Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One Year: In Memory of Thomas R. Waters

October 29, 2014 was a beautiful, sunny day. Shortly after lunch, my husband, Tom donned his gear, including his helmet, and set out for his daily bicycle ride. He rode fifteen to twenty-two miles every day. He was dedicated.

I’m a writer, so I sat down at my computer to continue work on the novel I was drafting. Tom had not been gone but a few minutes when my cell phone rang. It was 1:13.

“Mrs. Waters?”


The caller told me Tom had been in an accident on his bike. Someone had already called 9-1-1. Apparently Tom’s front tire dropped off the pavement. He was thrown into a tree. I was out the door and headed to the site before hanging up with the unidentified man on the other end of the line. I arrived on the scene as the paramedics were beginning to assess his injuries.

“Can’t breathe,” Tom whispered. The paramedics offered to help him to a sitting position to see if that would help. He nodded. But as they raised him up, he passed out. The only visible injuries were the scrapes on his left arm where he hit the tree. I watched as they lifted him onto the gurney. I watched carefully. I made note of the uneven earth and the awkward stance of the two paramedics on the opposite side of the gurney. I knew Tom would ask me later about the lift.

You see, Tom was the lead author of the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation (RNLE). For over twenty-four years he had conducted research, taught classes, and presented compelling information to people around the world about lifting practices to enhance worker safety. He worked with caring people in industry. People like those at Toyota and Corning. In addition, Tom’s interest included extensive research into safe patient handling. I knew he would be concerned about the paramedics. So I watched.

In a few minutes, Tom was being driven away. The hospital is adjacent to our neighborhood so I handed Tom’s bicycle to a teenage boy to deliver to my house, made a U-turn on the main road and arrived at the hospital moments before the emergency squad.

The internal injuries were far greater than I expected. The medical staff did everything possible, but at 3:13, they pronounced my husband of forty-three years, dead.

This past year has seemed surreal. At times I cannot imagine Tom is gone. Other times, the pain is so great I wonder how I can breathe.

A few months after Tom’s death, the Center for Disease Control Foundation (CDCF), with the support of Tom’s coworkers, announced the formation of a memorial scholarship in Tom’s name. I know he would be honored. Moreover, I know that with the educational support offered through this fund, Tom’s legacy of concern for worker safety will continue. His name will live on, forever connected to the field of ergonomics and safety engineering. This memorial is funded through charitable donations.
Here is an excerpt from the CDC Foundation site:

“The Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship for Ergonomics Research exists to increase the community of individuals trained in ergonomics with a focus on occupational safety and health…In honor of his memory and legacy, this fund will continue to support the community of individuals trained in human factors or ergonomics with a focus on occupational safety and health.”

I ask for you to consider this fund in your end-of-the-year giving. Any and all gifts help. And…I have a commitment to match end of the year giving up to a total of $10,000.

For more information or to give to the foundation, click on this link:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Plotters and Pantsters, and Plantsters…Oh My!

I’ve heard it suggested that novelists fall into one of two categories: PLOTTERS and PANTSTERS. PLOTTERS supposedly carefully outline their storyline before they begin writing. PANTSTERS jump in and, as the name would suggest, they write by the seat of their pants.

I’m more of a hybrid kind of girl. I plan my plot to a point, but I sometimes don’t know the direction the book will go until I start writing and get to know my characters better. What I thought would be the outcome differs from what I actually write. For example, in Breathing on Her Own, I thought the story was going to be about Laney.

After all, it was Laney driving under the influence of alcohol. Laney caused the accident. Laney needed to learn her lesson. At least that’s where I started. Maybe I had it in the back of my mind that the book would serve as a warning for others who drink and drive.

Not to be. As I moved through the story line I had mapped out on paper, I came to realize the story was less about Laney’s transgressions and more about how her mother, Molly, responded to the situation. Molly wasn’t the martyred mom I thought she might be. She is the one who learned from the experience. She is the one who experienced change.

As I said, I’m a bit both PLOTTER and PANTSTER. I guess you’d call me a PLANTSTER. Sounds a bit like a gardening term. Maybe that’s what PLANTSTERS are: people who grow a story from carefully planted seeds.

Today’s topic is about a few tools to use in planning your story. The beauty of these tools is that each offers room to grow, change, plot, and improvise. I call them storyboarding tools, though that may be a bit of a misnomer.

If you think of storyboarding in its most traditional form, you may picture a series of pictures connected to a sequential outline of the proposed story. It may look something like this:

Courtesy of Google Images

When I create a storyboard, I identify eight to ten pivotal scenes I want to include. I put them in sequence on the board. My problem as a PLANTSTER is that I experience a level of frustration if I want to change those around. They are “committed to paper.” Immovable.

I discovered a simple fix: Post-it notes.

Not bad. It will work. But in drafting my last three novels, I’ve discovered a few more powerful storyboarding techniques. These are ideal for PLANTSTERS because we are prone to change our minds mid-book. Here are my top five:

1. Power Point Storyboarding- I love this. I’m using this for my current work in progress (WIP). If you are familiar with Power Point presentations, you can easily implement this tool.

Strengths: I can create my slides depicting those pivotal scenes. I can include pictures of the characters, change the background to reflect the mood, move the slides around if needed, print them off with a space to make notes (very handy for taking with me to the dentist’s waiting room-yuck), and create powerful visual reminders of what I had in mind for the story.

Layered Look Book
Weaknesses: A good and useful Power Point can take a lot of time to create. If you simply use text you may as well use post-it notes. What makes the Power Point so, well, powerful, is the addition of pictures, color, background, texture, mood….and that takes a ton of time.

2. Layered Look Book- I snagged this idea from Dina Zikes. It is two sheets of paper, offset, then folded.

Strengths: This is a quick and easy way to organize your ideas for your book. These are so portable so you can whip out your work while you’re waiting for the oil change in your car to be completed.

Weaknesses: My layered look books tend to get messy fast. I used one for a short novel and found the space was too limiting.

3. Divided File Folder- I used this for Breathing on Her Own with Post-it Notes.
It is, in a way similar to the layered look book, without the easy to use layers. It is also bigger. And it has these nifty little prongs to attach info I might need. So why did I use this? It was free. Someone was throwing these away so being the teacher-person I am I saved them from the dump.

Strengths: I like being able to file papers related to the book in this in the part of the book where I expect them to appear. Also, I like the portable nature of this. So while I’m waiting in the car for my grandson’s school to let out, I can review where I am and where I’m heading in the book. I leave the school with both the boy and newly acquired inspiration.

Weaknesses: The folders I have are too big. (Undoubtedly why they were being tossed aside.) I cut one down to size for one project. That is probably a better idea. At least then the file folder can actually be “filed.” I’m sure you can buy the right size.

4. Photo/Card Album- I have used this for every book I’ve written as well as a few articles and short stories. It is an album to hold pictures. A small, flat album to hold snapshots which I rarely have anymore in this digital age. I found it to be perfect for my scene cards.

Strengths: This is easily tucked in my purse or computer case. I love that I can move the scene cards around, write on the back, and replace them if necessary.

Weaknesses: If you are a true PLOTTER, you will find the space limiting.

5. Whiteboard- A whiteboard offers the PLANTSTER enough room to map a story plot, add details, and color code information. Changes can easily be made to the story as it evolves.

Strengths: You can hang this where you see it every time you sit down to write. It can help you stay on track with your story and remind you of details you want to include.

Weaknesses: This is not portable. If you write anywhere and everywhere, you will not reap the full benefits of the whiteboard. Information can easily be erased. Accidently erased. I suggest, you take a picture of it from time to time to make sure you have what you need.

Whew! We made it! There are certainly other tools out there. Scrivener has everything built into the software for you to plot or plan or simply write. I know a few people who are using the secret board feature on Pinterest to collect ideas for their books and post plot points. The idea there is to then edit the page once you publish the book to turn it into a marketing tool. I’m not there yet.

As I look back on this post, I realize I value being able to take my writing anywhere and everywhere with me. Maybe I should create a post on the "portable office!"

How about you? Are you a PLOTTER, PANTSTER, or perhaps, like me...a PLANTSTER? What helps you organize your writing?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do You Want to Dance?…Uh, Write?

My daughter and I recently presented at a conference for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). My daughter is in the field of market research. I know. You’re wondering what I might bring to that conversation. It was a team effort.

Our topic? Using storytelling tips and techniques to write compelling research reports. We titled it Getting Beyond “Once Upon a Time.” It’s what happens when you bring a qualitative researcher and a novelist together around a dinner table.

One of the areas we discussed was that of organizing the essential elements of the report, or for me, the pivotal scenes. We also talked about rhythm and weight. It occurs to me these foundational components are similar to learning to dance. Learning the steps or figures in sequence, moving to the rhythm of the music, and being aware of the weighted foot to know where to begin the next movement.

Today I want to talk a bit about these pieces as we craft our novels. You see, preparing for this conference was a good reminder for me about what to do as I write and revise. And I learned a few new tricks to employ.

Outlining may be as simple as a list of bullet points or as complex as your tenth grade teacher expected to find in your homework assignment. Outlining is usually implemented by “planners,” though I’ve talked with “pantsers” who tell me they at least have an idea of how the story begins and the general direction of where it is going. A sort of mental outline of the sequence of events.

Another, more visual tool is to use storyboarding. Traditional storyboarding for me is create eight to ten pivotal scenes that move my story from Point A to Point Z. I sometimes draw stick figures for each scene to identify the characters essential to that scene. My storyboarding is not elaborate by any means. I’m talking about 3x5 cards here.  My daughter brought to the forefront the notion of creating visuals for the storyboard by using Power Point. What a great idea! I can put together a slide for each pivotal scene. I can include characters and text I can actually read (My handwriting is sometimes more of a mystery than any plot I might concoct.) I’ll address storyboarding more in next week’s blog post. By the way, Scrivener offers you an embedded tool to create a storyboard.

I call this keeping the flow of the story moving in the right direction. It helps the writer avoid the sagging middle. My suggestion to the researchers in the room is the same as my suggesting to you as you draft your novel. When the story begins to bog down, write shorter sentences. Shorter sentences trigger the reader’s brain to continue to read. They signal, “something is about to happen—hang in there.” Divide that compound sentence into two sentences. Take that list of items in a series and break it up into smaller segments. Read what you write out loud. You’ll hear the rhythm of the story as it unfolds to the reader.

What is most important to the story line? For these researchers, we pointed out that while they may have collected some interesting data, it is important to not let the essential information be crowded out by minor details, no matter how interesting it may appear. Think about it. Have you had times when the subplot seemed to be taking over the main plot of your book? Have your supporting characters developed into ruling tyrants? You may need to think about where you spend your time…or a sequel.

Step-by-Step, Rhythm, and Weight. Used properly, your book will shine. So might your dancing.

How do these resonate with you? Of interest? Applicable? Or maybe, you’ll need to think about it? Leave your comments below then turn on the music and dance.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Uncertainty That Matters: Learning the Craft of Suspense Writing

Rick Aker is the author of  Dead Man’s Rule, a suspense legal thriller likened to John Grisham’s work.

The opportunity to attend a workshop on suspense writing lead by Aker at the ACFW conference in Dallas was a treat. I want to share with you a few essentials gleaned from that workshop.

One of the lessons I learned from Rick is that all novels need an element of suspense.” Actually, I think I knew that, tough I’ve never stated it explicitly.

Rick’s definition of suspense? “Uncertainty that matters to the reader.” I call them page-turners. Those moments we as writers create to make our readers need to know what happens next. Will she say yes? Will he escape? Will so-and-so return? Uncertainty.

“Suspense should be tightening throughout the novel.” I agree. The stakes get higher and we need our readers pulling for our protagonist. I think often though of a story as an ocean. We create those wave-crashing, knock-us-off-our-feet scenarios, but we also have to give our readers time to catch their collective breath before the next wave rolls in or the undertow knocks them down.

Rick also spoke of two kinds of suspense. Aside: Like the way I keep calling him by his first name? Yeah, well, we had dinner together. (Actually, he was across from me at a table that would seat ten in a noisy banquet room with loud music…but hey!)

Back to our study…the two kinds of suspense: PLOT DRIVEN SUSPENSE (Think The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum and yes, it was a book before it was a movie.) or CHARACTER DRIVEN SUSPENSE (A la Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris…making myself shiver here.)

I’m learning the craft of writing a suspense novel. I hadn’t thought about the mechanics of it or what drives it. I think that’s important information. It keeps you as a writer true to the story.

In my own attempt at crafting a romantic suspense, I find myself waivring between plot and character. Now I understand why. My romance is plot driven. The antagonist provides ample tension and an opportunity for my male protagonist to rush in and save the day.

At the same time, while I want my readers to pull for the protagonist, I want them to understand what makes the bad guy tick. I want them to feel sorry for him. Not sorry enough to acquit him if any of my readers were to sit in on his trial, mind you, but enough to hope he gets help and maybe even give him a job when he’s released from prison.

Sitting in a room full of novelists studying their craft with the likes of Rick Aker is a fantastic experience. Now the question…will she write a good novel or not? Oh, the suspense is killing me.

How about you? Do you have a suspense story rolling around your head?

Was this post helpful? Let me know!