Writers’ Retreat #2

On Saturday, we held our second writers’ retreat.  One of the ladies from our PA chapter of ACFW held it at her house, but it wasn’t strictly for ACFW members and we had a nice turn out.  There were nine of us this time.  If I’m not mistaken, that’s two more than last time.

I led another creative exercise in the morning to get our creative juices flowing.  Then we had a brainstorming session to talk about our current work in progress or any other writing project we thought we could use some brainstorming.  At first, I didn’t think I had anything I needed help with.  I don’t have any short projects in the works right now and I don’t seem to be struggling for blog posts either.  However, Lisa, the hostess, asked me questions that got me to thinking, and I decided to ask a question and share a scene from my current novel.  I’m glad I did because even though it was hard to hear something negative about the scene, it ended up being a big help, and the fact that we had a free writing session immediately following the brainstorming session gave me an immediate opportunity to rewrite the scene, making it much better.

After lunch, we had a lesson that Donna led about self editing.  I don’t mind saying I did not enjoy this lesson.  It was very difficult.  I know that self editing is important, and I also know why she had us do the lesson she had us do, but I still didn’t like it.  She had us choose a long paragraph from our current work in progress and count the words in it.  Then she gave us five minutes to cut that word count in half.  After that, she had us count the words again to see how we had done.  Then she gave us another five minutes to cut that number in half.  This exercise was an epic fail for me.  You see, I don’t have very many long paragraphs in my work in progress.  I struggle with including enough description to properly set my scenes, but am talented at writing good dialogue and action to keep the story moving.  Therefore, I am not an overly wordy writer so it was extremely difficult to cut a paragraph without removing important information.  I do understand the need to do this, though.  I watched a friend struggle through having to make a lot of cuts to her first novel according to her agent’s guidelines to attempt to find publishers who might be interested in publishing that novel for her.  She is extremely happy with the final results but she struggled and worked extremely hard to get there.

That is not to say that I am not willing to struggle and work hard to put out a really good final product, but I don’t think I will go about it the way that Donna had us do.  I know I will start by looking for all of the “over used” words.  You know, words we use over and over again because we tend to write like we talk or think.  I know I will have to change, cut and find synonyms to correct this problem.  I’m sure there will be other things I will have to cut as well, but I’m not really ready for that stage just yet and I need guidelines to be able to determine what really needs to be cut and what doesn’t.

How about you?  What have you experienced with self editing?

The Value of a Writing Group

I have three friends who like to write, just like me, but have trouble making time for writing, just like me.  Therefore, we have created our own “Inkling” type group.  If you don’t know what that is, are you familiar with C.S. Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia fame and J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame?  Well, they met with a couple of other writers at Lewis’ rooms or in English pubs to discuss writing, share ideas or their own writing, and to do some writing and brainstorming.

My friends and I decided to embrace this idea.  For a few months now, we have been meeting at various places one evening a week, and we talk about writing and things we have learned about writing.  We brainstorm.  We share our writing with each other to get feedback, and we spend time writing — at least an hour and a half of just writing.  We all have come to look forward to our one evening a week and we hold it fast on our calendars because it enables us to do some writing and to encourage one another.  It has become very valuable to each of us.

We would love to find a wifi cafe or coffee shop in a location central to all of us that we could meet in each week, that doesn’t close so early.  However, we haven’t found anything great in a central location, and many of our local coffee shops close quite early.  Therefore, we currently meet at two of our houses, McDonald’s because they’re open all night so if we get on a roll, we don’t need to worry about the time, and one or two coffee shops.  It works, but we really would prefer one great central location.

I advise you to talk to other people and let them know you’re a writer.  Who knows?  You may find another writer or two that you have things in common with or maybe you already have a couple of friends who write, and maybe you can begin your own small writers’ group, and you’ll see how much it begins to mean to you.

Do any of you already do this?  I’d love to hear how it’s working for you and what kinds of places you meet.

Having Fun Experimenting

I am still working on the story that I am still outlining.  I am also working on some nonfiction short pieces to submit to some magazines.  I have also simply been “pantsing” a story just to be consistently writing something.

For a while I struggled in trying to decide on what genre I would write.  Then a wonderful writer advised me to write what my passion is and to feel free to try several genres.  It has also been suggested to me that I could write more than one genre, as many other writers do.

So, what I have found is that every story I write seems to have some romance in it.  I have decided that is my passion; clean romance, of course.  I have also found that there is a need for good fiction for boys ages 10 – 12, as well as for Young adults.  Therefore, the story I am outlining is geared for young adult girls.  The story I am simply “pantsing” is for adult women, although I’m not sure what will become of it.

However, this week I was helping my ten-year-old son with a story he was assigned to write for the Writers’ club that he and seventeen-year-old brother participate in.  They were assigned to write an Historical Fiction story, and I have to say that helping him with an Historical Fiction story began some wheels to turning in my brain, and I now have ideas for three Historical Fiction stories — one for adult women; one for girls ages, 10 – 12; and one for boys, ages 10 – 12!  I’m so excited, but I really need to get writing!  With all of these ideas, I’ll be writing for a couple of years without having to worry about finding some ideas.

I never would have thought that I would enjoy writing Historical Fiction.  I never liked history when I was in school, though I enjoy it much more now that I am homeschooling my own children.  I never thought I’d want to do a lot of research before writing something either, but all that research entails is reading (which I love to do) and taking some notes for what I want to write.  I’m looking forward to trying this new genre.

How about you?  What genre do you have a passion for?  Do you write more than one genre or for more than one age group?  Leave a comment and let me know about it.

Character Questionnaires

As I mentioned before, I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year.  However, I am working on a story.  Well, actually I am working on the pre-writing of a story.  I have learned the value of an outline and the “Character Questionnaire”.  Since characters are what attract your readers and keep them reading, along with a good plot line, it is important to create rich, memorable characters, and the best way to do that is by knowing your characters inside and out.  That is the purpose of a “Character Questionnaire”.

A Character Questionnaire asks questions about your character(s).  I intend to fill out a Character Questionnaire for each of my protagonist, my antagonist, and a few other characters that I feel I need to know well because they will be doing quite a bit of interacting with the protagonist.

You can find lots of character questionnaires online, simply by googling “Character Questionnaire”.  There is even a NaNoWriMo character questionnaire at http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/61118193819/nano-prep-the-official-nanowrimo-character.  There are 46 questions on this character questionnaire.

The character questionnaire that I am using comes from an E-book that I got free from K.M. Weiland at http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/?s=crafting+unforgettable+characters.  It’s very in-depth and it’s really helping me to flesh out my character, to the point where she is becoming real to me, so I know I’ll be able to write her well.  Not only do I have to know what she looks like physically, I have to know what her idiosyncrasies are, what cheers her up or annoys her, what are her hopes and dreams, does she have a secret, where and when was she born, and so much more.  (I used “her” and “she” because the character I am working on is a female.

I am enjoying creating my character with the help of a character questionnaire.

How about you?  Do you use a Character Questionnaire to help you create your characters?

Do I Really Need an Outline of Some Sort?

I have always been the kind of writer who simply sits down and writes.  I have a story idea and I simply write it.  Of course, like any other writer, I then have to edit and do rewrites until it is as good as I believe it can possibly be.

However, as I have been attending a writers’ group and reading some books on writing, I have given this a bit more thought, and now see at least one good reason for some type of outline.  I believe I may have mentioned in my post about our last writers’ group that the guest speaker mentioned that she had created a minor character for one of her stories and hadn’t written down her information about that character, and when the story went to the editor, the editor contacted her and explained that she gave two different physical descriptions of that character in two different scenes.  It is easy to see how that can happen, so I would say that is a very good reason to have at least some kind of outline of your characters.  I also believe there are other good reasons for having an outline.

I will admit, though, that I have never enjoyed creating outlines.  I find them a bit too structured and when I try to use them, I feel my creativity drain away.  Can anyone relate?

Then I read Short Story:  From First Draft to Final Product by Michael Milton (I know I’ve mentioned this ebook before).  In this helpful, little book, I found an outline that encourages creativity instead of stifling it, because you use it while brainstorming!  It is called the “Herringbone” diagram and Michael Milton credited it to David Mitchell.  It was explained as drawing a vertical line on a piece of paper.  This is the “spine”.  Then insert “bones” off this spine which represent the chapters.  Coming off those bones are smaller bones which represent scenes within those chapters, and coming from those can be bits of dialogue, sentences or ideas that will be part of these scenes.  (This is like advanced brainstorming.)  With a few ideas already there for what needs to happen in each section, it should be easy to write during writing time.  I’m looking forward to giving this type of outline a try.

What type of outline do you use and do you find it helpful?