Category Archives: techniques

Pants vs. Plans


Woman and Typewriter with crumpled paperHow do you write? Do you plan every little detail in a well-organized outline, or do you sit at your keyboard and channel the spirit of a fourteenth-century minstrel? Okay, maybe that’s a little “out there,” but you know what I mean. Everybody has their own method, and there are pros and cons to both.

If you’re a planner, you know exactly where all your characters are from, what they are thinking, and where they are going. Your protagonist probably follows the perfect path of the hero’s journey. Your story arc peaks at precisely the right time. Your word count is impeccably perfect. There are no surprises. But that’s the down side, too. Everybody enjoys a surprise sometimes.

If you’re a pantser (a term designated for authors who write by the seat of their pants) your stories are filled with surprises. Your characters speak to you, and when they do, they say the craziest things. They make U-turns right in the middle of a scene, and you have no idea what they’ll do next. You sometimes wonder who is writing your story. The problem with pants-ing is that you may get to the end of your story and discover you have 50,000 more words than your editor wants or needs, and half a dozen too many characters to track.Flying by the seat of the pants drawing

So which method is best? Both, and neither. I think most really successful authors blend methods like a French chef creating the perfect sauce. He sets the precise temperature and uses all the best instruments at his disposal, but in the end, his taste-buds tell him when it’s done.

I like to make a rough outline on a story-board with sticky-notes. This gives me a goal and a sense of pace for the overall tale. I do, however, listen to what my characters say. Sometimes they rebel. I would never say that! How about this?

In the process, I’ve written some of my favorite scenes.

The secret is being open. Plan the bones, but let the characters have character. Give them voices and allow them to speak. Just remind them that you, and your editor, choose what makes the final cut.

Kimberly Black

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Filed under basics, character arcs, characters, plot, rewriting, scenes, techniques

Making Your Characters Leap Off the Page


Phyliss Miranda at Podium Good ShotWe’ve had an unusually long hiatus on this blog.  We’re still trying to work out some of the kinks to doing an multi-author blog.

I thought it would be a really nice touch to open our Program season with a guest post.  What will follow is a post by Phyliss Miranda, who will be speaking at our September 21, 2013 meeting.

A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today award-winning author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at www.phylissmiranda.com .

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at http://petticoatsandpistols.com/

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at Petticoatsandpistols.com.  Come to our meeting at the Amarillo Senior Citizens’ Center at 1217 S. Tyler.  Sign in is at 9:00 and Phyliss will begin at 9:30.  If you sign up for a box lunch from Baker Bros. before 10:00 you can join us after that for a critique session.

Now I’ll let Phyliss take over.

Suzanne Bogue

I’m honored to introduce you to Nicodemus Dartmouth, my hero, in my September 5th eKensington release The Tycoon and the Texan.

Before we begin with the interview, I’d like to give you the background on both how I selected the plot and Nick’s last name. I truly believe it was a gift from above.

My husband and I have friends who we’ve known for over forty years and vacationed with since their boys and our girls were young.

In 2002, my DH and I were on our way to meet them in Florida when we received a call, thank goodness for cell phones, that Harry had emergency heart surgery. He was in a coma, and the future was uncertain.  We immediately turned our car north and headed for Dartmouth Medical Center where he laid critically ill for weeks.  We were determined not to leave until he and Pat were safely home under their own roof.  And, that we did.

One day while sitting in the waiting room, my attention was drawn to a show on TV, you know the ones up in the corner of the room you have to crane your neck to see and can barely hear, that pertained to a foundation’s auction of bachelors for charity.  That seeded the idea for a story about a strong, multi-millionaire who ends up buying an ugly duckling at his own foundation’s charity ball. Of course, she had to be from Texas and his name had to be as strong and willful as my character, so Nicodemus Dartmouth was born.

Now nearly ten years and many vacations together later, my story The Tycoon and the Texan came out recently andPhyliss Miranda Smaller TheTycoonAndTheTexan eBook needless to say I dedicated it to our dearest friends.

Let’s get on with learning more about Nicodemus Dartmouth. I’m gonna let him tell you about himself first, and then he’ll answer some questions.

I don’t really like being referred to as a tycoon because I see myself as just another hardworking man in his 30’s. I have to admit being a product of a wealthy, widowed mother, who I don’t always see eye-to-eye with, did have its benefits. I worked my fingers to the bone to establish one of the largest construction firms on the west coast, while being CEO of Mother’s charity … the Elliott-Dartmouth foundation.  I own a Double A baseball farm team and love to workout with my players.  Mother is pretty well appalled when I show up at the office with bloody road rash showing through a tear in my baseball pants.  By the way, Josie, the Foundation Director and mother hen, thinks I belong in the dog pound. I have one supporter in the organization, well most of the time, and that’s McCall Johnson, who used to be my secretary at the construction company until I transferred her over to the foundation when I found myself crawling up twenty stories of red iron thinking about her.

Now back to the charity auction that Phyliss mentioned. Mother thought it was a grand idea to auction off bachelorettes, while I told her from the start it was a bad, really bad idea.  She called me into the office to go over the final arrangements, including the table decorations.  I need to be out at the construction company offices arranging for a shipment of material we don’t need to be shipped to Habitat for Humanity, but no I’m standing here looking at a bunch of flowers stuffed in a vase. I won’t even tell you what I think about them because Mother sure didn’t approve of my description.

The auction was a nightmare, just as I had predicted, although it raised a lot of money for the foundation … a good bit coming from me.

The jinx I apparently put on the event began when one of the bachelorettes called in sick and our resident Texan McCall Johnson was forced to step in.  In an unexpected turn of events, and I have to admit a bit of jealousy on my part to boot, I ended up paying what McCall called “a vulgar” amount for a week-long date with her.

That began our adventures … seven days to Texas.

I wanted so badly to show her that our lives weren’t that much different, but at every turn, I hit a roadblock.  From nearly cutting my finger off trying to prepare dinner on my private boat for her to seeing a ghost on Harris Grade coming out of Lompoc, California, something got in my way of showing her that I don’t get everything I want, although she thinks I do.

It took me the full seven days, plus some while visiting her Granny’s ranch in Texas, but I finally succeeded at showing the independent, spirited, uprooted Texan that our lives aren’t as different as it might seem, only to find that we are more alike than I ever dreamed … including our secrets.

I hope you’ll go buy The Tycoon and the Texan by native Texan, Phyliss Miranda, so you can learn more about me and Miss McCall Johnson.  By the way, if I have my way, she won’t be a Miss much longer.

Phyliss Miranda

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New eBook on Plotting


From time to time I have recommended various books on writing, and shared the wisdom of some of the great writers.  I don’t know or pretend to pass judgment on the wisdom or fame of Aaron Allston, but I can say that his new book on plotting is worth the money and the time to read.  It includes basics on plotting for the beginning writer and insight into solving plotting problems for the seasoned writer.

Allston is the son of a local journalist, Tom Allston, who wrote for the Pampa newspaper as well as the Amarillo Globe-News.  I hope you like the book.

Aaron Allston Releases Plotting: A Novelist‘s Workout Guide
New York Times bestselling novelist Aaron Allston has released his first full-length nonfiction work in e-book form.
Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide describes the craft of plotting novels. In the book, Allston provides methods for creating scenes, determining the meaning and functions of story events, shaping plots and sub-plots, developing character arcs and themes, fixing plot problems, and writing outlines. Also included are numerous writing exercises and Blood Kin, a complete outline for a novel, demonstrating the plotting process from initial concept to finished proposal.Plotting ebook

BASIC INFORMATION:


Title: Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide

Price: &9.99 USD

Publisher: ArcherRat Publishing (www.archerrat.com)

Length: 120,000 words

Central Texas native Aaron Allston, who has 25 years’ professional experience as a fiction writer, is best known for his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. His bibliography includes 22 novels and numerous pieces of short fiction released by traditional publishers such as Del Rey Books, Baen Books, Tor Books, and Bantam Books, and digital publishers including WordFire Press. ArcherRat Publishing, publisher of Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide, is Allston’s digital self-publishing line.
With colleague Michael A. Stackpole, Allston has for years taught the Inner Circle Writers’ Seminars at venues across the United States. Their next teaching appearance, in association with acclaimed science fiction author Timothy Zahn, will be as guest lecturers at Arizona State University.
Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide is available from:

For additional information, please e-mail Aaron Allston at allston@aaronallston.com.

Check this book out if you like.  List some of the books you’ve already read on the subject of plotting that have helped you solve your plotting troubles.

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Writing Contest!


Typewriter Keys

Announcing

2013 Frontiers in Writing Contest

Now open for entries

 For one low entry fee you can now enter multiple categories

Cash prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in EVERY category.

Go to:

www.Panhandleprowriters.org

Entry rules, procedures and format regulations are listed on the FiW Writing Contest page

Download FiW entry Application and mail along with your entry.

Entry fees can be check or Money order, or pay online using “Payments” on the PPW website.

Sponsored by the Panhandle Professional Writers

 

Writing Contests BenefitsPen and handwritten doc

It costs money; why should I enter? What benefit will a contest be for my writing and me? I’m not good enough so I’ll never win.

Those who are looking at entering writing contests frequently express these statements and questions. I know, I’ve asked most of them myself.

Having entered my share of writing contests let me offer some positive benefits from my personal experience.

1.Training for working with deadlines – Contests give a writer the opportunity to work under a deadline. Most contests will have strict dates for submitting an entry. This is good conditioning for working with agents, editors, and publishers who will place deadlines on your writing.

2.Provides automatic platform – A platform is your audience, those who will read your work. While your mother and “BFF” will gladly volunteer readership, contest judges can provide you with an unbiased and anonymous audience for your writing. And who knows, the judge may be an agent, editor or publisher.

3.Gain feedback – One of the most valuable benefits of a writing contest is the critique. To have the judge’s comments noting any mistakes, suggestions for improvement and yes, even praise can help improve your writing.

4.Build your portfolio – Writing contests are a perfect way to build your portfolio. When seeking an agent or publisher, a few writing clips, accomplishments and certificates may be the edge you need to seal the deal.

5.Increase your confidence – Entering a contest gives a writer the opportunity to gain confidence in their writing. Have you ever written something only to tear it up or hide it in a drawer? Have you ever said, “I could never write well enough to be published!” A writing contest provides an inexpensive way to test the waters of being an author.

6.Avoid scam contests – As with most everything, there are people who take advantage of others. Before entering a contest, research the person or organization holding the contest and make sure they are legitimate. There are a few contests that are no more than book selling scams. When your entry wins, it is accepted for publication in an anthology, with all of the other first place winners, then you must pay an outrageous price to obtain a copy.

Rory C. Keel

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On Writing the World


I recently took a trip for my day job employer, going from Lubbock, (west) Texas to Mississippi, and on to points in Arkansas and Louisiana. You wouldn’t think there would be that much difference in the land and culture. You wouldn’t think so.

First thing you notice coming in from the air is that great big river. We have some creeks which run in rainy weather, but nothing to compare with “Ol’ Man River.”

Jackson is carved out of hills and trees, and the drive to Vicksburg is beautiful, but foreign, to a plains boy who’s used to seeing for miles and miles.

Staying at a casino hotel in Vicksburg, I watched and photographed the barges making their way up and down the Mississippi, making that grand turn at the bend.

Over the river in Arkansas and Louisiana, you see the flat ground of the Mississippi Delta. Farmland and trees, bayous and river runs.

It’s the people who make it different, though. Peddling farm implements, I meet agricultural equipment dealers. They have their own way about things. It’s like a tee shirt I saw in a touristy shop. It said, “We don’t care how you do it ‘up north.'” That’s the truth. What works elsewhere just don’t necessarily work in the Delta. And when deer season comes, well, you wait until it’s over. They are serious about deer hunting. And duck hunting. And fishing. You get the idea.

History is different there. It was settled by European interlopers a century or more before my area was. The civil war still echoes. Racial tensions, too. Palpable. Not that we don’t have them in Lubbock, but I was unprepared for their intensity the first time I went.

You may be wondering by now: what does this have to do with writing? Contrast. It’s hard to get a view of culture until you see the differences, really understand that while people hold certain common beliefs and concepts, they are unique in many ways. That contrast can breed conflict or delight, very valuable commodities when you’re penning a story.

If you want to write about the world, get out in it.

Joe Trent

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Filed under characters, description, methods, show don't tell, story, techniques, Writing, writing advise

Six Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block


Are there times when you feel like your muse has deserted you?  Days when the writing just won’t flow?  Don’t despair; there are plenty of methods you can use to pull yourself out of the slump.  Here are a few  I’ve used:

1.  Change your writing routine.  If you usually write in the mornings, try moving the time to evening .  If you usually write at home in your office or den, move to a favorite coffee shop.  This forces your mind to work in a new way and sparks new ideas.

2.   Do some people watching.  Go to your favorite place like the mall or a park, any place where people gather.  Take your laptop or a pen and paper and write character sketches.  Listen to the conversations of those around you.  Observe their body language and facial expressions.  Keep these notes in a file for future reference to help develop new characters.

3.  Have an imaginary conversation with your main character.  Would they like your favorite place?  What would they want to talk about?  What did you learn about them?

4.  Describe a scene in nature.  Take that scene and drop your main character into it.  How would they feel while observing this scene?  Would they find it comforting?  Would they hate it?  What new things did you learn about that character?

5.  Write a piece of flash fiction Write down a short list of random words–a proper name, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs–all completely unrelated to each other and use them in the story.  Do this in less than 500 words.

6.  Write a short story.  Take your main character or your villain and start a storyline unrelated to your work in progress.  What have learned about your character by doing this?  Or did you get an entirely new idea for a book?

What is your method for getting back on track with your writing?

Suzanne Bogue

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Using Poetic Language in Novels and Short Stories


May 19, 2012

Ever wish your prose read as lyrically as the masters do?

Guest speaker, Jenna Hodges Struble, will talk about the use of poetic language in novels and short stories.

Enhance your work to take the reader on a sensory journey that they will wish has no end. Learn how to write more descriptively with exercises and techniques from Jenna Hodges Struble.

Jenna has been writing for over 20 years, is a published poet and recording artist with her spoken word. She has taught creative writing to youth and adults for four years in the Amarillo area under the umbrella of the Writer’s Voice Program at the Amarillo YMCA. She has also been a guest instructor at the Austin International Poetry Festival and Y of the USA. Jenna has helped develop creative writing curriculum for several YMCA’s and youth poetry organizations around the country. Jenna is recently married to acclaimed creator and author for Image Comic’s Li’l Depressed Boy, S. Steven Struble.

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Filed under exercises, novels, poetic language, prose, short stories, Speakers, techniques, Workshop, Writing, writing advise