Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Word Count Wednesday: How I Spent My Words

My intent for my first 10,000 words was to introduce my audience to my main character or characters and begin to suggest a story line. I also wanted to establish the setting. I discovered in developing the backstory that I really have two stories going on. I have a story about the original owners of the coffee shop, Shirley and Joe, and the story of the new owner, Sonja Parker.

I started with a prologue offering a reason the previous owners sell the coffee shop. The coffee shop is in Door County, Wisconsin. The location is a popular summer vacation destination. Sonja, my original character is drawn to the prospect of a seasonal business. As Sonja moves in and prepares for the summer onslaught of tourists, she begins to unravel the story of Shirley and Joe, the older couple who made “Shirley’s Cuppa Joe” so successful.  She also begins to learn more about herself.

So where am I now? 14,720 words. I spent the first five hundred words on the prologue.






Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Word Count Wednesday: Why?

I am finding the blog to be a real benefit to me. I know a few people have told me they enjoy watching this writing process from afar (thanks, Mom), but I really don’t know if it is benefitting anyone except me.

Maybe that is enough. I have found accountability to be the greatest benefit in drafting this blog so far. I made a commitment to share my experience drafting this second novel by posting something every week. I have to work on my book or I will have nothing to post.

I started the blog to share my experiences, decisions, obstacles I overcome, and so forth in drafting a novel. I am now off to a good start on the book. It is taking shape and I am writing daily. I don’t want the blog to become the focus of my writing.

I still want to share the process with anyone interested. I think I can do that through a once a week format. So why Word Count Wednesday?

Most of the novels I enjoy are roughly 80,000 words in length. I expect this book to be about the same. When I created my story map, I tried to break the story down into meaningful pieces. I want to grab my reader in the opening pages.

I remember reading the book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier when I was in high school. I thought it would be great to read a story about someone who shared my name. That was a big disappointment. Let’s just say the title character was someone without character! Anyway, I still enjoyed the story. It was intriguing and remains a favorite in its genre. Now though, I will admit that for at least the first two times I read the book, I skipped the first chapter. I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t like the heavy descriptive tone. (Yes, I read books I like over and over.)

I don’t want my readers to be bored. They may not have spent their lunch money on the book as I did and feel the same commitment to push past the first chapter in the hope it gets better.

My plan is to introduce my main characters and set up the story line in the first 10,000 words. By the time I reach 20,000 words I hope to have a major turning point in my story, a problem to be resolved. The next 40,000 words will be where my characters can explore the options to resolving the problem and I suspect there is a subplot in there as well. In the final 20,000 words, I need to bring it all together.

I guess when I break it down that way it does sound boring. I hope not. Each Wednesday I will report where I am in the word count and what I am doing.

So where am I now?  9,402 words.  Next week I'll tell you how I've spent them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is the Backstory?

My husband and I are temporarily living in the house where he grew up. Our daughter recently came to visit us here. She enjoyed listening to the stories my husband and his brother shared about their childhood. After hearing them tell about some of their life experiences, our daughter said, “Well, that explains a lot.” We know a person’s character by the way he or she acts, but when we learn about a person’s past we come to understand what shaped that character. That is the backstory.

As an author, I need to know the backstory for my characters.  Even if I don’t use it, I need to know it. +Jack Cavanaugh gave me excellent advice at the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Illinois last year. I had started my book with much of the backstory. He recommended I cut the first chapter out completely and weave the backstory in subsequent chapters. He reminded me that I don’t need to share everything, either. I need to share the parts that are essential to the story.

For example, in my new work, my main character, Sonja buys an existing coffee shop. I needed to know Sonja was equipped to do this and that she had the funds to do it.  It is essential to know she majored in business and her grandmother left her a sum of money. Do I need to tell my reader where she went to college? Do I need to give actual sums of money? And why are the previous owners selling the business?

I decided Joe, the previous owner, has moved into a retirement home. In exploring this avenue of thinking, I discovered a story within my story. Now I want to know more about Joe and his family.

I had already given much thought to the backstory. When I charted the information about my characters on the spreadsheet, I was collecting data I may or may not use in the backstory I need for my readers.

I was surprised when I started writing that I actually drafted a prologue to set up the story. I hadn’t intended to do so. I know now it came out of my exploring the backstory. But I realize now the structure of this novel will be a bit different than Breathing on Her Own.  I find that exciting. I feel I may be growing as a writer.

By the way, this will be my last blog this week. Starting next week I will be moving to a once a week blog entry. It will be on Wednesdays. I am calling it Word Count Wednesday. I'll explain more next Wednesday so I hope you will join me then.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Difference Between Getting Organized and Getting Started

I have my calendar started and I have sketched out profiles for the characters for my book. I have tried to get organized. I kept thinking I could just get started writing if I did this one more thing to get ready. The latest was the thought that even though I have a pretty good calendar of events planned for my story, I thought it would be helpful to have a long strip of paper I could tack up to the wall and create a timeline. Sounds good, right?

When most of the world went digital, a local business donated rolls of adding machine tape to my classroom. We used it to make historical timelines, scrolls, charts, and graphs for many years. I was up late into the night last night thinking about where I might get some of that adding machine tape. For some reason, I was sure I couldn’t really start writing until I could hang the long strip of paper above my desk.

This morning my husband wanted pecan waffles. We went to Waffle House. I was just finishing my meal when Tom handed the money over to our server. She smiled sweetly and began ringing up our bill on the register right next to us. Something was jammed so she removed the roll of paper receipt tape from the machine.

“That’s just what I need!” I told her.

She actually pulled off about three feet of undamaged tape from the damaged spool and gave it to me. I carefully rolled the precious tape and put it in my pocket.

I didn’t really need it. I realized the minute our server put it in my hands that I didn’t need it. I was just delaying the real work. Writing. God knew. I could just hear Him chuckling, “You think you need adding machine tape? Here you go. Now enough with the excuses. Write already.”

I came home and hammered out 950 words. I know from past experience I may trash most of it tomorrow, but I am writing. And I am excited.  Sonja’s story is on its way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Making the Calendar Work for You

I love this time of year when I get a new calendar or day planner to set up. I have electronic planners but there is something about holding that new little book in my hands and thumbing through the pages of a new year. But if you think organizing my time is what this post is about, think again.

It turns out this is a great time of year to pick up a free calendar from church or a small business. I have several old calendars I have saved through the years. I have used them to teach math lessons or play games with first graders, offer the pictures as story starters in writer workshops, and as of late, lay out my story in a reasonable, albeit linear fashion.

When I was writing Breathing on Her Own, I used an old calendar to outline the sequence of events. I found it helped me think through the story from beginning to end. When I learned more about civil lawsuits in Ohio, for example, I used the calendar to map out the process my character, Laney, would face in a wrongful death suit.

I also discovered a few details for my story I may have missed without the calendar in hand. For example, my character was involved in an accident late on a Friday in February. In the story, her parents are taking care of the children while she is fighting for her life. Initially, I had only thought about the cold, snowy days of winter and the despair Laney’s mother, Molly would be feeling as her daughter lay injured in the hospital.  When I looked at my calendar, I realized Laney’s children would have been affected in other ways. Here is an excerpt.

“The children missed their Valentine party at school on Monday, so while Hunter labored over his math assignment, Ellie sorted her Valentines on the floor of the family room.  Molly hadn’t even given a thought to the celebration of Valentine’s Day.  Although she and Travis had never been ones to actually celebrate, she knew Laney and Rob had always shared a candlelight dinner for the occasion.  Molly wiped tears from her eyes at the thought.”

The calendar helps me think about the weather, events, and sequence of my story in a meaningful way.

For my newest endeavor, I pulled out a twenty month planner from 2010 I had barely used. It was too big to serve me well at the time. I think my story will fit within that time frame. I am starting to write down what I think will define the main events of my novel and those elements I think will serve as turning points for my characters. Of course I am writing it all down in pencil. I pulled out a few sticky notes for the major scenes I want to include. That way I can move them around in my calendar if I need to do so.

My story doesn’t start in January but I can easily start anywhere I like. I can add another calendar page if needed. It may just be a more visual way to outline a story, but for me it works.  If you are a writer or would like to be one, I hope you will give the calendar method a try. Let me know what you think.

Another day closer!