50,000 words of leftover casserole

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^^This is why I only wrote one blog post in November.^^

NaNoWriMo was hard this year. There were a few days, lumped together, that I didn’t write anything. Playing catch-up really killed the creative juices.

During the last two days of the month, I had to write 10,000 words to reach my goal. To me, that’s five chapters. Five! Those last words I wrote are comparable to mashing all of the Thanksgiving leftovers into one big glob of chunky casserole.

Early on, I’d prepared a nice, detailed grocery list, recipes, and outline for my Thanksgiving feast of words. See my outline HERE. I prepared for my meal all month and lovingly sprinkled words here and there like seasoned salt and pumpkin pie spice. They were glorious and touched on all of my senses. “Writing is the best thing ever!” I thought over and over, when I was naive and visions of delicious words consumed my thoughts.

The deadline drew closer and I still flitted around the kitchen with a smile, writing words that were beautiful to behold.

But soon it got sweaty in the kitchen. I couldn’t cook up the words as quickly as I had. The flavors began to muddle together. But I kept at it. I cinched my apron tight and pulled up my sleeves. I was determined to create something edible. The timer dinged just after I put on the last of the edible embellishments.

Edible is relative. Everyone has different tastes. I shrugged my aching shoulders and sampled my feast of words.

It stinks. The turkey is dry. The mashed potatoes are blobs of goo. My delicious novel is finished, yes, but it is dripping with plot holes, spelling mistakes, and red ink. Even the crust of the pumpkin pie is burnt!

It stinks BIG time.

But unlike a ruined feast, I can go back and fix things. I can take out and add and make it delicious. I can deconstruct the stinky casserole! The words are at least there. The concept, outline, and rough draft are there. I can clear the air and put gravy on the dry turkey. Pumpkin pie is better loaded up with whip cream and without the crust anyway, right?

After NaNoWriMo last year, I wrote a post on how to edit your novel. It is called “Whip it into shape.”  Here is the link.

I can fix this feast of a novel because I am determined to make it delicious!

Happy writing (and editing)

  • Tara

Thankful

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I sketched this up real quick on a poster board and am excited to see what my family writes on it tomorrow! Happiness is moving every single piece of furniture in your house to accommodate a large family 🙂

I like to write a quick Thankful post each year and I will continue to do so. Here is mine from last year. November is always a very busy month as I join NaNoWriMo and try to write a book in a month. Only a few days left! Eeep! November seems to be the month that I pull out all of my interests and struggle to make something from them. — I work more at the garden center arranging plants and flowers for Holiday preparation, I usually have an art show of some sort, I start working on Christmas songs with my guitar students, and I break out my measly cooking talents and try to mash a Thanksgiving meal together.— All while writing a book in a month.

I am thankful for my seeds of talents, wherever they are in the developmental stage. We’ve all got them. Some of our seeds are buried deep, some have grown and are beginning to bud, and some have fully blossomed. I’ve decided that talents first start as interests. Like, I have no interest in math or sports, therefore I am brain dead when it comes to math terms and incredibly uncoordinated with team sports. I have many interests and struggle and strive to turn them into talents. Planting the seeds, if you will.

I am convinced more and more that when someone has a great talent, they have sacrificed other talents to develop that one. I am also convinced that we can all be great, it’s just a matter of the focus and energy we put into it. To illustrate my point, here are a few examples:

Music – ah, music. I love music. I play guitar, piano, and a bit of violin. I listen to it all day long when I write. It touches my soul unlike anything else. There have been times I’ve listened to a song or paid attention to the lyrics and thought that I should have been a professional musician or songwriter. Ha! Like it’s some easy thing! I’ve found some seeds of interest scattered within myself and I strive to turn music into a talent by teaching what I’ve learned and by practicing a lot. If you’ve read my book Broken Smiles, you will see that the main character is basically living my dream.

Interior design – So, I’ve decorated things on a very large scale, so large in fact, that Disney came in and shot part of a T.V. series in my creation. I’ve decorated for countless parties with thousands of people, and smaller intimate parties in my home. I think sometimes that I should have been a professional interior decorator. Ha! Again, like it’s some easy thing. I’ve got the seeds planted and sometimes nurture that interest, but I wouldn’t say it’s a talent yet. Joanna Gaines from the TV series Fixer Upper is basically living my dream.

Art – This is a talent that always punches me in the gut and makes me feel guilty. Besides writing, nothing I create makes me happier than painting. I walk into museums and tears come to my eyes. I should have been a professional artist. I went to school for it, for heaven’s sake! I have had seeds planted for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I nurture the seeds and little buds or blossoms grow, but then something else captures my attention and my love for painting withers for a season.

But I never fully nurtured all those seeds of shoulda, woulda, coulda, and I’m okay with that. And I’m okay that someone else has developed those talents. In fact, I cheer them on and am truly happy when success comes back to them. Right now I am mainly nurturing one talent, and that is my writing. I don’t know what will ever come from it. I can hope and prepare and practice, and when the stars align, I pray to bless people’s lives with it, even if it is only one person – me.

Last week I watched an interview with the Piano Guys that was geared toward youth. I sat next to my children, their friends, and other youth in my neighborhood.

One of my favorite things I took away from the interview was:

“You don’t have to be a professional to bless those around you. You can do it in small ways. Pray for opportunities to use those talents that God has given you.”

Whether you have made a difference in hundreds, thousands, or even one person, the blessings come from when you’ve acknowledged your seeds of talent and nurtured them to bless others. It’s sharing those talents, no matter what stage they are in, that can bring you joy and give you self-confidence to continue on through the arduous task of practicing and learning to improve.

Another favorite from the interview was when one of the youth asked what to do when you struggle at not feeling good enough and are frustrated with trying to develop your talents.

Their answer, “Change it up. Try a different instrument, play different songs, then combine them all. There is meaning in all the small things we do. Small things beget great things.”

Yes, small things beget great things. Seeds turn into plants, that turn into blossoms, that others can enjoy.

After the interview the youth surrounding me said jealously, “I wish I could play like that. I wish I could make a difference. I wish, I wish, I wish.”

I wanted to shake them and say, “YOU CAN!”

It just takes nurturing the seed, whether it be one or several, that are already planted inside of you and to show your Thankfulness by developing those talents.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Tara

 

Plotting for NaNoWriMo

I wrote a post last year about how to edit your NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here is the official link to the competition. Basically, it’s writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Sound crazy? Yes, yes it is. And so, so much fun! I’ve done it three times. Once I reached 50,000 words and the other two times I got somewhere near 35,000 words. I think the reason why I didn’t finish the other two times was because I hadn’t prepared and plotted properly.

I’m fixin’ to change that. Hopefully this helps you. I’ve plotted novels so many ways and this by far is the best. I mean the very BEST plotting I have ever done. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error, started and finished four books, and started and NOT finished about twelve. I’ve always either gotten sick of the story or have no clue what happens after the honeymoon stage of a new book idea wears thin.

So what’s my secret to writing 12,000 words in one day, plotting the whole novel the next day, and currently being halfway through my manuscript after only three weeks?

Caffeine. Just kidding, I’m trying so hard to kick that habit to the curb.

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The secret is marrying the writing program Scrivener and the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder!

If you are unaware of the program and the book and you are wanting to plot a novel, buy them now. I mean now! Scrivener was like $40 and so awesome! There is a learning curve, so learn the program before NaNoWriMo starts. Also, read Save the Cat before NaNoWriMo. I know it is a formula for screenwriting, but it works for novels just as well.  It will help your brain think in story structure before you even begin writing. So, before I show you my plotting technique, I’m assuming that you at least know the basics of both Scrivener and Save the Cat. I will try to be as simple as possible.

First: I thought of the word count I wanted to end at. 80,000 words for a young adult novel sounds about right for a starting point. I divided that into 40 chapters. 2,000 words per chapter, give or take. Along the left side of Scrivener in the binder section where it says draft, I named my book. Then I clicked on the green circle with the + sign 40 times and added in my chapters below.

Second: I started placing the Save the Cat plot structure at my chapters. I divided it into four parts first, even though there are fifteen major plot points. Chapter one – opening scene. Chapter ten – catalyst. Chapter twenty – midpoint. Chapter thirty – Dark night of the soul. Chapter forty – final image. These are all reference to Save the Cat. I started plotting big picture. What is my catalyst? What even is a catalyst? I put Blake Snyders definition in the white synopsis section on the right side and my story catalyst in the yellow note section. If you don’t see these sections in Scrivener, then press the i (inspector) in the blue circle in the top right corner and they will pop up. (See my bottom right photo below) Leave the inspector open as you write and plot. I did the same in chapter 20 – midpoint, 30 – dark night, and 40 – final image.

This four part story structure reminded me of J. Scott Savages class at Storymakers. He is a fantastic presenter and has many great writing tips on his blog. I’m highlighting him because he is my boy’s favorite author and he has another book releasing in a couple weeks. Anyway, you can check him out HERE.

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Third: I filled in the rest of the plot points. (See above left photo) After a bit of shuffling around, this is where my other fifteen plot points landed. Yours might not fall where mine did. No worries, this is how stories vary. I don’t want yours exactly like mine. 🙂

Chapter One – opening scene

Chapter Two – theme stated

Chapter Five – set up

Chapter Ten – catalyst

Chapter Twelve – debate

Chapter Thirteen – break into two

Chapter Fifteen – B story

Chapter Seventeen – fun and games

Chapter Twenty – mid-point

Chapter Twenty three – bad guys close in

Chapter Twenty seven – all is lost

Chapter Thirty – dark night of the soul

Chapter Thirty two – break into three

Chapter Thirty five – finale begins (gathering team, execute plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, execute new plan)

Chapter Forty – final image

The thing I love about having this always visible in the left hand side is because I know what is coming and where my story should be heading. Before, when I wrote in word, I’d have different documents, plot books, and sketchbooks that I’d have to reference to on a constant basis to remind me where my story was headed. Now it’s always there. Pressing me forward, encouraging me. I take writing sessions in clumps and tell myself “just write to the B story or the debate, come on, that’s only 3,000 words away” or something like that. Or I look at the word count per chapter (at the bottom of middle screen) and encourage myself “only 400 words left to write in the chapter. You can do it!” It’s all a mind game, you know.

Forth: Because I love the readers of my blog, I have taken the time and highlighted the key elements for every plot point. I have put these under the white lined synopsis section on the right hand side of my Scrivener program. I still think you should read the whole book though.

  * Chapter One – opening scene – Very first impression. Sets the tone, mood, and type of story. Shows the starting point of the hero. Must Hook the reader. The opening and final image should be opposites. Because of some of these things, more often than not, a prologue doesn’t work. Here is a post I wrote about that.

     * Chapter Two – theme stated – Pose a question or make a statement (usually not by the main character) What is the story about?? State it loud and clear and follow through the goal with action. Is your hero’s goal clearly stated? A hero never asks questions. Is your hero active or passive? Do things happen too easy for your hero?

     * Chapter Five – set up – Plant every character tic that needs to be addressed later.
Show how and why the character needs to change to win. Show what the hero is lacking. The calm before the storm.

     * Chapter Ten – catalyst – Life changing events. It’s the opposite of good news. First moment when something BIG happens.

     * Chapter Twelve – debate – The last chance for the hero to say “this is crazy.” Should I go? Do I dare? Moment of truth. Make a firm decision and off they go.

     * Chapter Thirteen – break into two – Moment when we leave the old world. Hero must make the decision himself. The act of stepping from act one into act two must be definite. (Blake Snyder uses the three part story structure, which is great too.)

     * Chapter Fifteen – B story – The love story portion. The story that carries the theme of the book. B-story is a breather. Can introduce a brand new bunch of characters.

     * Chapter Seventeen – fun and games – The promise of the premise. It’s the core and essence of the book cover. What about this book is cool? Heart of the book. We take a break from the stakes and see what the idea is all about. Lighter in tones than other sections.

     * Chapter Twenty – mid-point – It’s either an up (where hero seemingly peaks) or down (false collapse.) Stakes are raised at midpoint. Fun and games are over—back to the story. False victory or false defeat. Nothing is as good as it seems.

     * Chapter Twenty three – bad guys close in – Mid-point bad guys are defeated. Bad guys decide to regroup and send heavy artillery. Internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero’s team. Forces against the hero tighten their grip. Headed for a huge fall.

     * Chapter Twenty seven – all is lost – Opposite of the midpoint. False defeat—all hope is lost. All aspects of the hero’s life are in shambles. No hope. “Whiff of death”—
if it isn’t an actual death, hint at something else; dead goldfish, plant, etc. Old world, old thinking, and old character dies. Maybe attempt of suicide—that’s how low the character feels.

     * Chapter Thirty – dark night of the soul – Darkness right before dawn.
The hero reaches way down and pulls out the last, best idea that will save himself and everyone around him. But at that moment the idea is no where in sight.
“Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?” attitude. Hopeless, clueless, drunk, and stupid.
We admit our humility and humanity. We must be beaten and know it to get the lesson.

     * Chapter Thirty two – break into three – Tadaa—realize the solution. The characters in the B story and conversations discussing theme in the B story, and thanks to the hero’s last best effort to discover a solution to beat the bad guys who’ve been closing in and winning A story, the answer is found! A and B story intertwine. An idea to solve the problem has emerged.

     * Chapter Thirty five – finale begins – (gathering team, execute plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, execute new plan) ACT 3 begins—Wrap everything up over the next few chapters. The lessons are learned and applied. The character tics are mastered.
Turning over old world and a creation of a new one—all thanks to the hero, who leads the way based on what he has experienced in the upside-down world of Act Two.

Dispatching of all the bad guys in order:
Lieutenants and henchman first, then the boss.
The chief source of the problem must be dispatched completely for the new world order to exist. New society is born.

     * Chapter Forty – final image – Opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real. The End 🙂

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(example of my Break Into Three in chapter 32)

Fifth: I begin to fill in the story. Based off the turning points above, I’ll write my theme, or mid-point, or dark night of the soul, or final image scenes. This has helped me tremendously to see where my own personal story is going. I don’t outline scene or spaces between the beats or turning points. I’ve got to have some freedom and creativity! And it’s nice to have it all plotted out so that when I wake up in the middle of the night, dreaming about a scene that isn’t where I currently am writing, I jump up and write a quick scene in a future chapter.

Sixth: Now when I have a quick idea or gem of dialogue come to me (usually in the shower or in the middle of the night!) I put them in the yellow note section on the left hand bar or on the bulletin board which is another very cool thing about Scrivener.

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* I highly, highly recommend plotting before you start Nanowrimo or begin a new novel. This system alone has made writing easier and faster for me.

Now, let me say something about writing in such a formulaic way. If everyone did it, books would get boring. This is what I found works best for me after reading endless plot books, sitting through many conferences, and after a lot of trial and error. However, many people are considered pantsers and I have also written books that way. The wonderful thing about writing, is the variety. It’s the creative process. To me, I thought plotting in such a way would kill the creative process. But the more I write and want to do this professionally, the more I realized that I needed a system and schedule.

This blog post took forever to research and write and I hope it was helpful. Regardless, it’ll be good for me to have as a reference. I just wanted to share because I think this would be a great way to plot a NaNoWriMo and it gives you a month and a half to plan and plot before the craziness begins.

Was this helpful? Do you use another method to plot your novel, or are you a pantser? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks!

Good luck and happy writing! You can check out more of my writing tips HERE:

Tara

Info Dumping

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Last month while I was at a critique group, before I began to read my chapter out loud, I asked for them to look for Info Dumps. When I was finished I asked if anyone noticed any. Each person shook their head and said no. Phew, my little plan worked.

I had actually inserted a ton of info into the scene, but no one even noticed. The reason for this is because I turned it into a conversation between two and then three people.

I will describe what an info dump is.

Info dumps are chunks of information “dumped” into the story to bring in back story or information. They usually stop the story and interrupt the flow. They are often author footnotes that the author feels the reader needs to know. More often then not, it doesn’t sound like the character and feels like information shoved into where it doesn’t belong. The reader might begin to daydream or think “why is the author telling me this now?” Blah, blah, blah. An Information Dump occurs when background information is not interwoven with the narrative. Scenes in a playscript are often introduced with a brief information dump to explain the situation the characters are in. Blah, Blah, (have I lost you yet?) In serial television dramas, information dumps often appear in episodes as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase “Previously on [name of series]”. blah, blah, blah (Half of this paragraph are my words, other half was found in Wikipedia)

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“What did you just explain to me?” the person sitting at the computer asked with glazed over eyes.

“An Info Dump,” I replied.

“What is an Info Dump?”

“When the author crams in a bunch of unnecessary detail that makes the reader bored to death,” I answered simply.

***See, isn’t that basically what I needed to say?***

??? How to fix Info Dumps ???

* For me the best way to fix this problem is to include large amounts of information into a dialogue or better yet, an argument between characters. This way, characters can debate and you can sprinkle in inner dialogue and body language to show the reader more details about the scene. Of course, don’t have the conversation last forever either. Interrupt the characters, etc. The scene will then become fast paced and, like the above example with my critique partners, people seem to not even notice.

* You can also sprinkle bits of information and knowledge along the way so it doesn’t become one long piece of narrative.

* You can have the info dump become a problem between characters that brings in tension. The scene and characters can change and react as more bits of information and backstory are revealed.

* Try introducing an uninformed character. This person comes into your novel mainly to uncover details and history. You can bring information into your story by having your characters explain things to this new innocent person.

* Relate the information to what is currently going on in the novel. Have your tangents be current in the storyline. Maybe something happens to your character that sparks a short memory therefore causing a conversation starting with “remember when…”

Sharing information in your novel is a balancing act between giving the reader enough information that they don’t become confused — and not giving them too much that they become frustrated and bored.

To illustrate my point, here is a tidbit from my work in progress.

*******

“Sage?” He was looking at me with eyebrows raised.

“Huh?” I asked. “Did you ask something?”

He rolled his eyes, “I asked if you have seen many wolves when you’ve been out.”

“Oh.” I cleared my throat and sat taller in my saddle. Good, small talk is good. “Not lately, but I’ve seen clues that the packs are growing bigger.”

He nodded. “Do you remember after all the lawsuits and debates, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995?”

I shrugged and he continued, “it was before we were born, but I remember my Dad cursing those dang wolves. He would always get a healthy check from Defenders of Wildlife from their compensation fund. His livestock decreased by 50% because of the wolves.” He adjusted his wide brim cowboy hat.

I smiled. I always loved it when he did that.

He shook his head not knowing I was watching him. “And that was years and years ago. I worry that they have a monopoly over the food supply.” He continued, “Did you know. . .”

I settled down into my saddle. Whenever he started a sentence with “did you know,” it was a sure sign that you’d learn something cool, so might as well get comfortable. Joe knew a lot about a lot of things, especially those issues he was passionate about. He was always reading from the countless books of my fathers. I knew this was going to be a long debate or lesson in wolves.

“. . . the gray wolf is one of the world’s most well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other animal  I found all these awesome old black and white sketches of wolves in Yellowstone before 1926. Because, you know, that’s when the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone.”

“Hmm, interesting.” I said wondering where he was going with this.

His eyes lit up when he realized I was kind of contributing to this conversation. “Well, when the wolves were no longer here, the elk population boomed.” He lifted up his hands and spread them out. “I mean so large that they unbalanced the local ecosystem.”

“That’s weird, how so?” I asked.

“The herds grew so large that when they grazed over the meadows and river beds, they trampled over all the new-growth and small trees. So in the end, that’s why the decision to reintroduce wolves won out.” He was quiet for a while as we watched night drip around us. “So in essence, wolves have the power to change the land. They are an apex predator, only humans are their real threat. But I am afraid, because now — there are more wolves then there are humans.”

 *******

This was also pre-edit. I will slim even more of this conversation to just get to the bones of the information. I left it in so you could see the full conversation. I would love to hear if any of you have other ways that you avoid the info dump. 🙂

Have a good day 🙂

-Tara

Whip It Into Shape

It only took me around eight months to write my novel Broken Smiles.

It took me three years to edit the same novel.

Yes it was my first book that I finished to the end, and part of that was the submission process, but towards the end, before I signed the contract, I was ready to shelf the dang thing. In fact, I did.

It was discovered because I submitted my second book, a Christmas novella, “Eight Birds for Christmas” into a few Christmas competitions. It was rejected by some, but I also had a couple publishers interested. When it came time to sign contracts, I sent in my full novel on a whim and said, “here’s something else I have finished.” Right away the publisher I ended up going with wanted to get started on Broken Smiles first and then release Eight Birds for Christmas during the holidays. So that’s what happened.

I guess the moral to that story is, after you have done all you can do and enlisted the help of others in your circle, if it’s your best possible work with where you are now… don’t give up. I almost did.

With NaNoWriMo (click to find out more) finishing up last week, I want to talk about editing. I have done that crazy, whirlwind writing competition a couple times before. One year I finished, another year, life got too busy and I only ended up with 35,000 words. That type of writing is so fun for me. Turning off the editorial brain thrills me and the words seem to bleed easily. But then comes December and you are left with a mess of a story. For months you revise, edit, and slash those words into something readable.

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Below is my editing process. I am much more faster now, and my circle of people who help me has grown, but I think that this can apply to anyone on their own personal writing path.

* Before you begin the editing process, you need to learn track changes in Word perfect. There is only one person who I print full copies for, and that is because she is fabulous and old school. Other than that, everyone else edits with track changes. It really is a great tool and has sped up the process tremendously. Plus it helps save trees!

* First – I must admit… I have a secret weapon… My mother. I mean, just look at some of the pages she sends back to me!

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She is not your typical mother when it comes to cheering your book baby on. Yes, she is kind and loving, but she is also critical and looks at it with an editorial eye. Whenever I send her pages, I imagine her arming herself with pen as a sword as she prepares for battle. Also, she has written eight books and edits for other authors.

So my first bit of advise is to ask yourself “who is your secret weapon?” Is it a fellow critique partner, neighbor, friend? Someone who owes you a huge favor. (because that is exactly what this is) Who is willing to look at your very first draft after you have done all you can do to whip it into shape? That person is key because they will get you to the next step, which is…

* Second –  Alpha readers. (If you don’t have a secret weapon, this takes place) I feel sorry for these guys, really I do. They are given a mess because they are given your second draft. I say second because the first draft should be all on you. Do not waste your Alpha readers time by giving them a complete piece of junk. Just kind of waste their time by giving them kind of a piece of junk. First drafts have heaps of problems and these poor people who you asked to help, hopefully know what they are getting into. These people find holes in your story and help with content and overall story line. I think they usually catch blaring line edits as well. But mostly they are readers who read a lot and know the basics, not necessarily writers.

* The time I spent between my Alpha and Beta readers spanned over a couple years for my first novel. I am faster now, but it was a huge learning experience for me and I went through the roller coaster of wondering if what I wrote was any good. I bit the bullet and hired a content editor during this time. She helped me slash 30,000 words, moved chapters, and killed many of my darlings. I suggest you hire a content editor before a line editor. Do your research when finding an editor. You want someone thorough and who will almost make you cry, but also will cheer you on. It can be very daunting when opening up track changes and seeing that almost every line, I mean every line, has either a comment or change to accept or delete. Oh, and as a side note, keep track of your different drafts. Hide the past drafts within a folder in a deep dark corner of your computer so you won’t get confused. Rename the drafts back and forth to your editor with numbers or dates.

* Third – Beta readers. These people get your polished draft. Once you have gone over the harsh edits from your Alphas or secret weapons, and the editors (both content and line) it’s time to move to the next level. After you have gotten over the shock of realizing your story might suck, these Betas can help revive hope again. They usually are experienced writers or people who work in the business. After you have gone over the returned suggestions from your Betas, this is when you submit to agents and publishers. Or, I am guessing this is when you self-publish your novel. Although, if I was to self-publish, I think I would hire a different editor to look at the final, final draft before it goes live.

* When you get an agent or a publisher, the process starts all over again. And oh yea, there will be deadlines! Doesn’t that sound like the funnest thing ever! I couldn’t believe the things my publisher and new team of editors, proofers, and readers found. For that very reason, I was glad that I traditionally published first. I now know that you can never be done editing. I think some people jump the gun too early when it comes to self-publishing.

* The final step is releasing it into the wild unknown. By this time you will have become so sick of looking at the words of your manuscript, that you will hardly remember the storyline. It all becomes a blur of punctuation, adjectives, nouns, run-on sentences, point of view issues, etc… By this time and after all that hard work, next you become a marketer. And if you thought editing was fun and relaxing — you just wait!

I don’t want to discourage anyone. I have never learned so much in my life — not in school, or college, or from any book. It is a whirlwind of information that is hard to explain until you go through it. It is an exciting journey that should be enjoyed. Yes it can be stressful at times, but you come out changed and better at the craft.

One of the main things to not change during this process, is to constantly be a humble student. Don’t ever let your head get so big that you are unteachable. There is always something more to learn or another way to see things being done. Just last month I went to a conference and sat through a class that was titled “how to write your first draft.” I learned so much because the presenter shared examples and things I had never heard of before. So now, as I tackle a new work in progress, I am armed with yet another tool of the trade.

Best of luck as you edit your book!

-Tara

The Importance of Setting in a Novel

UPDATE: This blog post won an award for “media post” at the 2015 LUW writers conference.

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Write what you know. How many times have I heard that? Oh man, probably at every conference I have ever gone to, multiple times.

I know setting.

Long before I was ever an author, I would surround myself in settings which filled my soul with wonder. I would cover my limbs and face with autumn leaves to feel the smell. I would spend many nights under the stars, listening to the scurrying of little animals and the sounds of wind applauding my appreciation through the trees. The stillness would settle in my heart and when I began to bring pen and paper with me to different settings, my world became magical.

To me, setting should breathe like a character. It isn’t just streets, buildings, and names of towns — it is the lifeblood which weaves your characters and plot together. It shouldn’t be tacked in, but rather an integral part of the story. It grounds the reader.

It should also ground the author. The author carries the responsibility to bring details that are often overlooked. Especially, in my opinion, when it comes to nature.

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Pilot and Index Peak – Cooke City, Montana

Recently, I returned from a long trip through Montana and Yellowstone. I have visited many times and even lived there at one point. Those wild, rustic places are some of my favorite spots in the world and I felt the heavy burden to show my love for it in one of my novels. I hadn’t been up there for over a dozen years and I started creating the setting for my novel through memory. When I had finished my book, I was satisfied. But something tugged at me to visit those places again. Either my wild heart, or the pull to immerse myself in those mountains.

Arming myself with laptop, pens and journals, I was ready to take my story to battle and add details that were missing and change a few things. I was surprised when I came home and realized that I had never even written one word when I had surrounded myself in the nature I so dearly love. Why? It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means, but looking back, my body and soul yearned to feel the lifeblood of the setting. I didn’t need to muddle it with words, I needed to experience it and let the setting wash through me.

In this world where setting and placement are so often overlooked or replaced with handheld devices that capture our attention, authors need to work harder to ground the reader. We need to scream at our readers to notice detail. It breaks my heart every time I see someone surrounded by stunning scenery and their faces are aglow with the pale light of a handheld device.

Here are a few ways you can bring your setting to life in your novel, followed by some examples I have written.

*Be specific – it isn’t only a flower, describe the details. example: The vibrant purple petals stretched beneath an indigo hat which drooped over a white lip and a yellow bearded pouch. (Calypso Orchid)

*Sprinkle in similes and metaphors to connect – example: His temper was like a loose cannon. It could explode at any given time and I would be the set target.

*Use the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, feel – This one is huge! I love to incorporate the senses. – example: My stomach was empty, which was good, because the smell hit me, and I heaved once more against the vacant remains of my belly. The putrid, decaying stench of rotten flesh made my eyes water.

*Show, don’t tell – instead of stating that its raining, describe the dripping trees, the puddles gathering in the crevices of rock, and the pattering on tin resembling tinkling bells.

Here is an excerpt from my novel Broken Smiles. The setting is in China, another one of my favorite places. I hope you can feel my love for it as you read my words.

Here and there rocks were covered with ancient moss. Orchids blossomed spontaneously upon the trees. Vines hung like ropes and twine, twisting upon the rubber and the banyan trees. Bamboo stood proudly against the moonlight, casting shadows that had been the same for thousands of years. Away from big city lights and pollution, it was easy to be transported back in time to ancient China. This land had managed to remain untouched throughout the different emperors and dynasties. As they walked, they passed a small ancient graveyard built against the hillside. The limestone shrines glowed mysteriously in the moonlight. Chinese characters and mini-sculptures were carved in the pale rock. Incense smoldered on the top of an old gravestone…

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara