Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Freelancer's Performance Review: Strengths and Weaknesses

Earlier in the week we began a discussion of how a freelancer can perform a performance review to help in planning for the next year. Last time we talked about your mission, what you have been doing and what you should be doing. Today, we are doing to deal with one of the classic evaluation areas of a performance review in the workplace. What are your strengths and weaknesses?


I always like to start with the positive. This is not just a "warm, fuzzy," it actually has some science behind it. Evaluations which focus primarily on things needing improvement tend to be less effective than those whose primary focus is on reinforcing those things which are being done well.

There was a study done at a workshop several years ago. The participants each received training and were evaluated in their post training performance. Those receiving only negative evaluation (evaluations of things needing improvement) showed the least improvement. Those receiving a mixture of positive and negative evaluation improved more. Those receiving only positive evaluation of those things done well during the training improved the most. So, always begin any evaluation, even a self-evaluation, with an examination of what you do well.

Areas for Growth (I prefer that to "weaknesses)

 Why do I use that term instead of weaknesses? Am I just trying to put a positive spin on things? No, although, that by itself would be sufficient reason to do so. Words do impact our attitudes and those attitudes impact our performance. However, there is another reason. Weaknesses limits your thinking to things you already do, but could do better. However, not all improvement simply comes from correcting some flaw. Some of it comes from expanding on what you already do well or broadening your area of strength into new areas.

For instance, maybe you are already proficient in using Photoshop to fix the quality of the photos you take to illustrate your articles and books. However, you might feel you want to do more like create book covers or web banners.

Of course, some things you might not be doing so well at. Maybe you need to work on dialog or describing locations. These are areas where you need to improve. It might not even be a skill area. For creatives, the business side of art is often the problem. I may be good at writing, but not at keeping my books straight. I might understand plot and character, but not marketing and advertising. So, I might need to do some work on developing those skills as well.

So, as part of your annual review make a list of strengths and weaknesses.  Next up: An action plan.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Performance Review - For Freelancers: What is your mission, What do you Do, and What should you be doing.

It's coming up on the end of the year. Any of you who have been in the business and professional world know that this is the time of the year managers do performance reviews. I was in education for the past 30 years. Ours were more often done at the end of the school year, but for most of us, this is the time we begin planning for the new year, and just because you work for yourself, doesn't mean you don't need a performance review. In some ways, we need it more than anyone else because we don't have the ongoing evaluation of our performance throughout the year.

I just finished reading an article at called How to Do a Proper Self-Review and Identify Your Professional Pain Points (Before Your Boss Does). It got me thinking about the sort of things freelancers and work at home professionals need to consider as we face the end of the year. So, I'm adapting many of the ideas from the Lifehacker article for this series.

 What is your mission?

Every business or institution has a mission statement. It sets forth what that business is all about. It also sets limits around the business. Think about it this way. Nobody can do everything. Sometimes, as freelance writers, we try to spread ourselves too thin. Now, I'm not talking about taking some chances or testing the waters in a new area. What I'm talking about is a general tendency to be unfocused. Here's my revised mission statement for this year. Much has changed so I could broaden that statement a bit:

Wordmaster communication is dedicated to producing focused self-help, Bible study and writing instructional guides, primarily in ebook format, and producing clean speculative fiction novels which blend science fiction/fantasy elements with mystery and/or political intrigue.

Now, I will be doing other things, but they will be on the periphery of this primary focus. My focus is shifting from pursuing publication through other publishers and more toward self-publishing. There are a variety of economic and personal growth factors that are leading me in that direction. Also, changes and opportunities in the self-publication marketplace make this a prime time to establish a presence there. So, that is my mission statement.

In creating a mission statement set forth somewhat specifically what the scope of your writing "business" is. Sometimes I ask people to write a mission statement and they write something like this:

My mission is to write inspiring books that entertain, encourage, comfort, amuse and motivate people to improve their lives.

That's everything and nothing. You can include Stephen King, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Hemmingway and Dr. Phil under that mission.

One good way to figure out what you are doing and what projects you have planned. For instance, I have several Bible studies already written which need to be edited and formatted for Kindle. I also have outlines for several short guides to novel writing and a full length book about magazine article writing. My novels are mostly science fiction mysteries with one being more of a sword and sorcery fantasy but focusing more on the political inner workings of the fantasy world than in big magical battles.  My mission statement reflects this.

Of course, I will still take on website projects and public relations jobs, but unlike six months ago, those will not be at the core of my writing. My writing endeavors have shifted, so I rewrote my mission statement.

If you don't have a mission statement, you might want to write one. If you do have one, then now might be a good time to review it and see if it accurately reflects what you are doing. If it does not, then either the statement or what you are doing needs to change. I can't tell you which is right for you. That is something you have to figure out on your own.

What are you Doing?

You know those memes  you see on Facebook and Google Plus that show a series of pictures with titles like "What my mother thinks I do?" "What society thinks I do?" etc. Well, You need to cut through the illusions and get to the reality of what you really did this year. Again, be specific. List out your writing projects. If they are still in progress estimate how far through them you are. Here's a short list from my personal review:
  • Finished Facebook Page for Wordmaster Books
  • Finished Facebook Page for Wordmaster Communications
  • Finished Website project for X Client
  • Finished Editing, Formatting and Publishing Death Gets an "F" on Kindle
  • Learned how to use Muse, Photoshop and In Design moderately well.
  • Finished Editing, Formatting and Publishing Time Management for Writers on Kindle
  • Two-Thirds finished with first draft of Time after Time
  • Three Quarters finished with final draft of Stormy Weather
This year, looking over my own list, I find that I was doing a lot of work setting up an infrastructure for marketing, learning some tools for my self-publishing ventures, formatting and publishing numerous items that have been completed and languishing in files. I've been doing some new writing as well, but a big focus, particularly the last few months has been turning some of my writing into publications.

What Should you be Doing?

Now comes the hard question. What should I be doing? Well, that depends a great deal on two things: What my goals were at the start of the year (as revised during the year to reflect changing circumstances) and what my mission statement is reading.

Looking over my revised mission statement, I see I probably spent more time than I should have developing marketing for my client-based writing services. I also probably didn't need to spend quite as much time learning InDesign and Adobe Illustrator as I did. So, I might make my list of things I should have been doing look like this (in abbreviated format):

  • Learn the basics of Muse, Photo Shop and InDesign
  • Finish Editing Stormy Weather and format for Kindle
  • Finish Editing Death Gets an "F" and format for Kindle
  • Develop video materials for online courses (Novel Writing, Mag Writing, Social Media for Writers)
  • Develop outline for Shyness Book
  • Complete first draft of Total Eclipse of the Moon
  • Complete first Draft of Time after Time

Of course, I have more on my list. But you get the idea. Now looking over this, I completed some of the items. Some I'm nearly complete on. Some I haven't done anything on. I'd say, I was about 60% successful. Not bad, but certainly not where I want to be.

So, that's the first step. Later in the Week will look at the next part of your performance review: Strengths and Weaknesses.

Friday, November 16, 2012

S.M.A.R.T Goals

I know this is the sort of article you see in January when everyone is setting goals for the New Year. I could suggest that, if you wait until January to set your goals for 2013, you have waited too late, but that would be disingenuous because that's usually when I start setting them. The reason I'm thinking about goal setting now is that I am involved in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). Like thousands of other writers around the world I'm striving to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Actually, my goal is two novels for 100,000.

Now, this goal isn't practical for every writer, however, one can learn a lot from the experience. Mostly, what one learns is the power of a deadline and support in increasing productivity. Also, one learns something about goal setting, and, more importantly, goal keeping.

Many people treat goals like wishes. A goal is something they hope will somehow happen if they work real hard and have good luck and the stars align properly. In reality, a goal is the first part of an action plan. That means you have to think through your goals carefully. I just read this acronym and loved it. S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S - pecific

Your goal needs to be specific enough that you will know instantly if you achieved it or not. Take a look at Nanowrimo. The goal is to write 50,000 words as the first draft of a novel. I know exactly when to crack open my bottle of Classic Coke ( I don't drink alcohol ) and celebrate. Too many people will tell me their goal for the coming year is to "write more," "get to work on my novel," or "build up my business." With goals like that, not only will you not achieve them, you won't even know when you did achieve them.

Some examples of specific goals include:

  • Write an average of 1000 words a day on non-holiday weekdays. 
  • Edit and put in the mail the following novels/short stories/nonfiction books/articles
  • Complete two novels. 
  • Write and send out 25 magazine articles.
  • Send out at least two query letters per week/month
M - easurable

Being specific means your goals need to be measurable. As mentioned before, "doing more writing" is not only a vague goal, there is no way to measure it. Some types of things that can be measured in writing are:

  • Word Counts
  • Pages Edited
  • Projects Completed
  • Projects Submitted to Editors/Publishers
  • Projects Self-Published
  • Number of local clients contacted
  • Number of blog posts written
  • Number of social media connections made
A - ctionable

 Too many people set goals they have no direct control over. For instance, they will set a goal like "Publish three novels." Now, unless you plan to self-publish, that is not an actionable goal. There is nothing you can do to ensure it will happen. Much of that goal is outside your control. First, an assistant editor has to pass along your proposal to an editor. That editor has to meet with an editorial committee. They have to consider budget, market trends, the composition of their fall catalog and a dozen more factors before deciding whether or not to publish your work.

So, what is  under your control? Writing the novel. Editing your novel. Sending out proposals or meeting with editors at writers conferences. So, frame your goal in terms of the actions you will take. like: "I will complete three novels and submit them to at least five publishers each."

R - ealistic

Now, this is one where people fail by either overestimating or underestimating. Your goals should challenge you, but not to the extent that they are virtually impossible to attain. For instance, Nanowrimo's 50,000 word challenge is doable for most people if they can put in an hour or two a day on the project. That's 1650 words a day or about seven double spaced type written pages a day. Now, to determine if this is reasonable for you or not, you need to know some things. First, you need to know how fast your write, rough draft speed. You can find this out by writing for fifteen minutes three times, counting the number of words and creating an average for an hour of writing and reducing it by 25 percent. So, if you average 1200 words an hour, call it 900 so you have some wiggle room for slower days.

You can do the same with other writing activities like editing, preparing the final manuscript, formatting an ebook for publication, even writing your blog. That way when you say you want to be able to write 10,000 words a month on your novel, you will know approximately how much time that will take and be able to decide whether or not that is realistic.

T - imed

There is nothing like a deadline, even a self-imposed one, to motivate completion of your goals. One of the values of Nanowrimo is the fact that by the end of the month, you either have written your 50,000 words and you get your badge to put on your website, or you didn't. As those last days of November tick down, you feel the pressure of the deadline to either keep up the pace or increase it.

When setting your goals, make them time sensitive. For instance, don't just say you want to complete such-and-such a novel, say, "I will complete such-and-such a novel by the end of March." That sets a specific time frame for completion.

So, as you begin to think about your goals for next week, next month or next year just how S.M.A.R.T. are they.

If you enjoy these articles, you might enjoy my series of writing essentials books on Amazon including Time Management for Writers, Elements of Plot: A Personalized Approach and The Road to Success in Nanowrimo with more coming later this year.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Tortoises, Hares and Writers

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. The two were in a race. The hare was fast, so he figured he had it made. So, he ran fast for a few hundred yards, saw the tortoise far behind him, so he laid down and took a nap. By the time he woke up, the tortoise was crossing the finish line.

Over the past 30 years, I've been in various writing groups, and I've seen the tale of the tortoise and hare acted out over and over again. Some people won't write unless they have an hour or an entire afternoon where they can get some "serious" writing done. Unfortunately, such times come rarely, so they end up writing sporadically. They may write 2000 words one Saturday, but don't get anything else written for another two weeks. Others, though, write everyday, or nearly everyday, but are apologetic about "only" writing 300-500 words a day. Guess which ones end up finishing their novels faster and sell more writing? You got it. Our writing Tortoises get more done even though, their individual writing sessions are shorter and "less productive."

I am a member of the ACFW  (American Christian Fiction Writers) Novel Track Writing email discussion group. A few months back we started the "Ten Words a Day" club. A lot of people were reporting that they hadn't written anything that day. So, many of us pledged to write at least ten words on our novels every week day, before we reported in on our daily totals. After all, it took at least ten words to report we didn't write and why.

Since that time many people have used the Ten Word a Day club to good use. Many write saying "Thank You, for the Ten Word a Day club. It has improved my productivity." How can this simple thing - writing ten words a day - improve productivity? It's because the practice breeds consistency. There are three reasons consistency produces better results than marathon writing sessions.

Consistency Creates Habitual Behavior

Okay, I have a terrible time keeping track of my keys. I'm always looking for them. Why? Because I come in from the car and drop them anywhere I happen to land. So, about a month ago, I decided I was going to have to start hanging up my keys on the key rack as I come in the door. But, I knew that having a good idea wasn't enough. I needed to train myself. I needed to create a habit of hanging up my keys. So, everyday, if I forgot and laid down my keys on the kitchen table or washer, I stopped at the point I remembered, set aside everything else and hung up the keys. After doing that for nearly a month, I almost automatically hang up my keys without thinking.

You can create habits for creative behavior as well. If you sit down at your computer to write just ten words every day, you create a habit of writing daily. Eventually, you will automatically get started on writing projects on a regular basis, even if it is only a few words at a time. You know the irony of our Ten Words a Day club? Most of us end up writing 100 words or more when we sit down to write just ten.

Consistency Reduces Preparation Time

Whether we call it "inspiration" or "the muse," many writers need to get in the mood to write. That, often requires reviewing what they already wrote, going over their notes and research, and finally getting into character and writing. This prep time can be several minutes. However, if  you write consistently, you will find that you get in the mood much quicker. Also, not having a week or more go by between writing periods means you don't have to review what has already been written to know what needs to be done next. You can sit down, open your file and start typing.

Consistency Turns Small Efforts into Big Results 

What can you do with just 300 words written in a day? That's a little more than a double-spaced typewritten sheet of paper. Most of us can do that in about 15-20 minutes at rough draft speed. In a month that would be 9,000 words. In six months it would be 54,000 or the length of a small novel. In a year, that's 109,000 words.

Now, let's look at the person who will only work when they have an hour. They get 1500 words written in their hour session, but they only do that once a week. That's 6000 a month or 78,000 in a year. Still a respectable number (Again, due to consistency), but it's 31,000 words less than the  300 word a day "tortoise."

A last word of inspiration. Lewis and Clark crossed half a continent traveling only about 25 miles a day. But they kept moving forward. As writers we can learn from that. Consistency will produce results over time.

Sometimes the problem is finding the time to write. I have addressed this issue in Time Management for Writers: You DO Have the Time to Write

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Point of View: Third Person Limited

Third person Limited keeps it's focus one one character. It's like that character is being followed around with a TV camera. It has two empathy levels: Subjective and Objective. Let's look at Each


 This is the most commonly used third person POV. In many ways, it is like first person main character. You focus on the point of view character, know his or her thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, etc. The only difference is that an anonymous narrator is telling the story and not the POV character. This character is usually a main character, but not necessarily. In some novels you will shift the POV from one character to another in different scenes. We will talk about multiple points of view in another lesson. However, it is important to remember to stick to a single point of view for each scene.

Most of what we said about first person applies here as well. Your character and reader can only know about what is known or could possibly be known to the main character. So, if in another part of the universe events are transpiring against your character, they have to hear about it through a third party or be ignorant of it just like in first person.


 Remember we talked about the idea of a TV camera on the shoulder of a character with a cable plugged into that character's brain. In this POV, we unplug the cable. We follow the character around but only report what could be seen by that camera. You don't report his/her thoughts or feelings, what they see or hear or think. You only report their behavior and their environment. For instance, if you are reporting about a detective finding the body of a murder victim using the objective POV, you might write something like this:

Detective Marylin Walters entered the room. The stench of decomp permeated the room. She wrinkled her nose and reached into her purse. She withdrew a small tube of some sort of cream and applied it to her nostrils. She dropped the tube back in her purse and stooped down to bend over the body. Jake Carter, M.E. was already examining the corpse.

"Won't know for sure until we get her on the table, but it looks like blunt force trauma."

"No chance it could be an accident?"

"None whatsoever," Jake said as he stood up and walked to a table. He picked up a plastic bag with a bloodied hammer.

"Okay," Marylin sighed. "There go my plans for the weekend."

Notice we do not mention anything about her inner feelings or emotions. However, we get it that she is revolted by the stench of decomp, that she doesn't want to investigate and she has some plans for the weekend.

It is a hard point of view to maintain throughout an entire novel. However, I might say that writing at least a few chapters in this style will help you develop those skills of showing your visitor what is happening instead of just telling them. When using a subjective point of view, it is easier to say, "Marilyn hated the smell of decomp" than to describe her actions, but that description has more impact than simply giving her inner response.

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Overview of Third Person Point of View

In simplest terms third person point of view stands outside the action and describes what is going on as an objective and anonymous reporter. In essence, it is the print equivalent of a camera. However, third person gets complicated in terms of where that camera is located and whether or not it is also able to read thoughts.

Third person point of view always has to deal with two different dichotomies: Scope and Empathy.


Scope refers to what the camera is able to see within a given scene or over multiple scenes. The dichotomy here is between limited and omniscient points of view.

Limited refers to a story or scene which stays focused entirely on one character. It's like the camera is attached to that person's forehead. Whatever happens in their presence is what gets recorded.

Omniscient point of view allows the author to view everything regardless of it happening in the presence of the character. The author can break away from the main character's point of view to provide the reader with information unknown to the character. Here's a comparison of limited and omniscient points of view:


Jennifer entered the room. She looked around. A statue of a man riding a bucking horse made out of bronze set in a space between a line of old leather bound Zane Grey novels.
"I see you are admiring my collection of novels." Jennifer turned quickly to see a man about fifty with greying hair and dark eyes. His hand stroked a scar on his left chin. 


Jennifer entered the room. She looked around. Her eyes settled on the "Bucking Bronc" Statue by Remington. Jason Culpepper acquired it on a trip to Cody Wyoming. His generous donation to the Buffalo Bill museum made them more than willing to part with the sculpture. Jennifer perused the bookshelves crammed with leather bound first editions of Zane Grey novels.
"I see you are admiring my collection of novels." Jennifer spun around to see Jason Culpepper himself, a man about fifty with greying hair and dark eyes. His hand stroked the scar left on his chin by the knife of a Viet Cong assassin who met his own death at the hands of Private Culpepper. Jennifer had never heard the story and didn't know of the nightmares Culpepper still had nearly forty years later. She thought the scar added character to his rugged face. 

One point here. Don't confuse omniscient point of view with a novel that switches points of view between scenes or chapters. The omniscient point of view can be found within each scene, as shown above and throughout the book. However, many authors will switch from one third person limited point of view in one chapter to another third person limited point of view in another chapter. For instance, a political thriller might switch between the president's POV in one scene to that of his press secretary in another to that of his chief of staff in another. Eugene Burdick's novel Fail Safe does an excellent job of this approach.


The second dichotomy I call empathy because it refers to how much insight the narrator gives his reader into the thoughts and feelings of the character(s) in the novel. The two dynamics here are: subjective and objective.

Subjective point of view allows the reader to know directly the character(s) thoughts, emotions, attitudes, perceptions and inferences directly.

Objective stories only allow the reader to see the outside of the character(s) with no insight into their thoughts or feelings except what they express through dialog.

Here are two examples of subjective and objective:


Bob left the diner. He pulled his coat tight as the wind hit him. I guess I'll be sleeping at the mission tonight. The mission was alright, but he hated to be preached at just for a hot meal and a warm bed. Still on nights like this it was a lot better than on the street. 


Bob pulled his coat tight after leaving the diner.
"Not much defense against the cold." The man speaking was about Bob's age, but dressed in a full overcoat. He adjusted the clerical collar at his neck.
"You have a place to sleep tonight? If not, we have just expanded the downtown mission." The priest handed Bob a card.
"Not much for missions, padre. I hates bein' preached at jest fer a hot meal and a warm bed."
The priest laughed a loud, deep laugh.
"Can't say I blame ya. Just bring this card and you can decide whether you want to hear the 'preachin' or not."
Another gust of wind and the priest tipped his hat and started to leave. "Hey, padre. Seems like a fair enough deal. And even a bit of preachin' is better than spending the night out in this wind."

Writing in an objective style, even if you eventually want to use another point of view is a valuable exercise since it forces you to show instead of tell.

Four types

So, if you have been keeping track you can see we will have four types of Third person points of view


The next four lessons look at each.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Point of View - First Person Minor Character (Oblique)

In the last two posts we talked about two relatively common forms of First Person point of view. In the first, the main character tells the story. In the second a secondary, but still important, character does. These are fairly common, but, sometimes, a story can be told from what is called the "Oblique" point of view by a minor character particularly one who does not have any significant impact on the events in the story. For instance, in To Kill a Mockingbird the story is told by Scout, a young girl who doesn't understand most of what she reports in a tragic story of racism and justice gone awry.

This is an unusual point of view. It is generally used as a method of separating the reader from direct identification with any of the "actors" in the story. The events are told by a third party who witnessed them, but was not part of the story.

It is a difficult type of point of view to master. The character sits on the bank of the river describing the ships floating by without engaging with them. You are unable to get a deep interior perspective from any of the main characters. Since the author is only tangentially a part of the story s/he doesn't even have the insight of a Watson or Captain Hastings into the main character's motives and thoughts.

It is rarely used, and I think you can see why.

Tomorrow we will begin our discussion of Third Person Point of View. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Point of View: First Person - Secondary Character

Photo Credit Ell Brown
Not all first person stories are told from the perspective of the main character. Frequently, it is told by a secondary character who was involved in the events of the story. The most famous example of this would be Sherlock Holmes stories in which his friend and associate Dr. Watson writes the stories. Holmes complains about how Watson sensationalizes his "methods."

Indeed, another mystery writer used this technique. Agatha Christie's third, Hercule Poirot novel, The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd, tells the story from the Point of View of a Dr. Shepherd who calls on a retired Hercule Poirot to investigate the crime. :::Spoiler Alert::: Turns out that Dr. Shepherd is in fact the murderer and the faces of the case are found in his journal.

Christie also has Poirot's friend Captain Hastings write a number of the books.

This POV can be useful in both cases because the main characters are brilliant, but a bit hard for the average person to understand. Holmes, for instance, could name scores of different types of tobacco ash, but didn't know the earth circled around the sun because that didn't help him with solving crimes. Poirot (much like his 21st Century successor Adrian Monk) is obsessive compulsive about order to the point of annoyance. Seeing these characters through another character in the story gives us someone we can more easily identify with.

Of course, this POV is not without it's difficulties. The main one is access to information. Things that happen outside the presence of the veiwpoint character must be inferred by other evidence or reported by the main character to the "author." Likewise, you are not privy to the thoughts of the main character except through dialog or inference based on the relationship between the two.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Understanding Point of View: First Person Main Character

What is Point of View?

At it's simplest level point of view is a matter of grammar. We learn about it in grade school. Certain words designate a particular point of view. "I, me, we," and their variants represent first person. "You, yours, etc." designate second person. "He/she, him/her, they, them" are third person.

However, that simplicity covers a much deeper and more complex aspect of story telling. A simple way to think about point of view is to think about the perspective from which the story is told and who the narrator is.

In this particular lesson  we will look one of the most commonly used points of view: First Person Main Character.

First Person Main Character

Photo by Dhanira
 Usually, an author uses this approach to first person writing. It has obvious advantages. The story is about this character and his/her adventures. So, you don't have to invent ways that a secondary character might know something significant that happened to the character when his/her chronicler is not around.

However, it can have some drawbacks. First, you have to maintain that character's voice throughout the story. S/he can't start sounding like a neutral narrator. In Dark Side of the Moon, I created a main character who did not use contractions much. She rarely said "couldn't" or "can't." Instead, she said "could not" or "cannot." It was a reaction to growing up in a working class environment and making it through two PhD's and a Master's. She was afraid to go back to that little girl who wore patched clothes to school and talked "funny." However, I had to maintain that affectation throughout the book and not only in the dialog.

You also have to be careful about your character sounding too conceited when s/he does something extraordinarily well. It is one thing for Watson to say Holmes is brilliant. It is quite another for Holmes to say it about himself. The character needs to seem oblivious to his or her prowess, intelligence, beauty, ability or courage. If such characteristics are so pronounced they cannot be discounted by the person, you can make them embarrassed by them or counter them by giving the character significant deficits elsewhere, particularly in areas where most people excel. The classic is the brilliant scientist who is awkward at dinner parties or can't ask his lab assistant out on a date.

The second issue with following the main character, whether in main character first person or third person limited points of view, has to do with events that take place outside that person's presence. They will have to hear about those things in some normal way like reading about it in the paper, hearing it from a friend, seeing a surveillance tape or making a logical inference from the evidence available. Likewise, you can't say "Johnny was hurt by what I said." How do you know that? You need to establish a basis for knowing it. Better to say, "When I said that, Johnny's shoulders slumped and he looked at the ground. He began drawing with the toe of his shoe in the dirt. 'Johnny, I didn't mean to hurt you,' I said. 'I'm not hurt,' he mumbled. I wasn't convinced."

Tomorrow: First Person - Secondary Character

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Walk A Mile in Your Characters' Moccasins

 The typical advice you get in writing books about how to build characters is to create a detailed dossier about each character. You're supposed to write down everything that you can think of about the character from physical description to foods they like to eat  o attitudes about politics. According to these teachers that is the way that you get  o know your character.

It certainly isn't a bad way of developing a character. However, it is not  he only way. You don't have to make copious notes about your character to get to know him/her. If that isn't your style, here's a way to develop characters from the inside out. It requires some quiet time when you won't be interrupted. So, you might send the kids and hubby/wifey out to a movie while you do this.

I lie down  for this exercise, but that is dangerous because I sometimes fall asleep. Just be sure you are in a comfortable position sitting or laying.

Close your eyes and begin by visualizing your character. Don't try to force anything. Just let the image come to you. It may be vague at first, but it will get more clear over time. Then see yourself merging with the character, and begin to see the world from his/her point of view. At this point you could open your eyes and look around your room. What would that character see and think about what s/he sees? Glance at a newspaper or open a news site on the internet. Where does that character go first? How does s/he react to things like the color scheme or the layout of the page?

Try walking like the character, talking, gesturing like him/her. Again, don't try to force this. Let it happen naturally. You will feel it if the voice or walk doesn't fit. If so, ask why and then change it.

Let your character within you, think about the other characters. What are the quick impressions s/he has of them? Why do they feel that way? What in their background brought that about? But frame the question from inside the character saying "What happened to me that made me dislike Christmas?"

Let the memories from this character come to you? What are favorite ones? Terrifying ones? Sad ones? Again don't try to force anything, let the character speak to you from inside you.

This method is great for those of you with a drama background or who like playing "lets pretend" or are kinesthetic learners.

It's certainly not for everyone, but it is a good one for some people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You Speak It Types

I remember watching a science fiction show on TV back in the sixties that had this remarkable device. It was a typewriter with a microphone and the secretary just talked into the microphone and it wrote what she said. I thought  hat would be great. Well, as with much of the science fiction by youth, the future is here. And, it has been here for about fifteen years.

With Speech Recognition, a child could write before they
learn to read.

Back then, the recognition was not always too accurate. Most desktop computers just didn't have enough power or memory to process continuous speech. Much has changed since then. Today is a product like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, after training, can have upwards of 99% accuracy. Frankly, that's better than my typing.

Today, I am using Dragon NaturallySpeaking the 12th edition. I am currently looking at my screen, talking and watching the words appear in front of me. It's almost like magic. I don't use speech recognition for everything. Sometimes I'll go weeks without using it at all.

But, I am getting more into using it. For a variety of reasons. First, my fingers aren't as limber as they used to be. And sometimes long periods of typing can leave my hands hurting. Secondly, it is a little bit faster than my typing. I can speak at about 60 words a minute, but I type at about 30. So, I can theoretically almost double my writing speed. In actual practice, it is somewhat less than that. However, I can get about a 50% increase in words per minute.

Now, before you rush out and buy the latest edition of the software, you might want to consider a few things about speech recognition. It does change how you write.

First, speaking and writing are different types of communication. In normal conversation, you tend to be less formal than you are when you're writing. Use more sentence fragments, more slang expressions, clichés, colloquialisms, etc., which are generally don't use in formal written work. That means that you are still thinking writing, but then essentially reading out loud what you have written in your head into the microphone.

Second, you have to get used to punctuating verbally. While Dragon NaturallySpeaking does have a built in algorithm that will punctuate your work for you, it isn't very accurate – yet.

Third, you have to be patient. While you can use the program right out the box, it will have only modest accuracy. To get the best accuracy, you will need to train the program. This "training" begins with you reading several pieces of text. As you read them, the program will compare the written text to what you say. It will use that information to build a profile of how you pronounce words. However, the training doesn't stop there. You can also run programs which analyze your written documents and your e-mails. This will give it an idea about common phrases that you use. An error that the program makes, that information is stored and is used to improve the recognition.

You really have to use the program for a few weeks before you get close to that 99% accuracy that we talked about.

I have to say that I really enjoy using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I think it is the best speech recognition on the market.

There is a speech recognition that is built into your Windows operating system. You can access it under accessories-> accessibility. However, I have found that it is not as accurate as Dragon. However, it can give you an idea about how speech recognition works. So it is something that is good to practice on.

I hope that maybe this will give you a little bit more information about how to use this type of technology. It is not flawless, however, it has made my life easier.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Aristotle and character motivation

One of the first things I learned in college, which I didn't already know from high school (our high school was pretty good so the first two years of college were mostly an advanced review), was a quote from Aristotle's Rhetoric. Aristotle wrote, "There is an object at which all men aim in any action which they choose or avoid; and that object may be called happiness or possession of The Good."

I capitalize The Good because it is an interesting word in Greek. Aristotle combined two Greek words translated "good" in English to create a concept unique to his writing. One is Kalos meaning "good, useful, beautiful, practical, and well made." The other "agathos" means "morally good, righteous, ethical, justifiable." In other words, the actions we take are motivated by what we perceive as being both desirable on a material level, as well as, morally right.

So, what does this have to do with fiction writing?  Your characters do things. The question you must ask before they do them is "Why?" We have all read bad literature where characters just do things to advance the plot without there being no clear motivation for them to do so.

One cliché from the movies is the shy, wimpy, scaredy-cat woman, who, upon hearing a noise in the room down the hall, instead of calling 911 and running out of the house, takes a flashlight and opens the door to the room to see what's going on.

We all say, "Give me a break!" We know it is out of character for her to do so. When we ask what this character with this personality expects to achieve by doing such a "courageous" act, we don't know.
Now, if it has been built into the script that she has called the police one too many times about imaginary threats, and she is trying to overcome her own paranoia, then it makes sense for her to do this possibly foolhardy thing. Her concept of The Good (overcoming her fears) outweighs the threat.

Go back to each of your characters and ask yourself, "What is this character's concept of The Good in this scene. What do they hope to accomplish? How will this act help them achieve that?" If you can't come up with a satisfying answer, then you need to revise either the character or the plot so that the action makes sense.

Many fictional villains, especially those in action-oriented fiction, seem to lack motivation. The classic is the one where the villain decides to do something that will destroy the world. Hello! You are on the world you are ready to destroy. Unless you write into this characters arc that he is suicidal, you have a real problem with motivation. At a less obvious level, why do the bullies in the youth novel harass the kid?  What does the drunken husband expect to accomplish by drinking? What is the concept of The Good that drives the evil brother to the king in the fantasy novel to attempt a palace coup?

In other words, ask yourself, "What do my characters want when they do things?" Write according to your answer.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Wrote My Novel MY Way Part 3: The Explorer

You will find me repeating a lot of what I said in an earlier post when I discussed how I go about planning a novel. That is because I'm an explorer. I don't usually go into a writing project with no plan at all. I do know where the story starts and what the ending is going to be. Sometimes I even plan backward from the ending. However, detailed plot outlines are a bit too restrictive for me and time consuming because I know some things will change as I write my story and get to know my characters more.

I fit into the Explorer or Discoverer mode. I use the words interchangably because like an Explorer, I do my research, I have a destination in mind, I have some idea of part of the terrain before I leave, but much of the journey, if not most of it, is still a mystery to me. But I'm also a Discoverer because I discover much of my story (especially subplots and side plots) as I write. I set my characters loose in the world I've created and follow them around seeing what they do. There are certain "destination points" I want them to get to eventually, but I discover with them how they get there.

Here are some typical (but not universal) ways that Explorers plan their novels.

Research, Research, Research

Depending on the nature of your novel, good solid research can help you develop ideas and provide some plot elements. Also, if you have the research at hand, when you get to writing the novel, you don't have to stop the writing process to go look up some fact or figure out if it is in fact, feasible that someone could be decapitated using a garrotte (I write murder mysteries. These are legitimate questions.)

Character Creation

If I am joining my characters on this journey of discovery letting them lead the way through the choices that they make, then I need to know them inside and out. I will spend hours making lists of things to know about them from the color of their hair to how they lost their faith in college and regained it in grad school. Some minor characters, I let emerge without much planning, but the main characters, they are as real as any of my family or friends by the time I finish developing their personalities.

World Building

Your story takes place somewhere. You need to be very familiar with that somewhere. Now, you might set the story in a town where you live  or have lived and stick with familiar scenes. In that case you probably don't have to do much physical world building. On the other hand, if you are writing a science fiction or fantasy story, or even just a cozy mystery that takes place in a mythical small town, then you need to get a clear image in your mind of what that world is like.

I've been writing novels and short stories about colonies on the moon for four years now. By this time I know each settlement, each ag dome, each mine, each town as if I have lived there. Sure I'm still discovering new places. This year we will be visiting a clear domed resort. However, I know that place very well.

Of course, your world is more than buildings and geography. You also have cultural and institutional world building to do. First, cultural. What is the culture like in your primary setting? This can include ethnicity, but think beyond ethnicity. A poor Mexican-American Family living in the Barrio is different from a poor Mexican-American family following the crops is different from a wealthy Mexican-American family headed by a lawyer. Culture varies. What culture is your character thrown into? How is it different from their own? How do they feel about that? The classic is a big city resident forced to move to a small town. Culture is a multifaceted thing taking into account economics, regionalism, ethnicity and geography.

Institutional world building is one of those things many people ignore. We don't only live in a physical place with a specific culture. We also work, live, worship, play within institutional settings as well. My main characters, for instance, are college professors. They work at Armstrong University on the moon. That is a specific type of institution. They teach. They do research. They attend committee meetings. There are particular characters they like, dislike or tolerate within that institution. Other institutions can include churches, the military, police, fire departments, clubs, hospitals or other health care facilities.

The Map

Before embarking on my adventure, I do have a map as an explorer, but it is a minimal map. It lays out a few of the basic stops I'm going to make along the way. I have the beginning and the end blocked out. Then I set my "destination points" things which MUST be included (at least from my point of view prior to writing) for the story to work. The details of  how the characters get to those points are not included. Here's the map I have for this year's novel (taken from my previous article)

  • Mike and Carolyn join Eric and Linda on a trip to Xanadu a domed resort on the surface of the moon to help them plan their wedding in the "Earthlight Chapel" at the resort. 
  • Jason Kellen, proprietor of the resort invites the pair over for dinner where he shows them his private collection of lunar exploration artifacts. He proposes giving them to the college and funding the building of a museum to house them. They include the golf ball Alan Shepherd hit during his trip to the moon. 
  • Carolyn brings in Moonbeam and the mobile crime lab to help with the a authentication,
  • Before the lab can arrive, the golf ball is stolen. Mike and Carolyn are  asked to investigate quietly. 
  • The day after the Eclipse, Jason is found dead in a crater without an EV suit by Linda and Eric. 
  • The investigation begins
  • They sort out the suspects:
    • His daughter bitter over the divorce
    • The construction engineer who found the golf ball and was paid handsomely for it. 
    • The "waiter" whose facial structure is a close match to that of a theif
    • The Casino owner who wanted to buy the museum collection
    • The ex-wife 
    • The gigilo she brought with her
    • The disgruntled employee fired recently.
    • The holiday director who is everywhere, but no one really knows.  
  • The investigation takes two tacks: Theft of the Golf Ball and Murder of the Host. 
  • They narrow down the suspects to the waiter for the golf ball theft, but then he is found dead with a faked golf ball in his apartment causing everyone to wonder why he didn't just put it in the glass case and no one would be the wiser. 
  • More investigation. Discover the golf ball was a fake from the beginning. Construction engineer is the culprit. He killed the waiter/thief, but was on his way back to Armstrong on the train when Jason was killed. 
  • Investigation proceeds. Physical clues point to the Casino owner. Turns out the Casino owner was a partner with Jason in a failed land investment scheme on Earth. Jason discovered the Casino owner sabotaged the deal and pocketed the money swindled from investors. He was going to turn him in during his stay.
  • Casino owner is murdered. 
  • More investigation and a key piece of physical evidence is found to point to.... (No, you will have to read the book to find out)
That's 50,000 words of story condensed into about 200 words of outline. This outline would not please most novel writing teachers. It is not detailed, etc. But it is just fine for me to find my way through the forests and have a few adventures as well along the way.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Wrote it MY Way: The Plotter

Friday we discussed one end of the spectrum when it comes to planning a novel (or any other type of writing for that matter) - The Pantser who "writes by the seat of his or her pants" without doing much in the way of planning. At the other end of the spectrum (and it is a spectrum not just three distinct ways of doing things) is the Plotter.

If you take just about any novel writing class offered (with the exception of mine) this will be the one and only method presented. The arguments are compelling. Having a clear detailed outline before you begin to write will keep you on track and reduce the need for as many revisions later on. Also, since you have the plot laid out in advance, you won't find yourself saying, "So where do I go from here?" Likewise you can spot the holes in your plot early and correct them before you begin to write. Also, it gives the student an exercise you can grade. :-)

Seriously, many people feel much more comfortable with a detailed plot laid out in advance. They do not feel it reduces their creativity, because the creative effort goes into creating the plot outline. They do, indeed, find it easier to write when they have a clear plot in front of them. They may even write faster and probably do have less to do when they begin editing.

And, savvy plotters know that plots are written on paper and not chiseled in stone. They can be changed if in the midst of writing they get some new ideas.

Methods of Plotting 

If you feel that you would prefer to work from a complete plot rather than make it up as you go along, here are a few good ways to create a plot outline. Remember, these are not the only methods. You can use any of them or none of them. Combine them or ignore them and create your own. However, these may give you some ideas for creating your own plot outline.

Page Per Time Unit. Dick Perry in his book One Way to Write Your Novel puts forth a fairly simple method of detailed plotting. His method works like this. You get a three ring binder. You put in one page and write on it what happens right as the curtain rises on the story. Then put in another page one write a one sentence description of what happens at the end of the story. For instance, in my book Dark Side of the Moon, that would look like this:

Opening: Carolyn is waiting in the spaceport to go to the moon to take a job as a history professor at Armstong University.

End: Mike declares his love for Carolyn after they have revealed the identity of the killer.

Now, using this method, you figure out the time from the first scene to the last. In the above example that would be 12 months or 52 weeks. I could choose either interval, but I'm going to choose the 52 weeks.

You then put a page in your binder for each unit of time. On those pages you jot down your notes as to what happens during that week/month/day/hour. What characters are involved? What challenges do they face? How do they resolve those challenges? How does the main plot and each of the subplots advance during that time frame? Once you finish writing those notes, you have a detailed plot outline.

Scene-by-Scene This method thinks about the novel like a play. Consider a three-act play. In act 1 we met the characters and the main character encounters a problem. In act 2 the character struggles to understand and confront the problem. In act three the character confronts and solves the problem (or fails to do so in a tragedy). Each act has a number of scenes which lead up to the next act.

Of course, you can't directly equate a novel with a play. Novels are more complex involve more subplots and secondary plots and more detours than plays do. However, novels do take place one scene at a time. The scene-by-scene approach recognizes this and builds a planning model around the scenes. Most of these models create either a page in a notebook or a file on your computer for each scene in your novel. In general this is done sequentially in the order in which you expect them to appear. There are two ways to do this. First, you can take an overview followed by filling in the details. In other words, create a file for each scene with just a minimum amount of information. For instance:

Mike and Carolyn have dinner with Jason and a few others and offers his museum to the University.
The other method is to plan out each scene thoroughly before going on to the next.

Either way, the idea is that before you set down to write, you have each scene planned out.

File Card Method Both of the previous methods had one thing in common. They encourage the author to plan a novel sequentially from beginning to end. However, many of us have minds that work differently. We jump around in our thoughts. So, I'm working on the first scene of the novel and suddenly I get an idea for a scene 75 pages later. I say, okay, that's another 20 scenes, I'll write down when I get there. And what happens is we forget all about it.

The File Card Method is similar in many ways to the scene-by-scene method. However, it differs from that method by encouraging you to let your mind wander if it wants. You grab a bunch of file cards. On one you write a short description of your opening scene (it could even be tentative). On another write a description of the last scene. Keep this short. A sentence or even phrase would would adequate. For instance: "Arrive at the crime scene" and "Reveal the Killer" would be fine. You will come back later and fill in the details.

You make a card for every scene in the novel. If you have a lot of ideas about that scene, jot them down. You can even plan out the whole scene on the card (You might get 4x6 or 5X8 cards). But if an idea comes for another scene, grab a card and jot down the idea. Likewise, if you really don't feel much like planning the proposal scene right now or maybe you need more research before your main character has that discussion with the medical examiner, you can skip over them.

You might have an idea for a scene to come somewhere in the story, but you don't know where. You can jot down the idea and maybe when you get some context, placement will become obvious.

Try not to edit yourself too much at this stage. If you have an idea for a scene where your character watches kids on a playground and remembers her own troubled childhood, but aren't sure you would want it in the final cut, jot the basics on a card and come back to it later.

Once you have all the scenes you can think of jotted down either as short sentances or as complete outlines, think about organizing them.

First, go through the cards you have and eliminate any that don't really belong in the story. Then look at the remaining scenes and ask one question: "Which scene logically comes first?" Lay that card face down on the table. Then ask which scene follows that one? Continue to ask that question until you have your cards organized. Leaf back through the cards. Are there any scenes missing? If so, pull out a card jot down a couple of notes and put it the stack where it belongs.

Visualization Method. Some plotters view themselves as pantsers because they don't write down their plot outlines. However, they often have very detailed storylines visualized in their minds. Of course, there is not "technique" involved. It is merely a matter of thinking about your story long enough that you have down the whole plot in your mind before you start writing.

Storyboard Method. For very visual writer, you can create a detailed plot outline by taking the scene-by-scene method and creating a storyboard with sketches of each scene and notes about what is happening. This is especially good for action-adventure type writing.

There are five methods plotters can use. Tomorrow, we will look at the Explorer.

BTW, if you are working on Nanowrimo you might check out The Road to Success in Nanowrimo. It includes tips on plotting, character, even time management for your exercise in writing a novel in a month.  It's only 99 Cents on Kindle and you can read it for free if you are an Amazon Prime Member. Don't have a Kindle? You can download the Kindle app to your PC, Smartphone or Tablet or read it in the Amazon cloud. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing a Novel YOUR Way: Part 1 - The Pantser

Earlier in the week we discussed how I go about planning a novel. I referred to my approach as the explorer. I have a very brief outline that sets forth destination points along the way, but it is not a scene by scene outline. There are many unplanned twists and turns in the final writing. We will talk about this in more detail later.

Today, though, we will begin with the most maligned of all techniques known as the "Write by the Seat of My Pants" approach or "The Pantser." I've read many writing books on all types of writing and have never seen one good word written about this technique.

I think I understand that. After all, if I am trying to sell a book on how to write, part of that book is going to have to do with planning my writing projects. Several dozen pages will deal with that subject. Yet, if someone is not planning, what will I put in those pages?

Indeed, if you look at most well-known writing instructors' signature approach to writing, it is rarely about characterization, editing, language usage or any of those essential elements of a novel. The core of The _____ Approach to the Novel is usually a plotting technique.

It is easy to dismiss the pantser. Many of us follow that old adage which says "Plan your work, then work your plan." The problem with that is that I'm not sure the pantser sees writing as work.

While not a pure pantser, I think I understand that mindset. Fiction writing for me is like interactive entertainment. As I write, I become part of the story. Writing fiction is not a "job" for me. The "job" appears when I have to edit and revise what I've written, but the writing itself is a vicarious adventure. If I know what stands behind every bush before my characters pass that bush, it spoils the fun.

Now, I like a bit more structure than the pantser. We will talk about that approach in a couple of days. But I understand the pantser excitement with discovering the novel through the writing. In essence the first draft of the novel for the pantser IS his or her plot outline.

The Pantser's Strengths

The main strength of the pantser is spontaneity. Sometimes writing down a plot outline can limit your creativity. You get a better idea when you are writing, but that means changing the plot outline and shifting around your carefully outlined scenes, so you stay with the original idea and ignore what might be a better approach. Even for explorers, this can be the case. I know where my plot has to get to in a few pages and this would throw off that plan.

Another strength is character-driven fiction. Frequently, "well plotted" novels focus on the action over the character. By that I mean, that the author is thinking mostly about what the characters need to do to make the story work out. The story can easily be forced down the throats of the characters.

The Pantser's characters are driving the story. Mostly the pantser puts characters in a setting with a problem and let's them figure it out as s/he tags along. If the pantser has a well developed set of characters what they do will usually be in character because he is not trying to force a direction on them. (Of course, that can lead to other problems, but we'll discuss them in a moment.)

The pantser can also bring a joyful passion to the story which can show through the way s/he tells the story. Often in the first draft, the pantser gives the impression of "being there" which those of us who have more complete plans may need to create during our revision and editing stages.

The Pantser's Dangers

If you are a pantser, life is a wonderful adventure, but we all know adventures also have some dangers.

One of the biggest dangers for the Pantser is getting off track of the story. This means you will have to spend a lot more time in editing removing irrelevant scenes. It also means you will find yourself going down narrative blind alleys which don't really lead to any place significant in your story.

A couple of tips for the pantser to stay on track. If at all possible, have your conclusion in mind. In fact, I suggest writing or at least summarizing the climatic scene first or right after writing your first scene. Set this aside and glance at it occasionally asking yourself how what you are writing is bringing you closer to that end.

Another tip, even if you don't have your ending planned out, is to simply stop and take stock about every 5000 words or so and ask yourself where is this leading? If it isn't leading anywhere profitable, then change direction.

Are You a Pantser?

Only you can answer that question, but here are a few ideas to consider. When you go on a road trip, do you tend to ignore the map and just head in the general direction of your destination and find your own way? Do you have a tendency to take spontaneous detours? When you cook, do you tend to make up your own recipes or just watch someone else and then do what they do? Would you have trouble finding the measuring spoons in your kitchen? Are you someone who gets a new program and installs it and doesn't bother to read the handbook or instructions at all, but prefers to figure it out on your own? If that is the case, you are probably a pantser.

Here's a good test. You probably have some sort of idea for a story, Sit down and set a timer for ten minutes and start writing on that story. If at the end of that time you find yourself generating more ideas for the story and wanting to continue, you are probably a pantser. If you run out of ideas and wish you had some sort of guide to follow, then you probably are not. You may well be a plotter. We'll talk about that Tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How I Plot a Novel

It's Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) time again. That's just two weeks from now. That means NanoPLOTmo is upon us. National Novel Plotting Month as we head into the craziness of November.

I know some of you are "plotters" and some of you are "pantsers." Some need a detailed plot describing what happens virtually on every page before sitting down to write. Others "fly by the seat of your pants" not having anything on paper creating the plot as you go. And people in both camps produce great novels, so I'm not going to tell you one is better than the other. I'm going to just give you a third model that lies somewhere between the two. I'm calling The Journey of Discovery model.

First Things First

Before you begin to think about plot (plotter, pantser or discoverer) you need to do some prep work. For me that's settling three specific things: Premise or Story Concept, Characters and Setting.

Premise. The premise for me is sort of like "the elevator pitch" professional writers talk about. You are in an elevator and you see the acquisitions editor of a publishing house in the elevator. You are carrying your manuscript and the editor says, "I see you're a writer. What's your novel about?" And you have to tell them before  they get to their floor.

This is also sometimes known as the "concept" and really is trying to boil down the entire story into a single sentence. So, this year I'm doing a sequel to Dark Side of the Moon using the same characters and setting I did in the first book. This one is called Total Eclipse of the Moon. Here's my premise:

While vacationing at a resort in a clear dome on the surface of the moon, the proprietor of the resort is murdered during an eclipse and our heroes must find the murderer. 
Okay, it's a bit awkward, but who cares. Until you have to write the marketing blurb, you are the only one to see this. This gives me the specific direction for the story. Everything in my central plot will relate to that concept.

Characters.  I'm a list maker, so I list out everything from their height, weight, hair color, etc. to their likes and dislikes. Basically, I work on their character sketches/dossiers until the character becomes real for me. The way I think about it is that I don't know the character until I reach the point that I wouldn't be surprised to see him or her walking down the street, and, if I did, I could carry on a conversation with that person. At this point I don't do this for every character, just my main character(s).

Setting. Your stories also have to take place somewhere. Of course, they may well move around the world like National Treasure, but there is a starting location and probably one that you will spend the most time in. You don't have to do full world building at this point, but I close my eyes and try to visualize the scene.

Expanded Story Concept

After I have these things in place, I create an expanded story concept. I write 3-4 paragraphs or sometimes simply a bulleted list of the general arc of the story. Nothing detailed. Mostly just where the story begins and where it ends.

Here's a quick one for Total Eclipse. It will likely change dramatically, but this is the preliminary concept:

  • Mike and Carolyn join Eric and Linda on a trip to Xanadu a domed resort on the surface of the moon to help them plan their wedding in the "Earthlight Chapel" at the resort. 
  • Jason Kellen, proprietor of the resort invites the pair over for dinner where he shows them his private collection of lunar exploration artifacts. He proposes giving them to the college and funding the building of a museum to house them. They include the golf ball Alan Shepherd hit during his trip to the moon. 
  • Carolyn brings in Moonbeam and the mobile crime lab to help with the a authentication,
  • Before the lab can arrive, the golf ball is stolen. Mike and Carolyn are  asked to investigate quietly. 
  • The day after the Eclipse, Jason is found dead in a crater without an EV suit by Linda and Eric. 
  • The investigation begins
  • They sort out the suspects:
    • His daughter bitter over the divorce
    • The construction engineer who found the golf ball and was paid handsomely for it. 
    • The "waiter" whose facial structure is a close match to that of a theif
    • The Casino owner who wanted to buy the museum collection
    • The ex-wife 
    • The gigilo she brought with her
    • The disgruntled employee fired recently.
    • The holiday director who is everywhere, but no one really knows.  
  • The investigation takes two tacks: Theft of the Golf Ball and Murder of the Host. 
  • They narrow down the suspects to the waiter for the golf ball theft, but then he is found dead with a faked golf ball in his apartment causing everyone to wonder why he didn't just put it in the glass case and no one would be the wiser. 
  • More investigation. Discover the golf ball was a fake from the beginning. Construction engineer is the culprit. He killed the waiter/thief, but was on his way back to Armstrong on the train when Jason was killed. 
  • Investigation proceeds. Physical clues point to the Casino owner. Turns out the Casino owner was a partner with Jason in a failed land investment scheme on Earth. Jason discovered the Casino owner sabotaged the deal and pocketed the money swindled from investors. He was going to turn him in during his stay.
  • Casino owner is murdered. 
  • More investigation and a key piece of physical evidence is found to point to....
You didn't really think I was going to give away the culprit in an open forum did you? 


Now, I lay down, close my eyes and follow the whole story in my mind as it unfolds sort of like a movie in my head. Okay, it's weird, but I enjoy it. I begin to fill in  some of the missing bits and some of the secondary plot elements (No, I didn't forget about Linda and Eric's wedding. That's a whole subplot to be explored) as well as the daughter discovering the father she never knew after his death. 

That's It!

For me that's where it stops. I may add a couple of things like maybe the key bit of physical evidence I haven't quite worked out yet or some notes about one of the subplots, but I don't make my plot outline more detailed than what you see there. However, plotters can do just that. They can work out every individual scene by taking each line in this bulleted list and writing notes on each scene which connects them. 

So, that's how I plot a novel. What about you? What tips do you have about writing the novel?

If you are planning to take a run at Nanowrimo, check out my book The Road to Success in Nanowrimo It's only 99 cents on Kindle. Click Here for more information.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I Nanowrimo?

Well, in three weeks we will be heading into a month of "literary abandon." November is National Novel Writing Month. That time of the year when thousands of writers. ranging from seasoned pros to absolute beginners, try to write an entire 50,000 word novel in a month. It's sort of like marathoning. Unless you've done it, you don't know why other people do.

Nanowrimo BadgeYou can keep bungee jumping, sky diving, undersea demolition, this is the real adrenaline rush. Chasing along behind your characters as they travel through their adventure at 1650 words a day - or more. Many of us take the 50,000 word goal as just a beginning. I'm going to be going for 75K this year. I know some who try to make 100K or more.

So, why do I do this? What good is it?

I find that a strange question. You don't see people asking guys in tea shirts and baseball caps, guzzling beer and shouting "Go Defense" why they do it? You don't ask someone watching an opera or delighting in a symphony why they do it? First and foremost, it is just plain fun. Writing is fun in and of itself, but when you mix in the games, the word sprints, the chatter in the discussion forums, on Twitter, Facebook and Google plus, the general camaraderie among writers scattered all over the world, it is like a month long party taking place all over the world.

Perhaps, on a more practical note, Nanowrimo gives a chance to experiment. Now, that I am supporting myself in part from my writing, I tend to think somewhat conservatively. I know that my Dark Side of the Moon characters are popular, and I can move into character easily with them, so I gravitate toward them. Nonfiction sells and sells good. So, I research trending topics and write about them. It's fun, but it's also safe.

During November, I throw literary safety to the wind and play with other ideas which may or may not be commercial. I write the stories I might not have written otherwise. I get creative and even a bit crazy, but sometimes crazy is what you need to be to come up with the Big Ideas.

Finally, it helps me write. I have to write everyday or I'll get behind. I have to write fast and put editing aside until later or I won't make my number for the day. I have to set aside the distractions of life for one month to pursue my craft. If I can do that in November, then I can do it other months as well.

If you are considering Nanowrimo yourself, I have put together a guide called The Road to Success in Nanowrimo on Kindle. You can download it on your smartphone, tablet, computer or Kindle device. You can also read it in the Kindle cloud. It is a guide for the beginner covering everything from time management to plotting the novel. It's only 99 Cents and, if you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow it for free.

Also, during this month, I'm curating a paper at You  can keep up with what bloggers, journalists and others are saying about Nano this month.

If you are in the forums, my username is terrimain and I'll be following the #nanowrimo hashtag on Twitter where you can follow me at