone thinks they’re beautiful, and crying at random times do not counts as weaknesses. Red hair is not a weakness. Being born rich and charitable is not a weakness. Get those ideas right out of your head.
– The hero’s weaknesses will change over the course of the book, and they should relate in some way to what the character wants. If they want to win a battle, they’ll should start out without weapons training.
– Make a list of 5-10 weaknesses your character could have.

Exercise 2: What are your hero’s strengths?
– This comes second because part of the hero’s character arc will be turning weaknesses into strengths. The weakling learns to fight, the timid child learns to speak with strength, ect ect ect.
– It is absolutely crucial that one of your character’s strengths, learned or otherwise, is the key to solving all the problems in the book. The protagonist is a hero because they are the only person who can make everything better.
– If you’re writing about a group than only with the group working in harmony can the villain be defeated.
– Make a list of 3-5 strengths. They don’t need to have all of these in the opening chapter, or even the first book of the series, but decide what strength they’ll have. You’ll need it for setting up the plot twists later.

Exercise 3: When will your hero learn these things?
– Tell yourself the back story for the hero. It may never be part of the text, but you need to know these things.
– Where was the hero born? What was their childhood like? When did they learn these things that help them save the world?

Exercise 4: What is your hero’s personality?
– What gets this person up in the morning? What’s the drive behind all they do?
– Don’t know? Try taking the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test for your character.
– Ask a lot of questions. The 100 Questions list is a bit long to do for every character, but give it to your primary protagonist and keep it for reference during NaNoWriMo.

Exercise 5: What is the One Thing?
– Every person has one thing. One line they won’t cross. One thing they won’t do. One thing they can’t lose and stay sane.
– If your character has a line they won’t cross, the climax of the book needs to push the hero until they think they must cross this line or fail. It’s up to you whether they cross over, or find another way,
– If the protagonist has one thing they can’t lose, threaten it. Take it away. Ruin that thing. It’s up to you whether the hero will triumph or the loss, realize the One Thing wasn’t that important, or recover their lost Precious in time.

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage 

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist

Oh, the antagonist.

There are people who say the hero (or protagonist) defines the book. It’s certainly the hero that people remember. Frodo will not be forgotten. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were role models for a generation. Harry Potter? He was such a famous protagonist they didn’t even need to put a title on his last movie poster. Everyone knew about The Boy Who Loved.

But what are these protagonists without an antagonist?

Frodo without the dark lord’s ring is just a hobbit who stayed home. Han Solo would have had a quiet smuggling career, no wife, and no best friend if it weren’t for Darth Vader. Harry Potter would have grown up in a normal wizarding household, gone to Hogwarts, and had an uneventful seven years (possibly being a bully) if it weren’t for Voldemort.

Without an antagonist, you don’t have a plot.

Without an antagonist, you don’t have a book.

Day 3: Creating The Perfect Antagonist
I subscribe to the Three Villains Theory of writing. It’s entirely possible I made the theory up (or renamed it – I’m not sure), but it works! With the right three villains you can write any novel with confidence and ease.

Exercise 1: The Immediate Villain
– Who is the bad guy on page one? A teacher assigning homework over the holidays? A bullying uncle or aunt? A boss who won’t let you leave work early? Who is the bad guy causing trouble on the first page?
– This person may or may not be important to the overall book.
– This person may die before the end of chapter one (possibly in a way that frames the hero for murder).
– This person could become the love interest if you’re using an Enemies-To-Lovers trope.
– Describe this character in detail. What do they want? Why are they bad? What are their goals?

Exercise 2: The Intermediate Villain
– This is the one who takes up the bulk of the narrative for your book. In the first Harry Potter this would be Snape: obnoxious, rude, bullying, but as it turns out, not such a bad guy in the end.
– The intermediate villain can also be a series of thugs sent by the Big Bad to cause trouble. Especially in a quest story. In The Hobbit movies Azog is the Intermediate Villain, always nipping at Thorin’s heels but not doing a bulk of the damage.
– Define this character. What do they want? Why do they do what they do? How do they interact with the hero?
– Give the Intermediate Villain a win. While the hero can defeat (or avoid) the first villain succesfully the Intermediate Villain should give the hero trouble. Round about the middle of your novel the villain should have a definite win. They get the magic thing first, they kill someone the hero tried to save, they get the girl, they win the big game. Whatever. Plan on giving your villain a win. It adds complexity to the narrative and raises the stakes. Also? It’s usually an easy scene to write because you can beat your hero up as much as you want.

Exercise 3: The Big Bad
– This is the villain that’s secretly controlling things from behind the scenes, the betrayer who has been secretly working against the hero the whole time. Dark Vader. Voldemort. Sauron.
– In a series, you may not see this person until the end of the series (think Kate’s dad in the MAGIC BITES series by Ilona Andrews). The best part about this kind of antagonist is it invites readers to reread so they can catch the earlier clues. You really can save this villain for the very end, or at least the last 1/3 of the book.
– They usually appear around the hero’s Moment Of Despair, when the hero has lost all hope, friends, support, and belief in themself.
– This is the villain that defines the hero. Because the hero looks up from the mud and blood and despair and say, “I cannot let you do this. I cannot let you win even if I lose everything.” The decision to fight this villain when all hope is lost, at great personal sacrifice, is what makes an ordinary person a hero. And because the hero is coming from such a low point, beaten and fragile, their victory is all the more sweet in the end.
– Describe this character? When will they appear? What are they like? What do they do? Why are they the villain?

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage 

 

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Plotting

Got a plot?

If you’ve completed the exercises from Day 1 of NaNo boot camp (and you may not have because some of them are multi-day projects – don’t stress it) then you know how you write. Step two for planning a successful NaNoWriMo is finding a plot.

NaNoWriMo attracts all different kinds of authors. Some of you have the idea already there, you know the book, you just need that last push to give writing a try. Others are on deadlines and are using NaNoWriMo to get a rough draft out of the way. And then there are people who really want to write but don’t know where to start. This day is for you.

Day 2: Find a Plot
The plot is what your story is about. It’s how the characters move from Point A to Point Z and all the choices they make in between. If you’re a literature major (or have spent time around them) you’ve heard about climaxes and construction and probably snowflakes. Those are all wonderful things but useless when you’re staring at a blank page thinking about lunch instead of prose. Here’s how to make that blank page a masterpiece…

Exercise 1: What’s on your bookshelf?
–  Look at the books you read and love. What do you love about them? What are the similarities between them? Do you read a specific genre or theme?
– If you have nowhere else to start, this is a great place. Look at your shelves and what you love, and envision the book that fits in, but isn’t there yet.
– Two very important things to remember here: one – all writer are readers, two – all books are derivative. There is no such thing as a truly original plot, all stories have their genetic roots in other books, and that’s part of the reason we like them. Looking to your favorite books will give you an idea of what you love.

Exercise 2: What movies do you watch?
– Think of your favorite movies and shows. Do yo1u see a theme? Is there a kind of character you love watching? Great!
– Imagine a character who takes traits from each of your favorite TV characters. What do they act like? Where would they live?

Exercise 3: Make a List of 25 Things That Could Happen
– Go wild! Pick a genre and write down twenty-five things that could happen within that universe, cliche to cray-cray.

Exercise 4: Let the idea sit for a week.
– You aren’t forgetting it, you’re letting the idea mature. If you come up with an idea for one of the plots, by all means take note!
– A good story idea is the one that still excites you a week after you think of it. Anything that loses it’s energy after a few days won’t keep you writing through the tough parts, or editing for years after that. Look at all your options and see what you still love on Monday.

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage 

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Base Line

The best way to fail is to not prepare.

You think you’re going to start NaNoWriMo November 1st with no preparation, no practice, and no prior thought? Well, honey, that’s just setting yourself up for failure.

No worries, though. I am a certified* NaNoWriMo Boot Camp instructor. Every Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of October we will meet right here to put you through your paces and make sure you’re in fighting shape for NaNoWriMo.

Day 1: Establish A Baseline

The number one mistake of new NaNoWriMo participants is assuming that they will find the time to get their writing done. Worse, there is a tendency to woefully underestimate how much time it will take to write the daily word count.

Free time does not magically appear. A gap in the space-time continuum won’t open up between your favorite TV shows allowing you to write 1666 words in under three minutes. Like everything else in life, you need to plan ahead. You need to make time in your schedule for writing.

This is where the second mistake comes in, and it’s a common mistake for newbies and seasoned NaNoWriMo authors, they schedule the wrong amount of time, for the wrong time of day, for the wrong days of the week.

That’s why the first day of boot camp is devoted to getting a baseline and figuring out your writing schedule.

Exercise 1: Set a timer for ten minutes, sit down, and write. 
– Repeat three times (or more if you like)
– Average your word count to get an idea of how many words you can write in ten minutes. Don’t worry if the number seems low. You’ll be faster by the end of NaNoWriMo.

Exercise 2: Set aside three hours and write until you can’t any more.
– The goal here isn’t to write for three hours straight (good job if you can, though). This exercise measures your natural writing rhythm. Can you focus for fifteen minutes? Forty? Ninety?
– There is no wrong answer.
– Do three sets of writing at your natural writing pace. Figure the average. This is your Writing Pace Word Count.

Exercise 3: Look at a calendar of November and decide what days you will actually be writing.
– In a perfect world you’d write all 30 days, but realistically it’s not going to happen. You’re going to have days where work, school, family, or health prevents you from writing.
– Pencil in your writing days. Now, divide 50,000 by the number of days you intend to write. This is your Daily Word Count Goal.
– Divide your Daily Word Count Goal by your Writing Pace Word Count. This is the number of writing sprints you’ll need to do for each writing day in November.

EXAMPLE: Julie wants to write 50,000 words in November. She has 5 days she can’t write, and she can write 500 words in 15 minutes.
50,000/25 = 2000 (daily word count goal)
2000/500 = 4
Julie will need to schedule 4 writing sprint so of 15 minutes each to hit her daily word count goal. 

Exercise 4: What do you need to write?
– Very few people can sit down in any environment and write without problems. If you’re one of those lucky people, bask in the glow of your own awesomeness and skip this exercise. If you’re not, no worries.
– Over the next week take notes about what was going on around you on the days you write best.
Do you work better at a desktop or on the couch using a laptop?
Do you like music or silence?
Will any noise work, or do you need a specific playlist?
What time of day do you feel the most creative?
Do you write better in pjs or dressed up for work?
Do you need a snack?
Do you need some water?

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage 

Free Books and a Chance to Talk With Authors!

About #SFFchat
Back in December, a bunch of Harper Voyager US/UK authors got together on the #SFFchat hashtag to talk about writing, publishing, and the sci-fi/fantasy genre with aspiring SF/F authors. We had a fantastic discussion (read thehighlights), so we’re going to do it again.
On Wednesday, June 22nd at 3pm Eastern and 9pm Eastern, 18 Voyager authors will be answering questions on Twitter under the #SFFchat hashtag. Each chat will last an hour. We’re also doing a massive giveaway of Voyager e-books and print books, which you can enter using the widget below. All are welcome! Please join us if you want to talk about SF/F and maybe win some free books.
If you’re an author seeking representation or publication, we hope you’ll also join the #SFFpit Twitter pitching event on Thursday, June 23rd.
BONUS: And the Voyager authors have started a Facebook group just for SFF fans called SFF Junkies. It’s a new place to hang out and talk SFF books or even writing. You can find it in the rafflecopter or use this link.
Enter the Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

*post written by Dan Koboldt and used with permission*

The Secret Handshake Of Publishing (a reprint)

Originally Posted On 10/15/14

Since the invention of the printing press there’s been a rumor that you need to know some secret to get your book published. There’s always this idea that it’s who you know, or that some magical phrase in your query letter will get your book a fast-pass to stardom. And for as long as this rumor has prevailed the people of publishing – authors, agents, publishers – have all denied there is any secret handshake that gets you into the Published Authors Club.

This is a lie.

There is one thing that everyone – author, agents and publishers – will all agree on. If you ask about it they all say, “Well, of course that! Doesn’t everyone do that?”

Are you ready for the secret handshake for publishing? Are you ready to hear what all the published authors know? Okay. Here it goes…

The secret handshake to publishing is: Hard Work.

Every single author you’ve read got their books on the shelf – virtual or otherwise – by consistently working hard. Every book you’ve ever read was created through hundreds upon thousands of hours of intense, dedicated labor.

If you want to write one draft and be done, publishing is not the career for you. Which isn’t to say you can’t have an audience. You certainly can. There are plenty of places on the web where you can post a first draft of anything and find an audience. But it won’t be the professional playing fields.

If you want to be a published author who becomes a household name, you need to get to work.

There is no short cut.

There are going to be times where you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. You’re going to write the first draft of a book and think you’ve wasted six months because the plot is flabbier than Jabba the Hutt. You’re going to get rejections. That’s part of hard work.

If you never fail, you’ve never tried. Failure goes hand in hand with success.

You are going to fail somewhere along the way. Stand up. Shake it off. Move on.

You are going to work hard every day, through every stage of publishing. The work doesn’t stop when you get an agent, or sign a book deal, or see the book on the shelf. When Book One comes out you better be working on Book 2, or 3, or the new series. Your fans will want more.

The age of One Book Authors is over. No one makes a career of note with a single book anymore. You aren’t Harper Lee. Let that dream go.

Now, go get your comfy writing clothes. Grab a water bottle. Turn off the distractions. Open your manuscript, and get to work. The only person who can write this story is you.

Impulse Buy Book of the Week: NO GOOD DEED by Auston Habershaw

NoGoodDeed_cover artCursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.

That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody is playing a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that the person pulling all the strings is none other than the most powerful sorceress in the West: Lyrelle Reldamar.

Tyvian’s own mother.

$2.99
HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | iBooks 

habershaw

On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or scifi/fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and the never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He lives and works in Boston, MA. He has a blog at http://aahabershaw.com/.