It’s the half year mark

IMG_20180706_134751It’s the half year mark and everyone’s obsessed with “Where did the time go?” At least everyone around me.

Everyone’s evaluating what they’ve done so far, checking their list of things for the year and depending on how many are checked off, they might either be embracing the next six months with open arms or sighing at the mountain that’s still ahead.

I prefer to take the ‘easy lane’, as in I don’t obsess about what I’ve accomplished so far or haven’t gotten to yet. I also keep the big picture in mind. Because at the end of the day, that’s the ultimate goal. Life happens and it happens whether you want it to or not. For a writer that can set you back. Because let’s face it, we all know when it comes to our writing time we literally have to shout from the rooftops for some “respectful distance” from those around us.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been off Facebook, because that’s the social platform that sucks most of my time. Personally I’ve also kept a low profile in relationships, because like I said above, sometimes we need to enforce a “respectful distance”. (I don’t know why I’m making quotation marks; it just feels like it’s needed. Sue me.)

This helped me to get to where I want to be by July in regards to my writing. And it also made me realize just how healthy it is for a writer to get away from the clutter of voices that constantly bombard you on social media. Though I have to add, I find the clutter less on platforms like Twitter (surprising I know) and Instagram, probably because I tend to not follow as many people in my industry on those platforms. This honestly keeps me sane. There’s only so much shoptalk a person can take without blowing your brains out…uh too much? Yeah, that’s how it feels like sometimes. Way too much writing and publishing “talk” that I literally want to gauge my eyes out. Can’t help it, my creative mind is sensitive like that.

But I do appreciate how accessible our information society is (ooh look at me using that one module I hated at university’s lingo. Seriously, that class was just not my cup of tea. The very young tech savvy lecturer was, but not the class. Sorry not sorry). Without it I wouldn’t have embarked on this writing journey. But I digress.

It’s the middle of 2018. So far I’ve come a long way with my rewriting project *laughs* That’s such an awkward sounding sentence.

But I have. And I’m kind of proud of myself for rewriting a book from the foundation up, sentence by sentence and really getting into the nitty-gritty of who my characters are and what they want and how they are going to get it and what obstacles are going to be in their way.

While rewriting I realized the foundation of my story, the conflict was just too shallow and I couldn’t submit a book that didn’t build on the level of emotional upheaval that my previous stories had. It would’ve been a step back from what I normally write. And I like writing characters that have to fight for a happy ending, characters that come with their own internal struggles. It’s what makes writing so much fun for me.

I also love that I’m still learning with each book. I recently read an article that brought everything back to the heart of why I write and how to write.(http://romanceuniversity.org/2018/07/09/on-writing-by-ella-carey-2/) It’s just one of those things that will never get old for me.

So, have I checked everything off my list for the first half of the year? Uh no. But then again, I didn’t really have a list. I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish throughout the year and there were definitely dates on each one of them, but not many were set in stone, hence the reason I’m so relaxed about the half year mark and everyone around me is going nuts! No seriously, they are. And I’m not just referring to the writing world.

I am still working on my latest project, but I’m not stressed over it. Why? Because I’m rebuilding. I’m reworking chapters and loving it. I’m learning new skills and applying them. I’m focused on telling a story that I love.

I’ve also personally and professionally accomplished most of what I wanted to. The book fair, for one. That’s done. I also joined the South African Writers’ Circle this year. Something I’ve wanted to do for ages but hadn’t gotten to. I’ve also set out the goal of branching out and reaching out to more writing communities/authors. I’ve done that. And will keep on doing it. I do believe that sometimes you can get stuck in a comfort zone, a bubble with the same group of people and become so used to a certain way of thinking/seeing that you don’t realize how narrow that can be. Not all writing groups are toxic, but some do encourage toxic behavior (with writing, publishing or otherwise), case in point #Cockgate and #Getloud.

It’s good to get in touch with people who might not necessarily write what you write. I’m not particularly fond of the ‘us against, them’ mentality in the writing world. Probably because I live in South Africa and that’s pretty much what you get here pre-and post-Apartheid SA.

But enough of that *smile*

So far 2018 has been back breaking work…but worth it. I’ve gotten a lot done, but with others I am taking my time because at the end of the day I want a product I’m pleased with.

Hope your half year mark doesn’t look bleak and that you’re not being too hard on yourself if it is. We are only human after all *wink*

#happywriting

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Do You Journal?

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One of the early signs that I’d end up writing professionally was the fact that I kept journals from a young age. At first I liked the romanticism of it all, then I’d like that I could write secrets in codes inside and then it became part of my psyche as a reflective human being.

The act of writing down my thoughts, not just events but how I felt about them, how I internalized actions and behavior, became the first stirrings of writerly observations.

In my teenage years I would switch from writing poetry, stories and weekly entries into my journal. At varsity as life became busier, taken up by studies, societies and friends, writing took a bit of a back seat. I mostly focused on poetry and keeping a journal. Then in my final year of undergrad when I received a new computer, I started to write stories again.

I’ve heard that writers should keep a journal. I don’t know if I fully agree with it or not. I’m undecided *smile* As someone who did/do still journal (though not as much as I have in the past) I can say that it does create a certain level of awareness. Reflection like this can sort out the cobwebs.

These days I like to keep journals and notebooks that centre more on developing book ideas. I keep my reflections for my poetry *smile*

In that sense, keeping a journal does serve a tangible purpose. You can go back to it and look at an outline, a mind map or character sketch you scribbled down. You can plot out a story in a few sentences. I once rewrote a synopsis in a journal because I needed a different form of writing. I couldn’t look at the synopsis on my laptop screen any more. Fixing it that way became problematic after a certain point, so I grabbed a pen and one of my journals. I could easily see where I hit a snag. Sometimes a different medium offers solutions.

Journaling definitely got me here…on this blog *smile* It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t felt comfortable writing my thoughts down. So there’s that. Oh and did I mention I wrote for my school newspaper? *ha* What I’m getting to is this, keeping a journal can create confidence in expressing thoughts and ideas. That’s a plus for any author. For any type of writer.

So if you haven’t kept a journal before, and you’re serious about writing, why not try it for a month, see where it takes you. If it improves your way of writing, or not, come tell me about it *smile*

 

Pop Culture and Writing

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I was watching a Nail Horan performance (yeah I never thought I’d open a blog post with that line) and what hit me about his performance was the level of honesty in his music. An earnestness. And I couldn’t help but compare him to the other One Direction “boys” who’ve released solo albums.

If you didn’t know, which none of you probably did, I was a One Direction fan…but not a fan-girl because I’m (honestly put) too old to be getting pfklahbjkllmwnhkowz about boys in a boy-band. I did that with Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Boyzone, Westlife, 98 Degrees, Five…*cough* uh yeah, I have a thing for boy-bands so sue me. I should add The Beatles to the list too since I jam out to their music once every blue moon. But I digress.

So being the fan that I am, I still follow the members and former member’s solo careers. And recently Nail and Liam (Payne) has released albums. While I wasn’t too hyped up about their releases, out of the two Nail’s music seem to resonate with me more. (Let’s ignore Liam’s Justin Timberlake inspired offering of “Strip That Down”.) After watching Nail perform on the Ellen Show, I understood why. He wasn’t trying to sell his music to me as the next number one hit in the world (though I’m sure he’d love that); he was just singing a song that came from a sincere place. My Mom actually walked out of the kitchen into the TV room and said she loved his voice. This people, is a feat in itself since my Mom isn’t big on music in general if it’s not gospel.

As I watched him perform I also realized that as a reader sincerity is what I look for in a book. It can be from the straight-forward romance story of a Harlequin/Mills & Boon novel to the more complicated genre bending dark romance; I still expect sincerity.

But now you ask, “Inge isn’t that what every writer puts in their work?” And I’d have to say, no. Not all writers write books because they feel compelled to write them or because the characters can’t leave them alone or because the story is important to tell (and I’m specifically referring to the romance genre here). I’ve read romance novels that felt rushed, whose characters were one dimensional and the plot unmemorable. Someone once said in a writing group, the romance is the plot. And I thought, yes it is. But, the journey is what makes it interesting. The intrigue. The pushing, the pulling, the crisis, the misunderstanding, etc. you get where I’m going with this.

In romance we only have so many tropes. Sometimes it can become generic and repetitive. I’ve read so many romance novels in my teens and while all of them were enjoyable, I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. I kid you not. I just didn’t pay attention. I paid more attention to the logo of the publisher printed on the book because I knew what type of story I would get.

Back then authors didn’t have to be writing machines the way they are required to be now…and because of that, I do believe a lot more honesty in prose has fallen to the wayside. Characters and plots that grip you at the heart rather than ones that tick off all the boxes that makes them a “hit on the charts” *smile*

There is no formula to romance, no matter what people say. Writing a romance isn’t that simple. However, there are elements to romance novels that are expected to be in there. And for some writers/publishers just hitting those marks are enough to put the work out and on your virtual and non-virtual bookshelf. The same way you hear the same generic pop songs on the radio or on music channels. (I haven’t listened to the radio in years. Wow. I should try it again. *ha*) For the same reason we love artists like Adele and Lorde, because they stand out from the crowd. They offer you something that doesn’t sound standard, but sincere. Authentic, if you will.

Which brought me full circle to myself as a writer; so far I have three published works out there in the universe. I like to believe I hadn’t become generic in my writing (though a part of me suspects that I might have) and with my current manuscript, another paranormal romance, I’m aiming to not just hit all the elements of what’s expected. But to bring honesty to my work.

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I recently read a Brenda Jackson novel, (a first for me) and though the premise of the story has been done before, the way she told it completely drew me in. I’m hooked to the series now. She put a spin on the “brothers-coming-home-per-the-patriarchs-request” on its head by throwing in a murder mystery that spans three books. Nothing felt contrived. I didn’t get the sense that she was writing a series because her publisher or readers demanded the next Brenda Jackson novel. This in turn made me think of the latest Veronica Roth novel that I read, racist and mind bending insensitivity to people who suffer from chronic pain aside, the story hit the checklist of a “hit making” YA sci-fi novel aimed at teenage girls. And it is a bestseller. Like a Veronica Roth novel would be in this decade. It still didn’t change the fact that it was generic. (I’m not going to read the second book.)

What’s funny to me, is that you’ll get big names like Adele and Lorde (yeah I’m back to music again *smile*) who will go to pains to give you something true…honest…authentic. But then also artist who because they have big names, seem to think, they can sell you anything and you’ll buy it. And let’s face it; a lot of us buy it.

I recently mentioned to someone that Taylor Swift’s 1989 sounded to me like she took a lot of inspiration from her friends and sister-music-group HAIM. And it seems to be right around the time she met them that Tay-Tay’s music started to change. Now I’m not saying we can’t be influenced by people, but if you want to listen to the ‘original’ download a HAIM song (my favorite is “If I Could Change Your Mind”).

As a writer, as someone who is operating in the realm of creativity, honesty in anyone’s work matters to me. It’s become one of the things that cause me to return as a customer. If you’re sincere in what you’re offering to me, I’m more likely to buy in to you. Over the years I can only name a few authors I’ve consistently bought and read.  At varsity I bought so many chicklit books but I can’t say I consistently bought a certain author over and over again. I’d invested more in the genre than the authors and when I got sick of the genre, I stopped buying the books.

What I will add at the end of this very longwinded view on Pop Culture and Writing is that I love what self-publishing has done for sincerity and authenticity in the romance novel. Too many checks and balances can make for generic reading. It can keep out voices that stand out from the crowd, that write for the love of it, not just for the deadline or bottom-line. This is a shift I noticed in music too. Singers who start their own label and produce the type of music the recording companies wouldn’t allow them to make. Something that I as a (reader and) listener want: artists who walk on stage like Nail Horan with the ‘world’ at your feet but still have the sensitivity to know that your audience isn’t stupid. We can spot a fake. We’ll know if you put your heart into it, if you borrowed from someone else and if you’re just doing it for the money.

 

 

On the Bandwagon: The Dolan Twins

I’m on the bandwagon. Of what you may ask. The Dolan Twins.

And yep I had to write it out like that *grin*

A few years ago I was introduced to these twin brothers who were at the time, very popular Vine stars. They had something like six million followers (?) on the thing. Then they moved over to YouTube too and started making their brand of videos consisting of pranks, challenges and all around randomness.

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Ethan and Grayson Dolan

Now if you Googled ‘Dolan Twins’ because you don’t know who the heck I’m writing about, than Google would’ve coughed up a short bio of comedians Ethan and Grayson Dolan, a list of the Teen Choice Awards they’ve won, links to their YouTube channel and their most recent popular video uploads, as well as entertainment news articles about them. Depending on who has recently tweeted, you might also get a news feed of either Ethan or Grayson’s recent tweet history. Btw Ethan’s older than Grayson by twenty-minutes. I could tell you the dramatic story that accompanies why that is but I’d let them tell you themselves.

Here’s a link to “Draw My Life” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5QZVaw3-6E

I was just done with the Africa Online Book Fair, mentally and spiritually exhausted. I had also come to the disheartening conclusion that I would have to do a full scale rewrite on a completed manuscript since I discovered some issues with it. So, not in the best of moods.

Cue to me re-watching a YouTuber (Reaction Time aka Tal Fishman) reacting to a Dolan Twins Vine Compilation. I think it was a 2015 one, not sure. Anyhow, I decided to check the twins channel out on YouTube. The first video that caught my interest happened to be the one they did with Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez. It shook me out of my exhausted state and into a shocked and laughter induced one. I was high on endorphins as I kept replaying Ethan Dolan face planting while trying to beat his brother at gymnastics. (Here’s a link if you want to watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3J5fXd71Vmc )

People the stage was set for a Dolan Twin marathon. A marathon I’d only recently come out of to find the world hadn’t changed much. Jacob Zuma was still dodging the courts, Donald Trump was still the number one President of Twitter and the weather was wrecking havoc on the world. Between politics and Mother Nature I was glad I had this Dolan Twin-reprieve.

And that’s why I’m on their bandwagon. I have no clue what they’ll be in ten years time, because we all know sometimes child stars don’t translate well into adulthood (though I don’t think the brothers will have a problem with that.) In spite of this, I’m firmly in their corner. They’ve been honest about their mental struggles, and also about why they love making YouTube videos. They come across as well-adjusted and grounded people. They spread positivity and always strive to make others laugh. And they genuinely seem to enjoy what they’re doing. You buy into who they are because it’s not fake.

Watching them made me understand character and plot driven stories more. Yeah I’ve gone back to author mode *smile* If the Dolan Twins was a book, you’d be reading it because of who the brothers were. You’d get invested in their personalities, characters and because of that, want to know how the book ends. Whether it was a romance novel, adventure story, mystery…theirs would be character driven. They’ve got strong personalities and are charismatic in their own way. Of course it doesn’t hurt that they won the genetic lottery when it comes to the looks department, though I have to add it’s not their biggest selling point. The ability to provide entertainment, fun, convey camaraderie and add a sincerity to what they do, give them a well earned place as one of the top YouTubers on the website.

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So if you need a pick me up…check them out. If you’re on a break from writing and want mindless fun…check them out. And if you’re thinking this is me doing some free promo for them…you’re right. But still check them out *laughs*

 

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#happywriting

 

What Writing Fan-fiction taught Me

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As most of you know, I’m a romance writer of both contemporary and paranormal fiction. I never considered writing fan-fiction before 2017, simply because as a fiction writer I like the idea of coming up with my own characters and worlds.

Which brings me to some of the flaws about writing fan-fiction; it doesn’t teach a novice writer how to do world building since the world you’re writing in already exists, the same with the characterization. The characters already exist with all their strengths and weaknesses so it’s easy (in this regard) to write a new storyline. It can also create expectations in regards to how fast a writer gets feedback on their work. With fan-fiction there’s already a built-in audience—the fans. As an author starting out, that will not be the case, which means you’ll have to have realistic expectations.

Now to what fan-fiction taught me *smile*

1.      It forced me to come up with an angle that no one in the fandom have considered writing about yet. I had to consider how ‘fresh’ the story would be in the fandom as well as stay true to my romance writing roots. So it definitely helps to develop that part of creativity in writing.

2.      Fan-fiction can span from 100k novels to 3k shorts. I chose to go the short story route. It took me out of my comfort zone and helped me to think about what information was really important to give through to the reader in this short story format.

3.      Romance publishers, especially Harlequin, love to tell writers who are interested in submitting to them to open with a bang. Your first line of chapter one has to be gripping and pull them into the story. And then also the end of that chapter has to make the reader want to move on to the next chapter. This technique then should be used throughout the rest of the novel. With fan-fiction, you have to keep the reader interested. Even though they are fans of the celebrities, movies or authors work you’re writing about, you can still lose them if you don’t apply this strategy. It’s also a fun way of developing this skill.

4.      It honed my research and observational skills. I’ve written two fan-fiction stories. One in 2017 and another last week (https://www.wattpad.com/user/IngeUlrike ). Needless to say, I watch the YouTubers I wrote about on a regular basis and enjoy their videos. However, I’m not a ‘fan-girl’. I’m subscribed to their channels but I’d be lying if I said I follow what they do constantly on social media. So I had to delve into their ‘worlds’, read some of the fan-fiction that had been written about them and get the tone of the ‘characters’ as accurate as possible. This made me examine how I research my fictional stories for my novels and how taking more from real life observations can improve my writing.

Needless to say, writing fan-fiction as any writing endeavor teaches you a lot about yourself as a writer.  Do you have anything to share about writing fan-fiction? I’d love to hear read it. Feel free to leave a comment, if so.

 

 

  

On Novel: My Writing Process with JC Layne

On Novel: My Writing Process

By

Author JC Layne

 

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You know that quote from a poem by Robert Burns that says, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?” For me, this quote says it all!

The following diagram explains my writing process:

JC High Level Writing Process

Usually, the story comes first and then the characters develop as I write. The story may begin as a passing thought or idea and then it grows; i.e. I knew a production studio could be a wonderful setting for character interaction. Don’t be surprised if some characters take on a bigger role than planned!

I start with a high level outline of the story line, jotting down ideas like major scenes, ideas or events that I want to happen in the story. I don’t use any specific structure when I write, I’ve found that everything flows better if the story organically develops. I’m very left-brained about things and if I have a strict outline, I feel like I have to force the story into that box. The result SUCKS!

My characters guide my story to where they want it to go. None of my books have ended up like I expected. Initially, I fought where the characters were taking me when writing Perfect Timing, but ultimately, they won out. That book and Missing a Beat turned out much darker than I intended. Parts were difficult to write, but I think the stories ended up better than my original ideas!

I like readers to know characters’ quirks, humor, their habits, etc. Most start with a blank slate, but for certain characters, I may have a strong idea of what they will look like. For instance, Mitch in my Back on Track series looks like a particular musician that I love.

I keep a list of all characters and their details. Physical attributes like hair color, eye color, height, etc. Then, other attributes like nervous habits, laugh, facial expressions. Finally, anything I’ve mentioned like parents’ names, birth dates, ages. I learned the hard way that not keeping track as I go causes a lot of wasted time to find details.

People ask if there are specific places or times when I write or if I have rituals or quirks. I write when the creative juices are flowing, whether that’s at lunch on my day job or in the evenings. Some days, I couldn’t write a sentence if I had to. I just walk away, rather than get frustrated. When I write, I do talk to my characters…and yes, they talk back. So, either I’m not very stable, or my characters are pains in the ass!

Advice for new writers:

  • Don’t force anything, let your imagination work.
  • If you’re blocked, walk away, then come back to it. Again, don’t force it.
  • Just get it down on paper! Don’t leave it in your head. Getting something down is better than forgetting the idea. It doesn’t have to be good…it just has to be captured.
  • Pay the money to have your work edited. Not just read through, but edited. You’ve put your heart and soul into it…let it be correct. Books that have typos and grammar issues detract from the story. There are some reasonably priced editors out there. (If you need an editor, please shoot me an email and I’ll give you my editor’s info.)
  • Find a great cover artist! Covers are the first things the reader sees. (If you need a cover artist, shoot me an email and I’ll give you the info for mine.)

 

I am an indie author. I haven’t ventured into the world of publishing companies, sadly because I’ve heard so many horror stories. Perhaps one day I’ll give that a try, but right now, I’ll stay self-published. Whatever you choose, be true to yourself. This is your baby…don’t forget that.

 

Feel free to message me on Facebook or email me if you have questions. Good luck on your future venture! Kick ass!!!

 

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Author Bio:

J.C. Layne is a relatively new author with three books under her belt so far. A bit of an author conundrum, she has a very left-brained degree from the University of South Carolina and spends her days swimming around in numbers. But, her right brain demands to be heard…and now it is! For 12 years, J.C. has interviewed bands and written articles and CD reviews for various music publications. Her love and knowledge of music combined with her love of books led her to write fiction about hot rock stars and falling in love.

 

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Buy links:

https://www.amazon.com/Face-Crowd-J-C-Layne-ebook/dp/B0743LHK7T/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504721354&sr=8-1&keywords=jc+layne%27

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35914392-face-in-the-crowd?from_search=true

https://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=j.c.+layne

Website/blog:

www.authorjclayne.com

Social media handles:

www.facebook.com/authorjclayne

www.twitter.com/authorjclayne

www.facebook.com/jclayne

 

*Thank you Jennifer, I really enjoyed reading your article. There are real diamonds for any author, aspiring or published.

On Novel: My Writing Process with Brenda Kuchinsky

On Novel: My Writing Process

BY:  Brenda Kuchinsky, Author and Clinical Psychologist

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I don’t outline and I don’t plan anything formally.  I start off with a kernel of an idea, revolving around a character.  Then I daydream and dream quite a bit which helps other characters emerge as well as plot lines.

I have to say that I began to meditate successfully in 2013, using the Transcendental Meditation ™ technique.  I had never been successful at meditation before.  This worked for me, doing it at home for twenty minutes twice a day with my own private mantra.  I am convinced, in retrospect, that meditation led me to writing for the first time since high school.  Several careers and postgraduate work in several fields as well as two husbands intervened.  Also, I think low self-esteem and shaky confidence, despite numerous successes in other areas, held me back both consciously and unconsciously.

I now meditate before I start writing.  I first hit upon this as a productive method accidentally when I became seriously stuck and bored with one of my characters in a scene where he travelled away from home to Key West.  I decided to take a writing break and meditate.  Rich imagery rose up unbidden and a second character stood before me, solving my problem and lending incredible depth and suspense to the story.  That’s when I realized that I probably wouldn’t have started my novel if it were not for meditation.  Serendipitous, right?

I write in one spot only.  On the corner of my yellow leather couch with my feet up on the coffee table and my IPhone by my side for instant research, word definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and inspiring pictures.  I had a Lenovo yoga laptop up until last month when I bought my first MAC, which I had been lusting after for quite some time.

So, I’m free form mostly and write an outline about halfway through a book when the characters and plotlines are at the bursting point and I need to organize.  I’m very character driven.  Character comes first and the plot lines devolve from that.  I also read that way.  Plot driven novels with cardboard characters bore me, no matter how great the plot. I’m writing the third book in a series, Time’s Haunted, so the same characters keep popping up. However, there are several intriguing new characters.  Sophia, the protagonist, also travels and in this one she goes to Buenos Aires.

I’d love to hear from people.  Happy writing and reading.

Times Harlot Brenda

Website: brendakuchinsky.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/brenda kuchinsky

TW: https://www.Brenda Kuchinsky @yogabrenda

Books available from the website and also Amazon.  Latest: Time’s Harlot: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072KKL3YJ

Check out Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Brenda-Kuchinsky/e/B01KM69002 for Bio and blogs, etc.

Goodreads author

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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.

 

HarcourtsMountainbyElaineDodge500

 

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?