Sorting Into Factions

I recently completed a Marathon Writing Fest. (Is that actually a thing? If it isn’t, it should be.)
I was on vacation from my day job for three days, then I had two weekend days following. All I did was get up and write every day. I didn’t take naps, or clean house, or watch movies. In fact, the only time I went out of the house was to go to the grocery store and to get my hair cut. The rest of the time was spent writing. I got roughly 20,000 words written and it was glorious bliss.

But during the fest, I came to the muddy middle of my WIP. You know what I’m talking about, right? The part that’s just past the attention-grabbing hook that compels the reader to keep going; and right before the page-turning dilemma that the hero/heroine could never escape, but somehow does, part. The middle.

If you follow most structural models, the mid-point of the story (also referred to as Act II) is where your main character is brought to the point of no return. Something has just turned their life upside down and now they have to deal with. For me, that’s the most difficult part of the story to get right.
During my Marathon Writing Fest, I discovered a trick that helped me reign in the story that had somehow gotten away from me. I was struggling with a few scenes in which the characters weren’t really going anywhere logical. I found myself saying, “Would my protagonist do that? I don’t really know.”
I took a step back and re-evaluated. I needed to reintroduce myself to my characters. I did that by sorting them into Hogwarts Houses and dividing them into Divergent Factions. (*If you are unfamiliar with these terms, see below.) It may be a bit strange, but I found that imagining my characters in the worlds of other books that I loved helped me hone in on broad personality traits.

My main character isn’t exactly like Tris or Harry and the love interest isn’t like Four. (BeeTeeDubs, one day I will write an entire blog post about the perfection known as Four, but that’s for another Tuesday.) As I started thinking about it, some things came to light about the characters based on the Houses and Factions in which I sorted them.

And I’ll just admit it now, it was fun to do!

My Protagonist is Dauntless/Slytherin. (But nobody is going to want to punch her, I swear.) The Antagonist is Dauntless/Slytherin. That immediately shows that there’s going to be conflict. In the middle of my story, my protag was wandering around in the woods asking a bunch of questions and getting no answers. After I sorted and divided her, I realized she wouldn’t be doing that. She would take action and demand answers because she has no fear and she believes she’s completely right. Those kind of people don’t often sit around waiting for the universe to deliver things to them on a cloud.
Other characters I’ve written include an Abnegation/Gryffindor, Erudite/Ravenclaw, Candor/Gryffindor, and Amity/Hufflepuff. I’ve got an Amity/Ravenclaw, Erudite/Slytherin, and Abnegation/Ravenclaw too.

When my book is published one day, (When, not If. Positive thinking) you can try to figure out which one is which. If I’ve done my job right, then that should be easy for you.

If you’re a writer struggling with direction in the middle, fry sorting and dividing and see what happens next.

*Hogwarts Houses are in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Factions are a large part of the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. If you haven’t read them yet, please, in the immortal words of Tom Haverford, “Treat Yo Self.”

Falling Up

I almost began this blog post by detailing all of the horrible things that happened to my family last week. Between school/work problems, health issues and a fall up the stairs at work, it was just a bad week. (Yes, I said “up” the stairs. That’s an advanced skill and meant to be performed by professionals only, so don’t try that at home kiddies. ) Instead of using my blog to whine, I decided to shift my focus. After all, how can I complain about my woes in a week that contained 9/11?

The thing is nobody is immune from bad days, or bad weeks, or sometimes bad years. It happens. It’s part of the human condition. But when I’m entrenched in a battle with stress or fear or just busyness, I try to stop and tell myself, what’s going on isn’t important. What’s important is how you react to it.

I don’t always react in the best of ways. I give into stress and worry far too often. I’m a worrier by nature. My husband said to me last night, “I’d be worried if you weren’’t worried.” I often devote too much of my brain worrying about things I can’t control. Sometimes though, I can turn it around, rely on faith, and make something good of it. Trust me when I tell you, this is the better option.

So when I sat down to write on Saturday afternoon, I made a distinct decision not to focus on the sore muscles and scrapes covering my feet and knees. (See? Falling up is dangerous.) I reminded myself that the week was over. I took a deep breath and I started writing.

I wrote some of the best stuff I have ever written and ended up with about 6,000 words in one day. In fact, my little tumble up the stairs gave me a great idea for a scene in my book. I guess you can file that one under “Making Lemonade from Lemons.”

Now I’m not condoning creating stressful situations in order to produce creative bursts. Not at all. What I am condoning is letting the stress go. Not only is it better for your health and own outlook on life, but it’s better for your writing.

Now I just have to make myself remember that in the future. Do me a favor – If you hear me complaining about the stresses of being a wife and mother, working full-time and trying to write all at once, kick me up the stairs.

Don’t Fear the Banana

I just read about a fantastic query contest focusing on fear.

Wait, let’s push pause for a minute while I give a brief explanation of query.

A query is simply a letter written by an author to prospective agents.  The query gives information about the author’s work including genre, word count, comparable titles, and of course, what the book is about.  It sounds simple, but trust me, it isn’t. Authors spend weeks and months, and sometimes years perfecting the roughly (for my genre) 80,000 – 100,000 words and getting them just right.  A lot of authors, me included, find it very difficult to narrow that down into one page of text.  But it’s important to get it right so that the agents (or we hope multiple agents) will want to know more and request pages from your manuscript, which they will love so much they promptly call and offer you representation.  So queries have a lot riding on their electronic shoulders.

Pushing play.

The particular query contest, focusing on fear, isn’t limited to stories in the horror genre. It’s open to all genres. Why? Because all stories contain an element of fear. Good ones do, anyway.  Every protagonist or main character (MC for the purposes of this blog) is afraid of something. Fear trips you up, it stalls you, it causes you to do things you don’t want to do.  When our MCs get tripped or stalled, or do things they don’t want to, it makes our stories interesting and real.  We want to see how the characters react when put face-to-face with the thing that scares them the most.

That’s a whole heck of a lot easier than facing what we fear the most, isn’t it?

I’m going to work on this contest using my current work in progress.  Not only do I think my current story lends itself to the “Halloweeny” feel of this contest, but I think it will help me dig deeper into my MC and learn more about what makes her tick. Learning more will help me create a multi-layered character, which should be more exciting for my readers.

I think I’m going to adopt this as a writing exercise for other characters in my book and future books.  It’s easy to write a fear for your MC. But what about her love interest or best interest? Knowing what they’re afraid of, even if you don’t include it in your work, can help you write them more fully.  This should be particularly interesting to do for the antagonist.  What is the enemy afraid of? How can the MC use that? Or more interesting still, can you use that to make the reader sympathize with him/her?

Since I’m not ready to reveal any of my WIP yet, I’ve decided to practice for this contest by writing the required 100ish word paragraph about one of my fears.

It’s the smell that gets me most. Sickly sweet and musty, it hangs in the back of my throat and penetrates my nose hairs. Sometimes the odor stays with me for hours. When it wafts around me, waves nausea rock my stomach, like tidal reminders of times I spent sitting in the bathroom.  My mom told me the medicine would calm my stomach back when I was a child.  I can’t say if it did or didn’t.  What I can say is that there is nothing I’m more frightened by than accidentally eating something made of banana.

(Yes, it’s true. I really am afraid of bananas.  But spiders don’t bother me at all.)

For writers interested in the contest go to michelle4laughs(dot)blogspot(dot)com (Which is not me, nor am I affiliated with the other Michelle)

The Obligatory Pantser vs. Plotter Post (say THAT three times fast)

This is the first time I will be sitting down typing my blog post into the magic window directly.  I didn’t pre-write this post days ago, edit it obsessively, then copy and paste it here for you all to read.  Read: these are my thoughts on the fly.

It’s kind of exciting.

All up-and-coming authors must weigh in on the pantser vs. plotter issue. (It’s a rule. I looked it up in the manual.)

When I first started writing I thought writers could be put into one of two categories: Plotters, or those who meticulously plot and plan their books; or Pantsers, or those who just write by the seat of their pants.

Plotter people outline, diagram, and organize their stories before they write one single word. Pantser people start with a blank document (or piece of paper if they’re old school) and write whatever comes to them.

Understand there is no “right” way to write a novel.  Or rather, the “right way” is the way that works for you.

So how do you know what works for you?  Easy, I say. You do what I did and try both.

I’ve come up with the conclusion that I’m Plantser. (Because JK Rowling has the copyright on Potter.)

I signed up for a retreat in October. With my registration, I’m given the opportunity to submit the first ten pages of my work in progress, plus a synopsis.  “That’s great,” I said.

Until I realized I had no synopsis written. I know what a synopsis is. I had an idea of how to write one, but I had to get it on the page before I could submit it.

As I was writing I discovered something amazing. I had to know what was going to happen throughout my novel. Like, all the way to the end.  This was not a comforting thought to someone who was pretending to be a Pantser.  But what I discovered was that writing the synopsis generated ideas, and plot points, characterizations.  I had to pause the synopsis-writing in order to run make notes or write a quick scene for the novel.

And now that the synopsis is finished, I have a great plan and a lot of scenes that may not have come to me in any other way.  It’s a good feeling.

On the flip side of this is I still haven’t lost my Pantser roots.  Last night I wrote a scene that I love. In the scene the reader learns why a character has a particular nickname.  But you see, before I started writing that scene, I had no idea why they called him that. I just knew that was his nickname.

But as I wrote the scene, the character told me why.

And that’s what I love most about writing. Creating something out of random bits of neurons firing around in my brain.

So today I’m a satisfied writer. I’ve learned a skill that will help me craft my story better. And I’ve allowed myself to go with the flow and come up with a great scene.

Not a bad day’s work for a Plantser.