May 31, 2011

Subplot & Secondary Characters: Keeping Them in Line

Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

I've decided to counter my last post, Les Miserables and Plot Focus, simply because I love secondary characters, subplot, and the opportunity for humor, depth, and humanity substory can bring. The trick is to find the right balance.

Some of my favorite characters I've written are NOT main characters. They are vibrant, quirky, loveable, or morose. Could the story have been written without them? I'd like to think the answer is no. They are integral in supporting the main plot, but keeping them in their place is important. Maybe that's why they are who they are, to pack a punch in the little spotlight they get.

I think of subplots as a webbing, running under, around, and through the main storyline, moving things along and coloring it up a bit. It's so great when the main story gets to intersect with a subplot in an unexpected or only hoped-for way, shifting the story into overdrive.

But I can't let the webbing get in the way and gum up the storyline. I'm not talking about conflict. Subplots are great for building up conflict, and that's a good thing. I'm talking about causing problems with pacing, flow, getting the story where it needs to go. This is where charts and outlines are extremely helpful, and I've seen some impressive organization by fellow authors.

This is not my plot outline. I find it comforting Ms. Rowling uses lined notebook paper.

So, I'm still studying, still learning, and I'm still trying to find that balance. Any tips?

May 29, 2011

Les Miserables and Plot Focus

I just finished watching Les Miserables. The one with Liam Neeson and Jeffrey Rush, and no singing. I have seen the musical, twice, and have been listening to the "story" told in song for almost 20 years. Sheesh, I'm old. I saw this version in the movie theater when it came out in 1998. That was when my 2nd son was born, and he just turned 13 this weekend. Holy shnikeys. But I digress.

What I'm thinking about after this viewing (on INSP, whatever that is, with TONS of commercials, mostly about an egg cooker and a Waltons marathon) is that even though the singing is gone, Eponine is almost non-existent (a little fall of rain could hardly hurt her now), Marius is minimized, and the Thenardiers are little more than a grumpy couple who drive a hard bargain, I still love this telling of Victor Hugo's hero, Jean Valjean.


Because his story is still boldly portrayed, nearly completely intact. And Javer's role, the "villain" if you must, is no less diminished. This is the story we most care about, and in making a movie from a very long novel, and a very long and beloved musical, this is where the time, money, and emotion is spent. From his prison flashbacks, to the priest who offers Valjean a new life, to Javer's commitment to bring his parolee to justice, to Valjean's love for Fantine, to his rises to success and need to escape, it is his struggle, it is his fight.

So, why am I blogging this? Because I tend to be like Hugo. No, I'm not comparing myself to a master and his quality of writing. Only in that I like characters. I like subplot and weaving and layers and if I allow myself, my books could be as long as Les Miserables. Which might be all right if I were a famous author with a few published books on the NYT Bestseller's list. But I'm not.

This is not me.
When I find myself wandering too far down Side-Story Lane, I'm going to think of this movie, and try to keep the reader's focus where I want it. I love my subplots and characters, but I've got to make sure my (and my reader's) time, money, and emotion are spent in the right places. In the best places, so the most important story can be told in the best way.

May 19, 2011

Writing Action Without Getting Dizzy

I've been posting about some of the valuable classes I took at Storymakers Writers Conference in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago. Has it already been a few weeks? And as I've said before, I was able to choose classes that applied to my needs and where I am on the road to publishing.

One of my projects is a very long historical/speculative/romance thingy called REMNANT. Half way through the book there is an important battle scene, experienced through five (or six?) different POV. As I wrote it, it jumped from character to character, and, unfortunately, back and forth in time. As a POV switched, I'd often back up time, and the events we'd just read about through someone else's eyes repeated through a new character. As much as this worked in my head as I was writing it, it did NOT translate well for my readers. In my revision of the book, I have stopped at this point because it was such a large undertaking, and, well, I had an idea for a new book. And then another new book.

BUT . . . it was still on my mind, as REMNANT will probably be my next submission to my publisher. And just a note: For the first time since late 2008, I DO NOT have a book on submission. It feels REALLY WEIRD. Something is nagging at me to take care of that soon.

This is why I took Traci Hunter Abramson's class on WRITING ACTION. Traci is ex-CIA and writes action/suspense novels based around the CIA, Navy Seals, the Pentagon, international intrigue, espionage, romance, and all that good stuff. I'm a fan. And, Traci and I have a few things in common: we share the same editor, Samantha VanWalraven at Covenant, and we both write LDS fiction and live outside of Utah. When it comes time for book signings or tours, I'll be asking her advice. She's one of those people you can just pick up where you left off, even when it's been months between meetings. She rocks.

One of the most important things I took away from Traci's class, is that when writing an action scene, focus the action where you want your reader's attention to be. Everything and everyone is in motion, but where do you want your reader's eye?

Here is a quick breakdown of how we make that happen.
  • Use visual words (whirl, flash, strike, crept, sprinted)
  • Use short sentences, create short paragraphs. Move the reader's eye down the page.
  • Consider which character has the most to lose. DON'T USE TOO MANY CHARACTERS. Oops.
  • Use at least three senses.
  • Weave emotion.
  • Minimal description. BALANCE.
  • What does the reader or the character care most about? (HINT: it's not the eye color of the person they're dodging bullets with)
Two things Traci said that I absolutely loved and agree with:
  1. Visualize your novel like a movie. YES. How many times have I said this? Huh? MANY TIMES.
  2. Don't write about the character. BE the character.
These are two of my favorite loves in the writing process. These are what I look forward to when I sit down and open my doc. I really think I can tackle that battle scene now. I DO NOT enjoy making my readers dizzy.

Any thoughts on writing action? I'd love to hear your ideas.

May 17, 2011

Storymakers: WORLDBUILDING & that guy with two names.

Yesterday I shared a few things I learned from Clint Johnson about conflict. Today I'm very pleased to share a little from a class I took from Dave Wolverton/Dave Farland, author of the RUNELORDS series, and the OF MICE AND MAGIC series. He writes Sci-Fi under his given name, Wolverton, and Fantasy under the name Farland. He's written and published over FIFTY books.

I was SO excited to take his class.

One of the incredible things about the Storymakers Conference is that they offer two full days of classes, offering 7-8 classes EVERY HOUR, each different, with only a few repeats for easier scheduling. I was able to attend NINE unique classes, each of my choosing, totally personalized for what I wanted or needed for my stage of getting published, the genres I write in, and the particular issues I am struggling with.

My brain is still stuffed.

Up to this point in my writing, I have stuck with Contemporary Romance. And as much as there is a bit of world-building there, it is all very familiar and now and established. The characters and story are what make it unique and fresh, the setting, hopefully, provides a bit of escape. I LOVE it. My first release, Grace & Chocolate, is coming out in 2012 and I CAN'T WAIT!

But, I'm attempting to write Fantasy right now (I have two more contracted romances waiting in the wings, one complete draft, one half, and a complete historical romance draft, so I'll still be doing that, OF COURSE), and I really wanted to hear Dave Wolverton's take on WORLD BUILDING.

Fantasy settings are important because they can limit the kind of character you have (era, knowledge, attributes), can create immediate conflict (geography, climate), and affect social stuggle (slavery-mining, kingdom-oppression, desert-water wars). In creating a world, keep in mind that the world can be used to CREATE CONFLICT. I hadn't considered that but can think of numerous examples in the Fantasy I've read, and have since found opportunities to apply it to my story, and it's very exciting!

One of the pieces of advice I really appreciated was to keep it simple. Don't make it too strange. Fantasy has a wide readership, no matter what age you intend to write for, and the world still needs to resonate with readers. If it's too strange, too full of the unrecognizable, readers won't relate. This was a relief to me, because I'm still considering the "strangeness" of my world as I write the story. For me, it will be easier to add as I see the opportunity.

Dave taught that magic systems have to be grounded on something conceivable. Rules apply. Harry Potter needed a wand, and had to study the spells properly. There were limitations on age, places (Hogwarts), and forbidden curses. In LoTR, magic stemmed from the ancient creation of elves and dwarves, each with unique abilities and limitations, and an equal but opposite force of evil. In Eragon, the use of magic drained the user. Checks and balances. AWESOME.

Dave touched on religious systems, the mythology of the world. Creation stories, worship, these are all a part of every civilization to ever have existed. Though not predominate in Sci-Fi, I dare you to find a Fantasy story without some sort of worship or existence (ancient or otherwise) of higher power. I knew my story needed a mythology from the beginning. Thinking on Dave's class, last Friday I wrote the creation story of my fantasy world. Want a peek?

 Okay, fine I'll post the whole thing.

The Three
Three immortal siblings, Light, Dark, and Life, chose to create a world on which to place their progeny. Light filled the sky and reflected in the waters and off the mountains, claiming the day. Dark moved through places light could not reach, expanded beneath the waters and glorified the night. Light deepened her brother’s darkness and Dark threw his sister’s luminosity into bright relief. They complimented one another and brought balance to the world.
Their brother, Life, woke what lay dormant, rushed into every moving thing, touched man, leaf, animal. The world rejoiced in sound and song, praised Life and Light during the day, and reverenced the quiet Dark.
But when Light set a moon in the night sky for man, Dark grew bitter, and allowed his jealousy to simmer, to swell, to rage. The season came when days were longest, driving Dark’s bitterness to hate. At dusk, when Light was at her weakest and Dark had just begun to stir, Dark found her, smothered her, and wept with madness. Retreating to the shadows, he vowed to hate all of Light’s creation, and scoffed at Life’s sorrow. Dark could command luminosity, could shape and subdue it, perhaps even create his own, and the world would praise him.
But Life gathered the luminosity while Dark raged in the deep. He wove Light’s power into the breathings of the world, into rock and tree, creatures of ground and air and sea, the movement of the world and everything in it. And finally, into man.
And into the noblest and most humble woman, Life bestowed a particle of Light’s pure power, a carrier of his sister’s luminosity. And to stand beside her, Life entrusted the most courageous and loyal man with guardianship over her. Together their lives would be extended, and they would carry on Light’s work. They and their children would forever be entwined with Life, and forever bear the assault of Dark’s madness and jealousy.
These, Inheritors and Guardians: the children of Hysbryd Golau.

I loved Dave Wolverton's class. He is cutting back significantly on his workshops because he has just been asked to be the screenwriter for RUNELORDS, movies based on his own books. WOW. I feel very fortunate to be able to attend one of his classes, and I wish him the best.

What aspect of worldbuilding do you enjoy? Do you hate?

May 16, 2011


Because Blogger was down last week, I didn't get to post when I wanted. But here we are, a new week, and I still have plenty to write about and share!

Today's post I will be sharing what I learned from a presentation given at Storymakers Writers Conference by Clint Johnson, teacher, mentor, and author of Green Dragon Codex. His class was entitled, CONFLICT & THE MECHANISM OF STORY, and it was the first class I attended of the conference.


Having said that, when he began his class by pronouncing talent has very little to do with writing a great story, my little writer's ego went HOLD ON and dug in her heels. Lucky for Clint, well, lucky for me, he backed up his gutsy claim, and did so in a way that had my ego sitting up and taking notes like crazy.

As much talent as we've been given, as much as we have "the knack for writing", or anything else for that matter, if we don't have the tools, the knowledge, the drive to DO IT RIGHT, what good is talent? Someone with far less talent can research, discover, put forth the effort, and DO IT RIGHT. They will find themselves published while a person of "talent" is still sitting on their thumbs, or pouring out pretty drivel and submitting in a manner that gets their query deleted from the inbox because they've placed the first paragraph of their novel in the "subject" of their email to an agent who doesn't represent that genre. That was a long sentence.

Anyhow, after Clint made that point, he moved on to the focus of the class, which was CONFLICT. He compared a story to an engine, and conflict as the FUEL to the engine. You can have all the other parts there: character, voice, but without conflict the story isn't going anywhere.

I'm having a hard time choosing what to include in this post without copying my notes word for word, but there were two very effective exercises we did in class that changed the way I'm forming my characters and conflict in my current project.

Clint asked us to pinpoint our protagonist's need, the emotional need behind it, the opposition to filling that need, and the initial action that will propel the protagonist to ACT. This was eye-opening. My current project has two protagonists. Answering this challenge to the male lead was easy for me. Totally clear. The female lead? I was STUMPED. And she's the opening character. So I had to dig around, consider her, create a response to this challenge.

The second exercise addressed STAKES. External (social status, natural disaster, illness . . .) and Internal (faith, obtaining love, self-worth . . .). We were to answer the question: If our character fails, what will happen 1) Socially? and 2) Privately?

It was great to answer these questions about my characters. I could see how it would deepen the storyline and how I write their POV.

Then, after we'd written our answers, Clint commanded, "NOW, COMPLICATE THESE STAKES."

As an example, Clint used the following simple scenario.Original idea: There is a bomb that will kill 1 million people. Pretty high stakes, right? But then Clint COMPLICATED the stakes: 1 bomb that will kill 1,000 people AND ONE SIGNIFICANT OTHER.

All of the sudden it's a whole other emotional ballgame.

This command stayed with me throughout the conference and during the drive home, and afterward, I was hit with several "Ah-HA" ideas that complicate the stakes. Things that were there in the storyline I'd already set up, but BLAMMO hadn't discovered the opportunity yet.

There was so much more in this 2-hour Master Class, and it was the perfect way to kick off the conference. If you ever get a chance to attend a class by Clint Johnson, I recommend it.

So, pinpoint the conflict and all its parts, and up the stakes. Clint said, "Story is not plot. Story is how the character RESPONDS to plot."

Get after it.

May 11, 2011

Writers Bootcamp: Drop and Gimme Fifteen!

For me and hundreds of others, Storymakers Writing Conference began Thursday afternoon at Bootcamp. This is an optional session for those of us who wanted feedback on a current work-in-progress from a small group of peers. I could have signed up for a Romance table, but instead I decided I needed feedback on my new endeavor, YA. So, I shared a table with five other YA writers, and our table's Bootcamp instructor, Lu Ann Staheli.
Lu Ann is an author, educator, editor, and writing coach. She rocks.

L-R Rachel, M___, Jane, Lu Ann, Me, Leah (who is in my writing group in Cody), and Joy. I can't remember M___'s name as it was unique and she didn't write it on her critique paper, but she is a lovely woman.
Lu Ann really kept us on our toes, as we had six authors to go through in six hours, including a break. It worked like this: Each of us brought six copies of fifteen pages of our ms. Since there were 7 of us, we had to share at times. The author read their pages aloud all the way through while the rest of us made notes on our own copies with red pens. Then Lu Ann led us through her critique of the pages for that author, and we all followed up with anything Lu Ann hadn't already covered. Efficient, yes?

Our table had a wide range of sub-genres, everything from YA romance to post-apocalyptic to urban contemporary. Mine is a fantasy. It was fun to hear all the different voices and ideas.

My feedback was very encouraging:

I needed to make my first scene it's own chapter, and clarify the age of my main characters. There were some awkward descriptions and points that could be shown, not told. I use the word small too much. I also had a 7-line run-on sentence! That's not small. Lu Ann was starring her favorite parts, but stopped because she said it would be full of stars (yay!). She also gave me the names of two authors to read, and told me I should find out who their publisher and agent is, so that was AWESOME.

All in all, it was very intense, focused, and encouraging. Everyone was helpful, courteous, and honest with one another. I didn't feel like anyone was holding back, and I felt I could be honest and not resented for the feedback I was giving.

As I drove home with my writing group after the whole conference, we spent most of the 8-hour drive in our own version of Bootcamp, running through our plot-lines and character bios (without any copy--it was all crammed in the trunk of my Subaru) in turn, and brainstorming like crazy. It was so great, and all of us discovered some awesome solutions, twists, and conflict.

For me, Bootcamp was definitely worth the extra fee and nerves. After we got going, the nerves turned to excitement. I have already begun applying what I learned to my ms, and it's the better for it. As I've said before, getting unbiased feedback is necessary if you want to improve your story, and improve as a writer.

Thank you, Storymakers!

How was your Bootcamp experience? Would you do it again?

May 10, 2011

Action Snapshots of Storymakers and The Whitney Gala. Yeah, that's what we'll call them.

I borrowed my son's smaller camera for my trip, and through some misunderstanding, I wasn't using it properly. So next year I will bring my big camera, lug it around everywhere, and take great pics. But until then, put on your 3D glasses and enjoy!

The Table of Awesome that I was invited to sit at Friday morning. L-R Abel Keogh-The Third, Sara Crowe-literary agent, (outof pic) Dan Wells-I Am Not A Serial Killer, Howard Tayler, who drew my caricature while we were sitting there and I will post it later)-Schlock Mercenary, Don Carey-Bumpy Landings, Rob Wells-Variant, Bruce Eschler, TJ Bronley (who was just as giddy as I was), and Berin Stephens-Dragon War Relic.

Sarah M. Eden at book signing.

My friends, Daron Fraley (a Cody boy)-The Thorn, Abel Keogh (who helped me with The Inn)-The Third, and Tracy Hunter Abramson who is all kinds of awesome support-Smokescreen (and others).

Sue and Leah from our fun Cody group!

Sally, from CO, Norma and Carla from our Cody group!

Carla Parsons, who made me write fiction, then made me submit it. I'm doing the same to her, now.

Fun Speculative Fiction Panel. "What are some good settings for Spec fiction?" James: "Mazes?"

James Dashner, Robison Wells, Dave Wolverton/Farland, Julie Wright, and Howard Tayler

The LDSWBR ladies: Shanda, Mindy, and Sheila, and Melissa J. Cunningham. They all rock.

Me and the LDSWBR ladies. I got to help with their Whitney presentation a bit.

Finally got to meet the Gracious Rogue, David J. West, one of my first Twitter buddies.

Me and James Dashner. The Dash. Maze Runner. 13th Reality. That guy. He knows me now.

At the Whitney Awards Gala, I was happy to sit with Gale Sears, whose book, The Silence of God, was nominated.

My friend, Stephanie Black. I love her. She is so sweet. And she writes murder suspense. So, so sweet. Her book, Cold As Ice, won a Whitney!

The losers' cheesecake pity picture. L-R Susan Law Corpany, Janette Rallison, Sarah M. Eden, Tracy Hunter Abramson, James Dashner, J. Scott Savage

I loved this moment. Julie Wright, Cross My Heart, won for Romance.  Several years ago Rob came up with the idea for the Whitney's, and the first people he told, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Annette Lyon, and Julie, all won this year.

This may be my favorite picture. Annette Lyon, Band of Sisters, won for General Fiction. She's still weepy here. Weepy and happy. I was so happy for her, too.

Robison Wells, Variant, and Dan Wells, the Serial Killer Trilogy, and their happy agent, Sara Crowe. Dan won Best Novel of the Year, Mr. Monster (tied with Brandon Sanderson, Way of Kings). His acceptance began with, "What is wrong with you people?"

Josi Kilpack took over from Robison Wells this year and did a fabulous job. Yay, Josi!

Me and my humble host, Marion Jensen. I'm not the only one who takes wrong turns in Salt Lake City. He was awesome.

Between my camera and people trying to be cute we tried this picture 4 times. This is the best one, hand and all. Rob's wife Erin is so sweet and we were both in purple. It required a picture.

Winners Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson, and not winner, Howard Tayler. Aww, Howard. Brandon Sanderson is an inspiration to me and I chickened out introducing myself, even though I had a llama story all ready.

James Dashner was invited to also not be a winner in the winner picture. Aww, James.

Covenant Editors Kirk Shaw and Samantha Van Walraven, and Tracy, who is also a Covenant author.

I had a very good talk with Kirk after his class, and Samantha is my editor at Covenant. Samantha's advice to me for the evening: "Keep writing, and win one of these." Okee doke.

John Ferguson, who was one who kept trying to walk through my pictures. So I took one of him. Turned out pretty good, actually.

Shanda interviewing Howard for LDSWBR. She interviewed me, too. Very fun.

I loved finally meeting Kimberly Vanderhorst, who gave me wonderful feedback for Grace & Chocolate before I submitted it, and now it's coming out in 2012! She's just beautiful!

Annette, Sheila, Josi, Sarah, Lisa Mangum, Shanda, and Mindy. Lisa is the author of The Hourglass Door, The Golden Spiral, and (squeal) The Forgotten Locket, coming out at the end of this month. I love this series!

I'm hoping other attendees post better pics than these! But you get the idea. I'll be posting what I learned from the workshops all week. It was such an amazing conference. I was sad when it was over, but my head was so stuffed with new information I was ready to come home and put it to use. I honestly can't wait until I qualify to be part of this amazing group of people who make up LDStorymakers. I've already made so many friends.

Thanks to all who make it happen!

May 9, 2011

Music Video for Storymakers Lyrics Contest: OH MY

I can finally post it! First, the link to the original iconic music video is here. The link to the parody starring a bunch of goofy and amazingly talented writers is here.

FICTION (Freedom, George Michael)

I might write it down
I might make it up
Gotta move the words all around
I’ll take my chances with this plot
I might write it down
I might make it up
‘Cause I would really really love to be contract-bound, oh yeah

Heaven knows I was just a young kid
Didn’t know what I wanted to be
I was every high school English teacher’s pride and joy
But it wasn’t quite enough for me
To win the race, a well-timed pace
A seamless plot and my MC’s face
On an ad for a Whitney
But the reason why I write this way is not the same
No way                                                      
You can think of it as therapy

I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I told you so
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone else I've got to be
I’ve got these voices in my head
You should be careful where you tread
I just hope you understand
Sometimes your lives end up in my hands.

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see
what might be lies to you
Are real enough to me yeah yeah
Be careful what you say
Be careful what you say

Heaven knows we sure have some fun, boy
What a kick, just my hero and me
We have every angst-filled villain bent on the run, boy
yes we’re living in a fantasy
finding romance
taking a chance
solving crime with a second glance
at my double-you-I-P
And the way I play the game ain’t gonna change
No way
Yeah, you can call it therapy

I think there's something you should know
I think it’s time the world should know
There's something deep inside of me
There’s someone else I’ve got to be
I’ve got these voices in my head
You should be careful where you tread
I just hope you understand
Sometime your lives end up in my hands

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see
what might be lies to you
are real enough to me, yeah yeah
Be careful what you say
Be careful what you say

Well it looks like the road to published
but it feels like it never ends
I submitted in the summer
now the snow is making the trees bend
Imagine my book signing
Going through a million pens
But if I get that far
Chances are
I’ll get put next to Mary Higgins Clark

That's what you get,
That's what you get,
That's what you get,
I say that's what you get
That's what you get for playing in your mind
That's what you get for playing in your mind

That's what you get,
That's what you get,
And after all this time
I just hope you understand
Sometimes your lives end up in my hands

All we have to do now is take these lies
And make them true somehow
All we have to see is what might be lies to you
are real enough to me yeah yeah
Be careful what you say
Be careful what you say
Be careful what you careful what you say

be careful what you say to me
it may end up in my mystery
what you say now
I’ve got to write I’ve got to write
(return to top)

Thanks to Crystal Leichty,Debbie Hulet, Elizabeth Mueller, Frank Cole, Jaime Theler, Heather Moore, Jessica Day George, Josi Kilpack, LeAnn Setzer, Marion Jensen, Melissa J. Cunningham, Michele Holmes, Sarah Eden, Paul Eden, and Stephanie Fowers. So glad I'm not alone in this.

May 4, 2011

Lookin' For Adventure, or, You Know, Storymakers

I've had to move my blogs down on the priority list this week as I've been running through my to-do list.

6 copies of 15 pages of SILK manuscript CHECK
rough Synopsis of SILK CHECK
binder/notebook CHECK
pens, black and red CHECK
business cards CHECK
chocolate-covered cinnamon bears CHECK

clothes (duh) CHECK
shoes (too many) CHECK
dress for Whitney Gala CHECK
toiletries and jewelry KINDA CHECK
pillow CHECK
CAMERA oops, forgot to ask son if I could borrow his. Mine is HUGE and needed for daughter's prom. Hmm.

Hawaii and American Samoa quarters for TJ Bronley

clean out car and gas up
shower and finish packing
freak out because I'm going to STORYMAKERS WRITING CONFERENCE (okay, I've been doing that for awhile)
pack snacks and water bottles
pick up my writer pals

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