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?

 

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

News, Views and Writing that Love Scene

Another week has gone and I woke up this morning thinking, ‘wow where did the time go?’ It’s been a hectic week writing wise. On Monday I got an email on a manuscript I submitted early this year and was asked to do revisions and resubmit. So I pushed back on a WIP I was working on for submission to Harlequin at the end of August.

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I’ve written about this manuscript I was asked to do revisions on before. My publisher (Decadent Publishing) had started a series, Black Hills Wolves, and I’ve read some of the books and love one of the co-creators behind the series, Rebecca Royce’s books, so I was more than intrigued. I queried about the series and then submitted a synopsis. The novels are short reads and I’ve always wanted to see if I could write a novella. During that time there was a lot of back and forth working through plot ideas and I’ve never had that with an editor before. It was amazing how easy, open and friendly; Laura Garland was as we went through this process. I also got guidelines from Rebecca and Heather Long, who’s also the co-creator of this multi-author series.

I had my Rupunzel story to complete while I was doing this, so I figured since I had a worked out synopsis writing would be fast. And yeah it was *smile*

A Wolf’s Choice was just one of those stories that flowed, and I think it had a lot to do with the level of investment and interest I had in the characters. I’ve worked from synopses before, even though I love the ‘discovery’ as I write. And I’ve learned to go with my gut. Some stories will always require a bit of more in-depth planning than others. Instead of viewing an outline and a synopsis as stifling, I rather see it as a road map, along the way side roads will probably be taken and a couple of hours spent admiring the view, but I know where I’m heading.

That’s what A Wolf’s Choice felt like writing. I knew where I was heading, I knew who my characters were and I knew what they were going to find at the end (not just a HEA *wink*).

A Wolf’s Choice is also my first foray into writing a love scene (I talked about it on my Facebook Page:http://bit.ly/1defI54 ). I did what every author does when confronted with something they’ve never written before, I went on the internet, researched, did silly status updates where I ‘voiced’ my anxiety but still tried to do it in a non-I’m-a-dunce way.

The best advice I got from the inter-webs was write what you’re comfortable with. Use words that doesn’t make you cringe and words your characters would definitely use, that fits with their personality. And most importantly be true to the story.

So I took the pressure off and decided to chuck out the guidelines for the series (which had a distinct heat level) and just write what the characters and story demanded of me. And the scene became effortless. In fact I think I surprised myself, which really shouldn’t have been such a surprise at all.

My bookshelf consists of such a variety of genres and heat levels that I should’ve known I wouldn’t have a problem writing a love scene. I think where the pressure or even fear comes in, was with what people who knew me would think. Even at thirty-two you can’t help but still care. I’m fairly open about my faith and what I believe; it’s a lifestyle to me. Every day, all day *smile* so how do you reconcile writing a love scene (not a sex scene mind you) with the conservative world of Christianity? (Of course you also have to ask how do you reconcile werewolves, but that’s a story for another blog post *smile*).

Two of my favorite Christian authors are Francine Rivers and Frank Peretti, two writers who write a distinct spiritual message in their stories, but don’t sacrifice the story or characters for preachy writing. It astounded me to learn at first that Francine Rivers was a romance writer, and then I went, “No wait that actually makes sense, since she writes romance in her books.” There’s a love story between a man and a woman, but also between them and God. Made perfect sense. Frank Peretti on the other end, writes nail biting suspense slash horror filled blockbusters you just want to ask Hollywood to make some big feature film out of so you can be scared witless again *laughs* They are open about human sexuality. They do not draw a veil over it as if it didn’t exist. They are honest in their writing. And that’s what I love about these two authors. They don’t conform to what a Christian book is ‘supposed’ to be, but they write the story that’s in their hearts to write and stay true to the characters.

I took a page from them and went for it. In the end I was pleasantly surprised. There are really a lot of varied emotions that goes on in that love scene and it’s vital to the plot of the story. A Wolf’s Choice couldn’t have happened without it. I’m glad I didn’t shy away from writing it. It’s become one of my favorite scenes in the novella. I’m hoping to complete the revisions and hit send soon, and God willing, come back with good news *smile*

Thanks for being on the writing journey with me xoxo

#HappyWriting.

 

 

 

That Pesky Writing Slump

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A writing slump is something every author goes through, no exceptions. The same way you’ll get stuck in a plot at one point or other, a writing slump can come at the most inconvenient times.

You’ve drawn up this plan for New Years. You’ve got that fabulous thing called a writing schedule and your outlines all ‘stacked’ out in a neat little row. Because you’re a professional (I have to add, there is this feeling of accomplishment that comes with being organized and having clear goals. If anything it does provide a sense of control of you writing destiny. Yep, I’m a bit of a control freak *wink*).

So what do you do when you couldn’t be arsed, as my cousin says (she’s into everything British), to write? How do you work up the energy to sit down at your laptop? What if you have a deadline? *yikes*

One thing I’ve learned in my thirty-two *grin* years of being on this earth is that for whatever reason, sometimes in life your spirit will be at odds with what needs to be done, motivation hard to find.

Because of this I’ve come up with ways to get myself out of a Writing Slump by doing the following:

  1. Recognize that I’m going through a writing slump *smile* Yeah that doesn’t just work for AA meetings. You need to face up to what you’re going through so you can deal with it appropriately.
  2. Close my laptop. And for a whole 24hours deny its existence. Okay you don’t have to be that drastic, but do leave off the forcing yourself to ‘write at least 300 words a day’ or however many you’ve set for yourself as a goal. Leave it. Walk away.
  3. Go live. Go out with friends, watch a movie, take a walk, work in your garden, check out the mall for sales, the projects you’ve kept off doing around the house‒go do those. There’s life apart from writing, yes we are artists and we love to declare, “Writing is life!” We all know that’s not true. Life is art. No life, no art. Go out, take in the world, be part of the hustle and bustle. Take a day or two.
  4. Now take a notebook with you wherever you go, because inspiration’s going to flood you from all sides. That chapter you couldn’t be arsed to finish is going to claw at you. Scenes will come to you, remember, this is a slump; your spirit was affected here not your ability to convey mental images and a tale in sentences.
  5. Go write. If you can barely contain yourself to work on your story, whether it’s editing or fleshing out a scene or writing something new, go do that.

 

I think the biggest mistake I’ve made with writing is not acknowledging that it’s something I may not want to do every single day. That I would want to close my laptop and focus on something else with the same level of intensity. As modern-day authors we constantly get bombarded with, “write the next book”, “write a blog post”, “write a status update”, etc. We spend a considerable time of our lives writing. It stands to reason that at some point that’s going to become tedious. You are going to need a break. Orientate yourself. And that’s where I think a writing slump serves its purpose, to remind us that we’re made out of more than just writing. The sum of our parts needs more to survive.

So the next time you get down on yourself for being in one, shake it off! (Yeah I just went all Taylor Swift on you *smile*) It’s your author spirit telling you it’s time to take a break.

#happywriting

 

Writing Tips & Motivations

It`s Friday the 13th *gulp* …So to keep Freddy Kruger from knocking at our door, here’s some inspiration to start your writing weekend, that is if you’re going to be stuck in front of your laptop like me *grin*

 
#disclaimer I found all this on in inter-webs so it does not belong to me.

 

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