On Novel: My Writing Process with Elaine Dodge

I love reading about another author’s writing process. Not only does it make me feel sane (because sometimes there are some weird things I do while writing) but I also gain useful tips that help in how I approach some of my writing projects. On Novel: My Writing Process is a writing tips series I’m going to be running throughout August, September and October with guest posts from authors sharing their experience. If you’re a novice the series will definitely benefit you. So without further introduction, here’s the first guest post from Elaine Dodge.

 

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On Novel: My Writing Process

Author Elaine Dodge

 

Rabbit trails. I would have to say rabbit trails – if I was asked where I find my ideas. Inspiration is everywhere. Pay curious attention, do good research and everything can lead to a great story idea. That’s not to say though that the research you do today will have any bearing on the story you’re currently writing. But, file it away, make a brief note on it and let it brew.

When asked about my actual writing process, I tend to laugh as I don’t really think about it. But having been asked to think about it here, I realised I write short stories and novels in completely different ways.

I’m currently part of a short story challenge. Perhaps it’s the fact I’m a content creator by profession, where word counts are essential and not up for debate, that I love the constraints of the challenge. Others rail against the prompt, the word count and the deadline. I have no idea why. Where’s the challenge if there are no constraints?

I approach these tales the same way as I do my ‘Running the Bathwater Stories’. These are a series of short stories which I write under one strict, self-imposed rule. After turning on the taps, I must sit down at the laptop, with no story idea in my head, and start writing immediately. I must complete a tale by the time the bath is ready. My bath does admittedly run rather slowly. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach an acceptable depth. I can edit, but not change the actual story, any time after that.

When I write for the short story challenge I basically do the same thing. Although, to be honest, in this case, I don’t start writing till I have the idea. But that idea, based on the prompt, is usually as simple as ‘blinding sunshine’. The prompt in that case being, ‘Coming Undone’. Then, I sit down and start writing. I seem to instinctively write short stories in the first person. I’m working on that.

The only tale in this short story challenge I didn’t do that with was one entitled ‘A White Lie’. As it was based on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, I wanted to make sure I had all my facts right first. It was fascinating.

Novels, however, are a different herd of elephants, although I often approach the first chapter in a similar way. A thought, the spark of inspiration and then the ‘let’s see where this leads’ and off I go. Occasionally, these can begin as Running the Bathwater Stories, but if I like the ideas that start to flow once the writing begins, I may find I have a whole novel sprouting in my head. Or at least the possibility of one. So, I keep going. When I’ve finished the first, or in some cases the first three chapters, and I’m convinced this may be something worth pursuing, I stop and go back to the beginning.
I write a list of all the characters I’ve thought of so far, doing character sheets for all the important ones.
I open an Excel spreadsheet and begin to plot the book. I try to figure out the ending as soon as I can. I didn’t do that with my second novel, ‘The Device Hunter’, and it threw me off kilter for about a year. I had to rewrite the entire second half of the book. So now, I have a hard and fast rule; Know thy ending first.
Then I begin the research. I end up with thick files full of facts, useful in ways I may not have originally intended.
Once I have enough to work with though, I carry on writing the book, doing whatever extra research is needed along the way.

For both short stories and novels, I try to apply other rules to myself:
Every word counts. Only use as many as necessary. No fluffing around.
Stop using so many commas. A failing of mine.
The last line must be memorable and leave people thirsty.
The first line must be a goodie, hook the reader in. Can it carry more weight, show location and character? Can it hint at theme? Can it give a taste of the ending of the whole book without giving the ending away? Can you use the first two lines as a double whammy?

The first lines of that ‘Coming Undone’ short story…

He seriously missed mirrors. And occasionally, Carly Simon.

 

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AUTHOR BIO

I was born in Zambia and went on a round the world cruise with my family when I was four years’ old. We moved to Zimbabwe where I grew up and set on my own round the world adventure a few years after I left art college. I’ve been in South Africa for the last thirteen years and although I’ve travelled haven’t managed to get more than two countries in at one time.

At college, I trained as a designer and after a few years segued into advertising. When I came ‘down south’, I moved into television production. I had always wanted to ‘make movies’, but that didn’t seem to be a door that would open for me. Writing TV proposals for international broadcasters however, did open a door. One I hadn’t realised I’d been camping outside of all my life – writing fiction.

I decided I needed to devote myself to writing. In order to do that I am now a freelance website creator and copywriter. The theory being that working from home, and for myself, will allow me to plan my days so that I have more time to write my books.

 

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Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Elaine-Dodge/e/B00H2EK45S/

Website: www.elainedodge.weebly.com

Running the Bathwater Stories: http://elainedodge.weebly.com/runningthebathwaterstories

Short Story Challenge: http://elainedodge.weebly.com/12-short-stories-in-12-months

 

Three Act Structure: Saving my plot

 

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I’m hard at work editing my second paranormal romance. I’m also on my second developmental edit. Why? Because I realized something fundamental while rewriting certain scenes and deleting overused words. My plot felt iffy, because my sub-plot felt iffy.

*smile* Yeah I know, I’m being as clear as mud right now.

I had a plot worked out that revolved around the hero and heroine—good. But the inciting incident that draws the two together, though believable since I’d taken it straight from current news headlines, seemed to the drag the romance in a direction I didn’t want it to go. For a novella with a maximum word count of 30K, the subject matter was too big and distracted from the romance. In fact, the growing romance between the couple seemed trivial in comparison. Why are you two making goofy eyes at each other when Rome is burning down? (Side note: the novella is not set in Rome 🙂 )

And I wanted them to make goofy eyes at each other. That’s the whole point of a romance book. In order to get myself back on track I went back to the fundamental Three Act Structure of a story. Not only should my story follow this structure but my scenes should too. I needed this refresher again to ground my romantic plot.

At its most basic, a Three Act Structure is simply:

Act I: Beginning

Act II: Middle

Act III: End

So let’s break it down more.

Act I:

The set up. First show your main character’s day to day life (this is necessary to measure the change they undergo through their journey). The inciting incident: the event that sets off a course of action, the reason why your main character goes on a journey.

The point of no return: they are committed to their goal and can’t turn back.

Act II:

The middle: here your main character tries to try to achieve their goals. Here, they can also either achieve it or find a new one.

They can even pursue their goal through the whole second act and face obstacle after obstacle. By the end of act II something should happen to make us think they will never reach their goal. All must seem lost.

Act III:

The resolution. What does your character learn, prove or discover? This is where we begin thinking about themes and what we are really trying to say.

 

This is just a simple, basic break down of the Three Act Structure. It kept me focused on my main plot and helped me to make the right decision for the romance in the story. The story flows now and each scene moves at a good pace.

Hope this helps you too!

#happywriting

Writing Sizzle (When you’re used to Sweet)

*This was an article I wrote as a guest post on another blog, but thought I’d share it here again 🙂

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As with all things in life, trying something new does bring its own set of challenges. And going from writing sweet contemporary romance to more spicy paranormal romance wasn’t the exception.

I remember at one point I did a post on my Facebook Author Page on the research I’d done on ‘how to approach writing a love scene’. Don’t worry I won’t do a recount here *smile*

But what is the challenge of writing sizzling instead of sweet? Romance is romance after all. There can’t be much difference between the two. And right there, I would lose my reader. Because a sweet romance reader is looking for something different than a reader who prefers a more sizzling read. As an author with a deep respect for readers (because I’m a reader myself) I sat back and dug deep to understand the complexity of the challenges I’m going to face as I tell the story.

The Wolf’s Choice is my first foray into romance that sizzles. It also forms part of a bigger world, The Black Hills Wolves, created by Heather Long and Rebecca Royce for Decadent Publishing. So I had to keep the requirements of the series in mind and stay true to what the creators had in mind of for it. And since the inspiration for the novella started off in my imagination with these two innocent teens meeting at the local Swimming Hole, I knew that I’m going to have a problem if I kept to my ‘old’ style of sweet romance writing (even though the scene when read on its own is sweet).

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I think it’s good to note at this point that I don’t just read sweet romance. The romance books I buy range in heat levels, but I usually gravitate towards the stories that contain a happy medium. And that’s the crux for an author who’s going from a ‘clean’ read to a much hotter one. The first challenge you’ll face is to ask yourself, where’s my comfort level with the hotness-factor? Once you’ve established this, you’ll know whether you’ll be able to write a romance that sizzles or have to completely abandon that writing path.

The second challenge, I found, has to do with language, what words to use? Do you want to be graphic? What do your favorite authors use when they tackle a love scene? And most importantly, what type of language is used by the authors contracted for the series/line you want to write for? If the language is an issue for you, then don’t. To force is a crime *smile* and no one likes to be forced to do anything. I’ve read authors who use the words dick, pussy, etc. in such a jarring way that I stopped reading the story. To me, they are out of sync with their characters. If your heroine has never throughout the book even thought of sex or referred to her body parts in her mind or in the dialogue in erotic terms, then goodness why are you now suddenly having her using those terms? The language becomes jarring.

That’s something I had to study in The Wolf’s Choice. A woman with sexual experience wouldn’t necessarily be coy about sex. Though we all know it’s not that cut and dried, characters, like people are complex. (And this you’ll find out about my heroine Rebecca, when you read the story). But there are certain universal things we all accept and don’t about characters in novels.

So language is a definite challenge when writing a sizzling romance.

Don’t lose the plot. No seriously, don’t. Essentially you’re telling the story of two people falling in love and the obstacles that keep them from doing that. As a romance writer that’s your first priority. Don’t get bogged down by how hot your book’s supposed to be. Or by what page number your characters should have, at least, kissed. Or made love.  And don’t write love scenes as fillers.

Some publishers might compromise story because sex is the subject of that imprint. But you have to keep in mind that at the heart of every romance is the emotional bond between the hero and heroine. The emotional bond adds layers to theDance-of-Love300x450 sizzle and the sizzle in your story should advance the plot.

The important thing to acknowledge is that you’ll face challenges as you go along, but to not allow them to keep you from telling your story.

 

*What challenges have you faced writing a love scene?

 

Books I’ve Read Recently

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I haven’t done this on my blog yet and thought, ‘hey why not?’ *smile*

I always talk about what I’m busy writing or what I’m going to focus on writing and post writing tips & motivations, and my own ramblings. But never about what I’m reading. And I do read. A lot *bug eyed*

I think it’s one of those writerly things. You read. Not just for enjoyment but also as a form of study.

So here’s a list of books/series I’ve read recently that stood out to me in no particular order:

  1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
  2. Joining by Johanna Lindsey
  3. Blood of Eve by Pam Godwin
  4.  Knight Security Series by Carole Mortimer
  5. Black Hills Wolves multi-author series by rebeccaroyce-5 & Heather Long

The Dreaded Synopsis

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For the last two years or so, I’ve come to embrace the synopsis. And though embrace is a strong word, since you won’t find me just jumping into one, I have realized the importance of one if I ever want to be considered by a big publishing house.

So instead of listing all my struggles with writing them, I decided to write how I became comfortable with writing synopses.

I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic and watched a few online teachings. I’m not good with textbooks because it makes me feel like I’m back at varsity and my “Am I going to get graded on this?” mentality isn’t so easy to shake off, even years later.

But the light-bulb didn’t come on until I realized that 1) there’s a specific publisher I like to write for and they require a synopsis. Without one I’m toast at the door. They won’t even consider me no matter how intriguing the pitch, hook or first three chapters. My submission won’t make it past the threshold. So to not put myself at a disadvantage, I knew I had to master the synopsis.

2) I came across a Harlequin editor who gave advice on synopsis writing. A side note: whenever an editor from a respected publisher give advice on writing, take note.

She hit all the points I’ve read so far. But what stood out for me from her advice was how simple she made synopsis writing seem. At the end of her advice she said, synopsis writing is you drawing a map. The map contains all the high points, the beginning and ending. You have a good idea of where the highs and lows are going to be. And writing the story are filled with all the meaty parts in-between, like the ditch the car falls into after a deer crossed the road. You write about all the angst and fear that came along with the experience. A minor setback, but the end destination still needs to be reached.

I started writing my synopsis like this. A road map. And that’s how I still view a synopsis, especially one that’s aimed at an editor.

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So besides these things, here are a few points I focus on when I sit down to write a short synopsis:

  1. First thing check the length the publisher wants. This can range from 1-2 pages to 5 pages. Reading the guidelines will save you a lot of time.
  2. Format: Double-spaced, 1 inch margins, Times New Roman font and Header over every page (check with the publisher if they require a specific style of Headers).
  3. Start bold. The same attention you spend on the opening line of your book put the same effort into the opening line of you synopsis. Grab the editor’s attention first before you summarize the book.
  4. Stay focused. In a short synopsis for 1-2 pages there aren’t space for extraneous details. Don’t include secondary plots or characters, unless they play a part in understanding the resolution. Don’t use multiple points of view (POVs) even if they are present in the novel.
  5. Determine your romance’s focus ahead of time. You should determine your target publisher’s preferences ahead of time and use it to guide your effort. A publisher like Harlequin wants romance, so get to that quickly and end on the romantic resolution.
  6. Write in present tense. This is something I didn’t know at the beginning. It is so simple and makes so much sense. Because the present tense creates a sense of urgency. This makes it effective.
  7. Show, don’t tell. Yes, even in a synopsis. Show the story through a good plot. Don’t describe it.
  8. Don’t resort to empty questions. “Will they fall in love?” This is an editorial pet peeve. You’re going to have to answer the question, so you’re wasting space. These types of sentences also yank the editor out of the story. They are views as “author intrusive”. You are not letting the story speak for itself, you are speaking for it.
  9. Many editors make it a rule not to read after the third typo. So be thorough!

 

Sweat the opening three paragraphs. Most editors conduct a “three paragraph” test.  If you don’t grab their attention by then, they simply won’t read on. A strong opening line and a quick tight overview of the hero/heroine and conflict.

These tips I learned from romantic suspense author Lisa Gardner. I look at them every time I sit down to write a short synopsis as a refresher. And even as I type this post, I learned something new.

Learning this skill isn’t a once off thing. You’ll have to practice it and practice some more. It’s not for the fainthearted and it’s not for the lazy writers. It’s not for the ones who are ‘stuck in their writing ways’, the ones who skip publishers because they want to avoid a synopsis. Because it’s a hurdle they can’t exercise enough to jump over.

Hard work do pay off. And I do believe getting the synopsis is one step closer to publication.

#happywriting

The Life and Death of Twilight

 

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I’m a fan. No seriously, I’m a fan of the Twilight series. Only I saw the first movie before I read the first book and wanted to throw the  book against a wall when I finally read it.

I remember arguing with a then friend of mine on just how ludicrous the idea of a 100 year old vampire falling for a seventeen year old was. There’s just no way. Of course there’s the ‘he can’t read her mind’, but then that just makes Edward one of the most emotionally unintelligent 100 year old vampires in literature. And I refused to believe R Patt’s Edward Cullen could possibly be so dense. So the argument raged on.

And then, Twilight Re-imagined happened. *crickets*

Edythe and Beau happened.

And every other character’s name except the parents was re-imagined. (Why do this? *wails*)

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Because I’m a fan of the series I went, I’m going to be required to have an opinion about this because I’ve been so open about my love of Bella, Edward and Jacob, why not give this re-imagining *cough* fan-fiction, a try.

I got as far as page 17 then skipped to the end but didn’t read all of it and don’t think I will return to the book anytime soon.

Nothing was reimagined here. The problems that were pointed out about Twilight are evident in Life and Death. But that’s not even the worse offense to me. It’s the fact that the author stopped being an author when she worked on this book. She stopped placing herself in her characters shoes. Because if she’d done that and she wanted to still keep Beau as awkward as Bella she could’ve done it by not giving him the same exact quirk as Bella, but actually thinking about what kind of quirk would make a teenage boy self-conscious.

Goodness, if she made Beau his own person, apart from Bella I would’ve been fine with that too. Because guess what? Men and women don’t actually think/act alike.

Maybe she should’ve read a few YA novels written by male authors to study how they write male protagonists. Or female authors for that matter since who can deny J.K Rowling brilliantly writing Harry Potter?

The Twilight series isn’t bad. However, this re-imagining is. It hurts to say it, but it does. I feel like Stephanie Meyer should write a couple of books under a pen name. Give herself a break from Twilight and its universe. Then after a few years, come back and give us Midnight Sun *smile*

 

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Africa Online Book Fair 2017

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It’s funny how some of the ‘worst’ days and experiences can turn out to be saving graces. And for me propelled a proposal I’ve been tinkering with since September 2016‒an online book fair for romance authors who are from Africa and authors who write romances set in Africa.

A traditional book fair is an exhibit of books typically by a group of publishers or book-dealers for promoting sales and stimulating interest, often authors are also featured with their own booths and engages with readers. It takes place at a certain venue over a specific period of time and requires those who are exhibiting their books to be physically present, as well as those attending the book fair.

An online book fair in contrast takes place on the internet, but with the same underlined principle as a traditional book fair, to exhibit books for promotion of sales and stimulating interest, typically designed to provide access for those who are unable or unavailable to attend traditional book fairs.

The main objectives with the Africa Online Book Fair will be building relationships, networking, creating a fun and relaxed environment where authors and readers can engage with each other. A place where authors can share information, have Q&A’s and create interest in their books through prizes, gifts, giveaways, competitions, promotional discounts, etc. So definitely something for readers too *smile*

The Africa Online Book Fair will take place in June 2017 and will feature Romance Authors from SA and the rest of the continent. The event will be hosted on Facebook by using their Groups tool and will span over 3 days with scheduled timeslots for each author.

We will give out more details as we start kicking off the promo.

I am so excited about this. I view it as a wonderful means to showcase romance novels & authors from the African continent. There’s amazing talent and stories from the authors we have lined up, so keep an eye out *wink*

#AfricaOnBookFair2017

Hosts of the Africa Online Book Fair 2017:

Kathy Bosman @KathleenLBosman

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Inge Saunders @saunders_inge

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