Wednesday, December 30, 2009
OMG -- this is not the next post I thought I'd post, but here it is!
Turns out I did an abrupt about-face during December. I was charging full steam ahead, holding the bull by the horns, committed to holding on and not letting go until the JASPER story is finished, and what happens?
[shock] -- [gasp] -- [more shock]
I was in the third draft and finding that while the story was on track as planned, the truth is the draft itself was about as lively as, well, cr**, and cr**'s not a particularly lively substance, if you know what I mean. At least, it generally fails to inspire me in any positive sense.
I caught wind of the changes to the ABNA this year (if you don't know what it is already, don't ask, it's too late for you). I was prepping JASPER for ABNA and with the changes to ABNA, there's no way it's suitable!
I had to take a quick look around for another WIP that might be suitable, given the changes to this year's ABNA (2010), and I found an idea I like and so THAT'S what I've been working on during December. I had to do some in-depth research, some plotting, and now I'm writing. I have only an outside chance of having this new story ready in time, but I'm going to have fun trying.
This has inspired me to an exciting new way of working that I'll blog about soon.
The important thing is, although it may look like I had the bull by the horns and let go, the truth is: Not Really. You see, I'm still holding on to what's important: a finished work, ready to send out, ASAP. That's the real issue, and I'm still tightly focused on that.
IF YOU HAVE NO IDEA what this posting has been about, check out ABNA.
Best wishes for staying true to your real goals, whatever they may be,
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
[Note: this blog entry contains a Q&A format designed to break an otherwise rambling post into discrete chunks of ... well ... chunkiness.]
I got most of the way through the 2nd complete draft of the JASPER novel before it started unraveling on me -- again!
I hate it when that happens! I realized that what I was writing had deviated from the plan. This was not due to my not being able to follow a plan. The problem was the plan itself was lacking (*gasp*) in spite of substantial work on redeveloping it before commencing the 2nd draft!
Was there any clue this was going to be the case?
As I mentioned previously in my blog, I had found a few minor plot holes along the way while writing the 2nd complete draft, nothing that couldn't be fixed by minor editing, but by the later part of the story there were major fissures, at least to my sensitive plotting sensibilities.
What to do about it?
Rather than finish a draft that was no longer working, I saved myself another 10k of drivel and went back to the drawing board. Result: I have revamped the plot YET AGAIN and this time (like last time) I could almost swear I've got it down perfectly. Result of the result: I have already launched DRAFT THREE, which is off to a good start.
Is there any good news?
The plus in all this is that I'm pushing my way through, keeping up the productivity. Now that I'm back to work after my extended Creative Break, I'm willing to take on the yoke of productivity and keep on wearing it until I get results. I want this novel FINISHED and am willing to plug away at it until I get there.
This seems rather goal-oriented?
Yes, I'm striving for a finished product here. I've been working at my writing in earnest for a few years now and in spite of having completed a veritable mountain of work, I have not yet produced one completely finished manuscript. That will change soon. It must! I'll keep at it this time. I have the bull by the horns and I'm not letting go.
What's different in the current plan compared to the previous plan?
I removed the second POV (the character and events are still there, just not those 2nd POV chapters). The story unfolds now again as it did in the first draft, all events being filtered through the MC's POV. Also, I have downplayed and will probably totally remove the one other significant subplot. I have kept the improvements of the 2nd draft while simplifying the story.
Why the need to simplify?
I realize that the length recommended for Middle Grade fiction (30k - 40k) is too short for me to include all the pieces of the original story. By simplifying somewhat, I have pared it down to the essentials, which are still more than enough for a solid story. It's liberating to see the broad clear strokes of the major plot line as they sweep across the canvas of the entire story ... without all the other distractions that used to be there. I had made the story too complicated (something I tend to do). It's like Spring Cleaning without the Spring or the Cleaning. Feels good once it's over.
Is there any other good news?
Another plus in this new work is that I'm separating in my mind the difference between the macro and micro levels. I've always understood the concept, but I haven't been strict in applying it. First, I have to edit on the macro level, making sure the story works and all the pieces fit together and there is nothing unnecessary in the plot. Then, when the story holds together well, I can shift to the micro level and edit the actual words on the page. I've wasted time doing micro editing on stories that still have macro problems, and, well, that's a waste of time.
What is the next deadline?
I plan to finish this draft within December. The word count will probably run long, up to 60k or more, because I tend to run long with word counts. That's okay. I just need to get all the way through knowing that the story I've written fits the story I need, and all the pieces are in place ("macro bliss"). Once I achieve that, I can then focus on editing and rewriting/deleting to pare it down and bring out the good stuff.
How will visitors to this blog know you are on track?
I'll blog about my progress of the 3rd draft and will hopefully be able to report that this time my plan held all the way through. If so, macro bliss will be mine and the final assault can begin.
Say good night, Gracie.
Wishing everyone well with their continued word counts through the Holiday Season,
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The past two days I've been a writing machine. My word count on the second complete draft of the JASPER novel now stands at 46,700+ words. I just finished Chapter 27. There are a few more longer chapters (but not long by my old standard of 10k words!). After that, the chapters will get shorter as the story moves faster toward its conclusion.
I'm still finding my plan is working but there are a few holes in it, which is to say there are things I don't see clearly myself, and I can't write clearly what I can't see clearly in my own mind. The current issues surround the antagonist. Nothing that can't be fixed without too much drama on my part (though there's lots of drama on the antagonist's part, of course). I see what's wrong, what's missing, and have a sense of what it needs to be. I just need to fine-tune it. That's what this draft is for. I'm seeking how the story plays out according to this new plan, and whatever shortcomings remain will come to light in the process. They are. Everything is on schedule. The next draft should finally fix the remaining problems, and then it's a matter of style, storytelling, and cutting it down to an appropriate length.
Glad to see the word count go up. Glad to see the momentum building. Love this story. It's flowing nicely now (which sort of makes up for those times when it wasn't flowing so well).
Best wishes for your own writing progress,
Monday, November 23, 2009
It's been ten days since my last report on the JASPER novel and I'm only up about 6,800 words. The current total is around 33,500 words. I lost some time to other things (gee, the holidays are kind of approaching, aren't they?), and also I've spent time jotting down a flood of ideas for the CHASM novel using the new Snowflake software (see previous post). I've gotten so many incredible ideas this past week it's been astonishing. The story long ago hit critical mass, and now it's at a point where my new ideas blend in perfectly with what is already established, either fleshing it out, enriching it, or correcting inconsistencies or fixing whatever minor problems remain.
It's been an incredible experience. It's definitely true that the more we plan, the better we get at planning (or writing, or editing). I can see some real progress here and the quality of it knocks my socks off. I've fallen in love with this story all over again and feel so eager right now to get back to work on it as Job One.
But, I'm still writing the second complete draft of the JASPER novel, my current Job One, and I will definitely keep my primary focus on that until it's done, hopefully within November. By the way, I did reach the half-way point -- 20 chapters done, 20 to go, which puts the expected total word count at around 65,000 words. I'll shoot for less since the goal should be 40,000. There will be some scenes to cut! The outline is working out nicely and I'm sticking to it like a charm.
Back to the trenches,
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I just found this out, so I'm posting as quickly as I could, but time is limited. Randy Ingermanson, whose SNOWFLAKE METHOD web page has been viewed by over a million visitors, has come out with a new piece of software to help you plan your novel. The software walks you though the planning process using the Snowflake Method. Obviously, you don't need the software to use the Snowflake Method, but if the software helps you organize your thoughts, it might be worthwhile for you. The usual selling price will be $100. It's on a special introductory sale price right now of just $20 (80% off!). I just forked over the moolah and downloaded it from his site. I haven't had time to try it out yet, but I'll do that soon and will post about it once I have.
The sale runs through Friday, November 20th, midnight (Pacific Time), I believe. Luckily I happened to find out about it today and I figured for $20 I'll bite.
Just passing along this info in case it's of interest to other writers and aspiring writers. I have no connection with Mr. Ingermanson (other than subscribing to his free newsletter) and do not receive any kickbacks or other incentives for sharing this information with you.
You might also consider the THE MARSHALL PLAN NOVEL-WRITING SOFTWARE by Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett. It's another approach and one which is very popular and well worth considering. I reviewed it recently on my blog (see earlier postings). Although I gave it 3 stars for lack of customization, it is a solid program built around an incredibly solid method for planning novels and I do highly recommend it.
Wishing you well on your plotting journeys,
Friday, November 13, 2009
After a slow start, I've picked up a bit of momentum with the JASPER rewrite. I'm now up to 26,700+ words. I've finished 18 chapters. When I finish chapters 19 and 20, then I'll be at the half-way point. It's getting easier to write, the farther I get into it. I've stuck entirely to the plan.
The rewrite has already shown me a few weak points, issues I thought I had pinned down in the planning that preceded this draft. Nothing too major that I can't readily fix it in the next draft or in the editing. Overall, the plot framework is solid. Any changes will be made within the existing framework.
It's nice to be making progress!
Saturday, November 07, 2009
After starting a rewrite from scratch, but not feeling like it was "happening" for me, I went back to the beginning and started again. I've gotten farther already today, in just a few hours of writing, than I had all week with that other draft. I just needed to feel more connected, to open up my creativity and let it flow.
I'm in Chapter 4 now of the Second Complete Draft (just launched) of the JASPER novel. Present word count: about 7200 words, all of them written today. I'll write more later today.
I'm writing from my new and revised plan, which is laid out in a table in a word processing document in three columns: one for the main plot, one for the main subplot, and one for the antagonist's plot line. There are forty items in all distributed among the three columns, with most items in the main plot line, of course. I've already done extensive spreadsheet work and thought about sections (a la Marshall Plan), so at this point my table is quite simple and just lists a short phrase to help me identify what each scene/section/chapter is about. I know the story from heart and these simple reminders are all I need to clue me in at this point.
My current plan anticipates a final length of about 50,000 words for what has turned out to be a Middle Grade fantasy novel (ages 8-12). However, I'm writing so much for each chapter, that I'm probably on track for 80,000 to 90,000 words again. That's okay. I'll let it run however long it runs. By the time I'm into a final draft and editing and polishing it, I'll be able to bring the word count down to 40,000 words, but not more than 50,000 words. I know these novels are typically 30,000 to 40,000 words, but thanks to Harry Potter and other fantasy series many of them are now 60,000, 70,000, 90,000, even longer. I'll keep mine on the shorter end of this, but am willing to take a chance if it's a little beyond the 40,000 threshold.
I think I'll just stay in the flow and keep writing, and write my way through the entire story. I did that before, in the First Complete Draft. That draft fell apart in the second half. Although I completed it, it had major plot problems. I have supposedly fixed those problems with my new and revised plan, so trying the new plan out by writing at length in a leisurely and expansive way is probably a good thing to do. I'll get to see how the story plays out, whether I've solved all the plot issues as I think I have. Writing at length will also let me explore more fully the characters and their motivations as well as their actions. When I'm finished with this Second Complete Draft, then I'll reflect, shorten, and possibly start a Third Complete Draft. (I know of highly-successful writers who write many complete drafts to hone their stories before editing and polishing the final version. They have to practice telling the story several times to get it down. They can recognize easily when they're done, telling it the way it was meant to be told. Food for thought.)
What's nice is that my drafts these days are written in a style that is very readable, pretty close to a finished manuscript. In other words, I've spent a lot of time working on how I construct sentences and paragraphs over the past few years, and I'm turning out much better prose at the outset. I can still tweak it till the cows come home, or the dragons return to their caves, but the truth is when you start with better quality, it takes less work to tighten and polish it. I can certainly still pare it down, but the underlying sentence and paragraph patterns are solid. Score one for the hard-working!
Interestingly, the key to my success with this draft, at this point in the process, has nothing to do with plotting. What is essential right now is getting into the FLOW. I have to FEEL the story. I have to live it, to experience it with the characters. I have to get truly wrapped up in it, so that when I'm writing it, I'm able to capture it vividly. I have to have the right mind-set for the story, capture the right voice or style that works for telling it. I have to draw the characters in a way that brings them to life. I have to really get into it, or else the draft will fall flat. It's not about plotting now. It's about making it real.
Can't write from an outline?
You can, if you slow yourself down, look beyond the outline, have internalized the outline. Get beyond it, use it to guide you, but see past it. See the story. Become the story. Live and breathe the story. Bring it to life. Lose yourself in it while you do. But always, keep yourself on track, which is easy now because you KNOW the story.
I'm in the zone, and I'm gaining ground.
And, most importantly, I'm enjoying it.
Best wishes for your own writing enjoyment,
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
I completed the dissection and re-plotting of the JASPER novel last week, and have been partly expanding on my new framework by writing more notes, and partly writing new manuscript pages. I'm eager to work on this new draft, which will be a complete draft from start to finish, but I'm finding it a bit awkward here at the outset since I changed some key aspects of the story, and am having to re-find or re-interpret the characters. It's not impossible, just a bit of a creative stretch. I expect to land on my feet soon.
The changes, specifically, are to make the MC more active, clearly the central player, with clear-cut goals for each scene. In the original version of the story, the MC's ally (close friend) was also a major player who made decisions and instigated action. He is still critically important to the story, but I'm moving some of his decisions to the MC, and restricting his decisions to ones that are necessarily HIS and not the MC's. Also, the second ally character, who is a "changeling" character (friend here, enemy there, or ???), comes across a little differently as well, more goal-directed -- heck, they're ALL more goal-directed now, and that was the point of reworking the story!
It's November. Happy Writing!
Friday, October 23, 2009
For many months now, whenever I work on the plotting problems of the JASPER novel, it seems no matter what question I answer, there are always other questions that remain unanswered. Usually, once you get to a certain point, you reach critical mass and things start coming together. One answer automatically suggests several other answers. Not so here. Why?
It turns out the cause was hiding in plain sight: I added plot twists when I was writing, to make the story richer and more interesting, and less predictable. However, these competing threads were never properly laid out, never planned in their entirety so they would work together over the course of the entire novel. Any one of them makes sense at any given point -- the point at which the half-baked plot idea was conceived and thrown into the mix. The result is competing plot lines, rather than complementary plot lines. Hence, the revision work has been a lot like a Greek hero fighting a multi-headed Greek monster -- knock off one attacker and another one strikes.
At least now I see the source of the confusion. To help resolve this, ONCE and FOR ALL, which is the only way stories ever get finished, I resorted to some basic plotting maneuvers. I separated out the distinct plot lines, wrote out a short list of the major events for each plot line, from the POV of whichever character was closest to each plot line (the originator of that thread of action), and then I considered what/how/if the various plot lines complement each other. In other words, I've been doing what I should have done at the outset.
This has helped tremendously. I'm not done with it yet but I've made good progress. This approach has helped simplify the story and clarify competing character goals ("competing" in the sense that they could belong to different stories).
So, when the confusion gets to be too much, here's a good rule of thumb: break it down to its constituent parts, and work with smaller, more focused pieces. Establish the priorities, favor whichever plot line presents itself as the main plot line, and work in the others in a way that is helpful. Don't try to be a hero and take everything on all at once when all you need to do is divide and conquer. Take things on in sequence, one at a time, and you'll make your way. Or, to put it another way, don't mistake a lemon for a lemming.
Blessed be the conquerors who persevere,
P.S. By way of background, remember that I usually plan my stories in great detail. JASPER was one story that I didn't plan. I just jumped in, wanting to unfetter my creativity after many months of intense, constrained, directed effort on other novels. It was good to loosen up, but I'm paying for it now. Hopefully the repair work is about done, and I'll be able to rewrite and edit as needed to finish this gem of a story before the holidays.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Yes, I'm plotting again! Gearing up for the next major push on the JASPER novel. I have solved several plot problems, but am still wrestling with the details at the end of the novel.
As soon as I finish this plotting work, I'll get back to writing / re-writing toward a completed second draft. The key is to keep it simple.
I'm excited about this story!
PS -- Still Reading!
Friday, October 09, 2009
Just a quick note to let visitors to my site know that I am closing my web site, which has been hosted on Geocities for over two years now. The reason for this is the fact that Geocities itself is closing. It was taken over by Yahoo some time ago, and Yahoo has decided to close Geocities and migrate accounts over to their regular (PAID) web hosting services. I had a paid account at Geocities, but instead of just migrating my site over to the new Yahoo version, I've decided it's time to close it entirely and re-open it elsewhere at a later date. This will allow me to either:
A) find a free service for a simple web site, which is all I had on Geocities and frankly all I really need; or
B) find a paid service that offers features I feel like paying for, in case I launch a more robust site (which has always been my goal, but I never have the time to build one since my priority is writing!).
Regardless of the route I take, I will migrate THE GAY MAN'S GUIDE TO WRITING FANTASY FICTION to the new web site and will let you know once it's available again.
Anyhoo, just letting y'all know what's up. My blogs on Blogger will continue without interruption, unless Blogger is also taken over by Yahoo and then I'll be looking for a new blog site! (haha)
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Just a quick update so visitors to my blog will know I'm still blogging! A month has passed since my last posting. Hard to imagine. I'm still reading, with a heavier emphasis on the non-fiction stuff, history and culture. I'm just beginning to read another book of writing advice, which looks promising. It features sample manuscript pages with editing notes handwritten on them. I'll be interested to see how the type of editing they encourage compares with the editing I do on my own work. I have sure learned a lot about editing over the past couple of years.
Most importantly, I'm now turning my thoughts back to my own work and will gear up to return to my own projects in the coming weeks. I need to make another round of revisions on the JASPER novel, some of which will be extensive in the later chapters, but then hopefully it'll be finished. It's a very exciting story, one I feel has real potential. And then I'll get back to the CHASM novel, which is more ambitious in scope. (Note: these aren't the real titles, just the labels I use to refer to these stories in my blog. The real titles are much cooler and more marketable).
The Creative Break has done me a world of good, expanding my knowledge and filling me with ideas and inspiration.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Just a quick update. I'm still on my Creative Break and enjoying my intense focus on reading right now. I've found some wonderful resources and am thoroughly immersing myself in the Middle Ages, both history and culture. I'm learning lots that I didn't know before and am expanding my understanding of what that fascinating era was all about.
Still reading the Dragonlance trilogy and lining up other books to read after I finish it. It's great to be reading a book where the word "elf" appears as if it's not at all unusual.
Otherwise, it looks like we're finally getting a break from the intense summer weather, although the folks out in California sure aren't, what with the massive forest fires and the Category 4 hurricane on its way. Wish them well, especially the people down south in Baja who are directly in the path of the storm.
Best wishes for your own reading, and may it fuel the fires of creativity,
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I know I haven't been blogging much for some time now. As I said months ago my time has become rather limited. What I have available I prefer to put to the best possible use, and blogging is lower on my list of priorities than, say, PLANNING or WRITING or EDITING.
Now that I'm officially on a Creative Break, I can say what a wonderful thing it is to take a break. I pour my heart and soul into my work when I'm writing. It's draining. An occasional break, guilt-free, helps me re-fill the creative well-spring and recharge my batteries. For me, this "away time" is refreshing and an essential part of the overall process. If I kept writing year-round, non-stop, I'd burn out. We take vacations from our day jobs; we should not begrudge ourselves a little R&R where our writing is concerned. I prefer to take a "Creative Break", which is not just any break. A Creative Break is one where I specifically seek to refill the creative well-spring. I learn new things and seek inspiration and to be reminded of the joy and power of story-telling.
So, what am I doing these days? Apart from not blogging? (*grin*) Well, I'm reading. A lot. Which makes sense, since I have a lot of reading to catch up on. I'm reading fantasy fiction and also non-fiction stuff that will feed into my fantasy writing. I'm reading about the Middle Ages, to give my imagination something concrete to work with. My current emphasis is on daily life, clothing, weapons and combat/warfare. The fiction I'm enjoying right now is the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy by Weis & Hickman -- I ordered the trilogy from Amazon and am quite happy to see what so many reviewers and others have enjoyed so much. I know it's not new but it's good and highly-rated.
I'm also learning more computer-related stuff. I like to do something logical from time to time to stimulate my sense of "order out of chaos". It seems to help me later with my writing process. I'm learning CSS (finally!) and will redo my website soon using the new way of styling web pages. I'm also beginning to learn PHP and MySQL, just for kicks. So far so good, but I'm still in the beginning of it. I think I'll do better with this than I did trying to teach myself Java -- I learned a lot from that but I still can't write a complex program. I just have to be patient and try again with better materials to learn from.
My apologies to those whose blogs I follow for not visiting their sites often enough. I will endeavor to get back into the swing of things as my time situation improves in the coming months.
Well, that's it for now. I appreciate all of the visitors to my site, even if the majority of them never leave a comment. (If any of you would care to share links to your own blogs or websites, or other blogs of interest to fantasy fiction writers, please do so by leaving a comment. Thanks!)
Best wishes for your own Creative Breaks, if and when you take them,
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I reached a point of saturation over the past few months, my head too full of plot details and multiple viewpoints. I needed to step back and clear my thoughts, so I've gradually weaned off the plotting/writing/editing work and am now officially on a Creative Break. I need it and it's long overdue. I take them from time to time and for me they are an essential part of the process, a chance to replenish the creative well-spring. I'll get back to work in earnest as quickly as I can, but not until the break has worked its magic.
I'll blog soon about what I'm doing on my Creative Break. The important thing is I can feel the benefits of it already.
Enjoy the summer,
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I was thrilled when Evan Marshall sent me a free copy of his new software to review. I have always been a fan of his book, THE MARSHALL PLAN FOR NOVEL WRITING, and the thought of a software program designed to accompany this plan, and help you lay out your novel, was exciting.
When I first ran the program, it took me only a few minutes to figure out how the software worked, and within ten minutes I was already using it to plan a novel. The software has some worthwhile strengths, but also some limitations.
First, the strengths.
The software is stable (no crashes, no apparent bugs) and easy to use. It is fairly intuitive, as any well-designed software should be. The various components of the program are clearly labeled, and you can proceed in a logical and orderly fashion from tab to tab across the top of the screen, reading summaries of key ideas from the Marshall Plan, and filling in fields to contain data about your novel, such as word count, names of key characters and descriptions of the characters.
Once you set up the basic data, the software uses it to calculate how many sections you need based on the projected word count you established, and it also assigns certain key sections to POV characters and their plot lines according to the format established in the Marshall Plan. You are now ready to start planning your novel's sections in detail.
To do this, you go to the main interface. This, too, is logical, easy to figure out and easy to use. On the left, you have a sequential list of the sections for your novel. Clicking on any of these sections calls up the data for that section in the main area (center) of the screen. This data includes who the POV character is, whether this is an action or reaction section (some of these are pre-determined, others you set yourself), the time and location, the POV character's goal, the complications, etc. On the right of the screen is another area with additional information, including a description of what the current section should accomplish according to the Marshall Plan, and a place for you to record additional notes about the section.
You can work on your sections by moving forward, backward, or in any order, clicking on a section from the list on the left and editing the description of that section as it appears in the center of the screen. In practice, this really is simple, easy and quick, as it should be. Indeed, the software provides a convenient way to keep track of your sections and notes, even allowing you to print them out in a document which you can easily convert to Word (tm) format for further editing. The printout brings together the key information you have entered about each section, providing a written reference that can guide you as you write your manuscript, and that you can use as the basis for a synopsis.
For a look at actual screen shots and more detail about the particulars of the software, click here.
Now, to the limitations....
First, I like to assign a title to my sections. The title is usually about three words long, a brief way for me to identify what takes place in each scene without having to look over the particulars. When I read "Harry meets Joe" I know right away this is the first scene where these two characters meet, and that it's from Harry's POV since I put his name first in the title. I remember from that title all the ideas I have associated with that scene. I only have to look at the details if I want a reminder, if I may have forgotten something, or if I'm checking for some fine point to see how it compares to some other plot detail elsewhere. If I'm scanning a list of all the sections in the novel in order to find a particular section, having a title is a very quick way to do that. The Marshall Plan software does not include any way for me to assign my own label or title to the sections, and that makes it tedious to find a given section. I have to click on section after section in the list on the left and then browse the information I've entered in the main form in the center of the screen in order to find a particular scene. The generic, numbered list in the left panel does display the POV character and plot line for each section, but these all the look the same when there are many of them. A way to change those generic labels to my own section titles would make the left panel far easier for me to navigate.
Second, if you wish to stray from the format outlined in the Marshall Plan, the software will not accommodate you. You have to assign key sections to key POV characters according to the plan. The first five sections are always in the POV of the protagonist according to the plan. If you want to start with a brief scene showing some minor character doing something or encountering something that will set up some aspect of the story, you can't. You can't alter the POV character for the sections that are pre-determined for you according to the Marshall Plan. Further, you can only assign sections to POV characters that are established for you through the Marshall Plan. Based on your word count, you might have two, three, four, possibly five or six POV characters. That's all you get. In epic fantasy there are often more. I like to read in other genres as well, and some of the best-selling writers I enjoy start their novels with a minor POV character who is often killed off in the first scene, identifying the problem the protagonist will end up solving over the course of the novel. Also, some novelists use many POV characters, including many minor POV characters. The Marshall Plan wisely limits writers to a handful, but it is possible to write with more POV characters, particularly in epic fantasy, if you set them up and spread them out in such a way that they add to the story, rather than cause confusion.
Third, I felt an urge to see more than one section on display at a time. I often use spreadsheets. I widen the columns a bit so I can view several columns side-by-side, seeing not only what is described for the current scene, but the previous scene and following scene. It reminds me of the larger context or flow. Also, with a spreadsheet I can color-code the columns, so I can tell at a glance whose POV it is, and I can change any section to any POV and easily rearrange, add and delete sections. I enjoy that freedom as it helps me try out new approaches and develop and improve upon plot ideas. The Marshall Plan software ultimately felt constraining to use, even though it is very functional and easy to use.
The Marshall Plan software is a solid, stable piece of software that follows the Marshall Plan and can be used to help you plan out sections for your novel. It is very easy to use, but it does not allow customization or a way to venture off the template set forth in the Marshall Plan.
I can certainly recommend the software to anyone who aspires to use the Marshall Plan and who has experienced any difficulties in understanding the plan as laid out in the book. The software clarifies the system immediately, showing you exactly how many sections you need, from which POV character, and how they are properly sequenced. Also, if you need a guide or framework to guide you in your writing process, the software provides that; it can help you nurture your story from idea to developed plan. You do need the book so you will understand the Marshall Plan in detail. I would not recommend using the software on its own unless you have read the book.
However, for those who would require customization or who would not follow the Marshall Plan exactly, the software would be of less value. This could easily be remedied by including options for customization in future releases of the software.
All in all, the software represents a worthwhile effort. The Marshall Plan itself is a truly outstanding achievement, providing a clear-cut process for aspiring writers to develop their story ideas. The software that accompanies it follows that plan faithfully, which may work perfectly well for some writers, while others may need more customization.
RATING (out of 5 stars):
Basic Concept: *****
Interface: *** (due to lack of customization)
Ease of Use: *** (due to lack of customization)
Price: * (at nearly $150, too expensive for most aspiring writers)
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Before posting my Marshall Plan software review, I wanted to take a time-out to recommend a meme that Gabriele shared on her blog recently (link below). I'm not usually one for memes, but this one is actually a writing-related activity that is well worth the time. I haven't done it yet, but I will soon. It would clearly provide you with a stimulating, refreshing look at the characters in one of your novels.
Basically, you pick ten characters from one of your novels and assign them numbers at random (1-10). You then answer a bunch of questions which draw on your characters, but referring to them by number, so the way the characters fit into the questions is random (eg, "3 has to marry either 8, 4, or 9. Whom do they choose?"). It gets you thinking!
Gabriele's blog post is entitled "Another Meme, Because I'm Lazy" and it's dated "29.5.09". Check it out here. It's well worth your time.
Best wishes to all the characters out there (you know who you are),
Saturday, May 16, 2009
In summary, here's how to keep yourself organized while using The Marshall Plan. At least, it works for me.
First, brainstorm on your own. Write lists, write descriptions, make notes, outlines, tables, flow charts, draw sketches, do whatever you need to in order to come up with ideas for your story. Organize your notes in your own way to develop a sense of the flow of events. When you have your story clearly in mind, the major events, the major characters, the progression of major scenes from beginning to middle to end, then take what you have learned about your story and...
Second, develop your action/reaction sections using The Marshall Plan. This will involve rethinking your story and nailing things down in considerable detail. Exactly what happens when, in what order. For each section, you'll have the choice of which character should serve as the POV character, and you'll be able to specify exactly what his/her goal is, who the opposing character is, the complication(s) that arise, and how this ends (failure for the protagonist, success for the antagonist). If it's a reaction section, you'll be able to identify exactly what emotions the POV character is experiencing, and the key ideas that he/she considers when making a decision of what to do next.
After I brainstorm, and write, rewrite and rewrite again my various notes, condensing things, keeping what's good, tossing the rest, I print them out and put them in a three-ring binder. They're right up front, where I can easily find them and refer to them while writing. Sometimes while writing I need to look up a character name in my list of characters, or remember some detail in the magic system, or refer to a map or time line, etc.
After the notes, I print out the section sheets on colored paper so they stand out, and put them in the binder. My section sheets are done in two columns. The right column contains a page-long table that lists the POV character, goal, opposition character, etc. The left column contains notes that describe the scene and list any additional ideas that I want to be sure to include when I write the scene.
Finally, as I write the manuscript, I print out the sections (typically 4-6 typed pages) and put them in the binder after their corresponding section sheets.
This helps me in a couple of important ways. First, by planning before writing, the burden of thinking up a story is removed from the writing process. I create, then I write. When I write, I can focus on the story and how best to dramatize it. I can refer to the section sheet for the current section and remember what I had dreamed up previously while planning. I can focus on just that section and reflect on how to write it, then write it. I stay focused, knowing clearly what I'm trying to accomplish, and how it fits in with the rest of the story. Second, I can easily find things by laying them out in a binder. The colored paper marks the start of each section. The notes are on top. Since I've mapped the entire story out, it's easy to make changes. If I change an important detail in one scene, I know immediately which other scenes will be affected, and I can go to them directly and make the necessary adjustments.
Being hyper-organized isn't for everybody, but I appreciate how it makes the job a lot easier, and how it keeps me on track. Scenes are so much easier to write when you've already imagined them, already thought your way through them, already planned for them. When you know what came before, and what comes next.
Next: The Marshall Plan Novel-Writing Software
But First: Here's my first 3-D film, which I made on the www.Xtranormal.com web site. You must be 18+ to view it!
Saturday, May 02, 2009
"Sections" as described in The Marshall Plan are like scenes, and some reviewers equate the two. However, they are not necessarily the same thing. Let me explain by using a stage play as an example.
Imagine a play begins with two characters walking out on stage, talking, then walking off. The audience would think, "Gee, that was the first scene". They'd probably be correct about that. Then, a third character comes out on stage and delivers a monologue, letting the audience hear his thoughts, and he walks off. Most people would regard that as Scene Two, and they'd probably be right. (It would depend on where the playwright chose to make the scene breaks).
But, what if two characters came out on stage, talked to each other, then stayed on stage. A moment later, the doorbell sounded, and that third character entered and talked to the other two? Was that one scene, or two?
Of course, it would depend on where the playwright chose to create scene breaks. He/she might have kept it all as one scene, but he/she might also have put a scene break just before the doorbell sounds. In that case, Scene One would involve two characters, and Scene Two would involve the same two characters plus a third character.
Playwrights typically break larger scenes into smaller scenes because it helps the people who will perform their plays. The director can say, "Let's rehearse Scene One," and everyone will know that only two actors are needed on stage. The third actor can hang out in his dressing room with the rest of the cast and brag about the reviews of his last performance. But, if the director calls for a rehearsal of Scene Two, then everybody knows that three actors are needed, two on stage and one hiding behind the door, ready to walk out on stage.
Are sections scenes? It's sort of like the example above. A section could be a scene, or a part of a scene, but a section clearly stands on its own as a distinct unit. Scenes are made up of sections, always at least one, possibly more. Sections are the basic building blocks.
So, what is a section?
A section is just that -- a section of continuous text, made up of paragraphs, maybe some dialog, lasting something like 1250 words. That's just long enough that the reader can get pulled into the story and experience something significant and meaningful, and just short enough that the reader can do this within a matter of minutes, rather than needing an hour or two. By breaking your novel down into shorter sections, you allow your readers to focus, read, get something out of it, then look up and deal with whatever distraction is pulling them away from their reading, before focusing again and tackling the next section. You can make one section into a stand-alone scene, or you can join two sections together into one larger scene, but each section will still stand on its own, a "mini-scene" that is satisfying and complete in its own right.
In the Marshall Plan, there are two kinds of sections: action and reaction. Most sections are action sections in which one point-of-view character acts to meet one specific goal. Standing in the way is one opposition character who generates one or more obstacles, and the matter is resolved in some appropriate way by the end of the section. For the protagonist, this will be in some kind of failure. For the antagonist, the section will end in success. The antagonist's success translates as failure for the protagonist, and vice versa. Each action section ends with the setting of a new goal, although that goal is usually not expressed (the POV character will think it, but the reader will not read about it until the next section). The only time a new goal is not set is when the setback was so great that the POV character needs more time to deal with the emotions that arose from the failure. In this instance, the action section is followed by a reaction section.
In the reaction section, the POV character deals first with the emotions that resulted from the prior setback, then thinks the situation over and determines his/her next course of action (new goal). Hence, a reaction section has two key phases: "emotional" and "rational".
When you divide a novel into sections, you break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. When you map out the sections, using the template given in The Marshall Plan (and fully automated for you if you use the new software), then you produce a series of short steps that you can follow with the sort of clarity and focus that those who don't plan can only dream of. The first time I fully plotted a novel using The Marshall Plan software, I was able to write 21,000 words of new material in one day. My previous record was about 9,000 words. I had always used much longer scenes, typically 2500 - 3,000 words, sometimes 5,000 - 10,000 words long. Far too long. When I worked with smaller sections, averaging about 1250 words, it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I could focus like never before, knowing that I had to be very concise, very focused, to deliver the drama I had planned for in such a short space. I sought the best way to dramatize the key struggle (goal-conflict-resolution). I didn't have to wonder what the goal was, what the basic struggle was, or how the section was supposed to end. It was all laid out for me, thanks to careful planning. What a difference!
As followers of my blog know, I plan extensively as a matter of habit. But the Marshall Plan's constant emphasis on shorter, more manageable sections, on goal, complication, failure and new goal kept me on track like never before. The abstract became concrete. The Marshall Plan helped me to achieve a remarkable degree of clarity for each and every section, each and every scene, of the entire novel! The novel practically wrote itself since the planning had included the key pieces that drove each step of the story forward.
In The Marshall Plan for novel writing, Evan Marshall encourages aspiring writers to choose a genre and stick to it. Face it, when you open a Stephen King novel, you expect a novel by Stephen King, not a novel by Nora Roberts (and vice versa). It would be difficult for Stephen King to come out with romantic fiction -- his readers would keep expecting something terrible, something other-worldly to happen. And if Nora Roberts wrote a horror novel, the horror element would likely turn off a large portion of her readers who are expecting romance, not zombies, aliens or supernatural forces. Writers are packaged and marketed just as their books are. Pick one thing that you love, that you do best, and stick with it. Follow the advice or not, but it's good advice.
Now, to story. If you choose to specialize in one genre, you will want to learn all about that genre. You will learn what is typical of the genre: length of published novels, types of characters, settings, goals and complications. You will know whether the story you envision would seem to fit into that genre, whether it is like other published novels, yet also unique. It's not good to be too unique. Your story should blend in at the same time it stands out.
The first step in developing a new story is to brainstorm. Come up with all the ideas you can. Develop a sense of who the characters are, what their goals are, the difficulties they will encounter, how the characters play off one another, how the villain's success equals the hero's failure, how things go from bad to worse, how twists and turns make the story more exciting. Make sure there is a convincing need for the protagonist to pursue his/her main story goal, a clear sense of why it matters and what the consequences of failure would be. Make sure the protagonist and antagonist are matched evenly for a good fight. If the villain is too powerful, it's not realistic that your weakling hero will win the fight. If your hero is too strong and the villain is too weak, then it's not a big deal when the hero wins. Oh, and make sure the hero wins -- readers want a happy ending. Don't disappoint them. Write notes, make lists, draft summaries, draw pictures. Do whatever you need to that helps you develop your basic story and its major plot lines. Then, use this material to help you plan out your novel in sections.
Next: What are sections?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I read literally every single review on Amazon of The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, by Evan Marshall. I wanted to understand how others see the book and the plan that it offers. Most reviews were very positive. A smaller number of them were critical. The primary issue in the critical reviews was the belief that you shouldn't plan a novel using a template. Novels are unique, and each must be written according to its own dictates. By using a standard template to map out sections and sequence various scenes based on point-of-view characters, you would either end up with garbage or a manuscript that was so superficial that readers would never buy into it. The idea that the "art" that is novel-writing could be reduced to a formula was patently offensive to some reviewers.
I'm not one of them. I think the plan is great.
Many aspiring writers complain they can't work from a plan because it constrains them. They need to let the story flow, and follow it wherever it takes them. When they try to map things out and then follow their notes, or outlines, they feel hemmed in. I used to feel that way, too, until I realized that the plan, the outline I was attempting to follow, was not imposed on me from without. It was my plan. I had created it. The notes, outlines, etc., were just a written reminder of the ideas I had come up with, the very same ideas I had decided I wanted to write about.
When I realized this, and kept writing, I found my resistance to following a plan slipping away. In its place came a satisfying sense of calm. I was able to write with a sense of assurance that I knew what I was writing and where it was taking me. I could still change things along the way, but at least I knew the story and was less apt to get lost. Any changes were either minor details, the scenery along the way, or if they were truly significant story changes, then I could stop, revisit the plan, and understand what other things needed changing in order to accommodate the new inspiration.
Planning saves time in the long run. A month spent thinking about your story, brainstorming, writing notes, developing a basic plot outline, and then fleshing out individual scenes (or sections, as we shall see), is time well spent. Once you know your story, you can focus on telling it, rather than bearing the burden of creating your story at the same time you're trying to write it.
There will always be those who prefer not to plan, but I no longer feel sorry for them when I hear how they struggle, going in circles, writing chapters only to toss them once they realize they don't fit into the ever-evolving story. I no longer pity writers who complain they don't know where their story is headed, or what to write next. I deal with those same questions, of course, but I hit them head-on up front and answer them before I begin writing. I know where I'm headed, where the story is headed, where each character is headed. And, having a detailed plan means each scene is focused. It means you can focus on telling it in the most effective manner, rather than trying to figure out who the point-of-view character is, or what his/her goal really is, etc., while writing.
So, my first point in my in-depth review of The Marshall Plan, and the new software based on it, is that having a plan is a good thing. A template that can help you shape your ideas into a workable plan is a valuable tool. It will save you from poking around in the dark trying to find your own way. It will save you time, allowing you to focus on getting your story written. It will reduce the frustration and increase the tangible progress.
Furthermore, Evan Marshall, a professional editor, surveyed best-selling novels and well-written, successful fiction when he developed the plan. If you conduct your own survey, you will find that the advice he gives is followed by best-selling authors. They may or may not have read his book, but they are adhering to the same key ideas about plot and style.
And the cookie-cutter criticism? I don't share it. The template is a starting point. It provides a solid, basic, generic plan that works. If you haven't yet produced a commercially-viable novel, then you should take a good look at a plan that works. You can try it out, learn from it, improve your skills, and once you have the template down, you can change it as needed to reflect the particular needs of a given story. But before breaking the rules, it's good to learn the rules, the same rules that successful novelists follow. This plan can help you do that.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Recently, I received an email from one of my heroes, Evan Marshall. You probably recognize his name (you should!). He wrote THE MARSHALL PLAN FOR NOVEL WRITING, which you can find on Amazon and elsewhere. It is the one book of advice for writers that, in my humble opinion, stands above all others, because it offers truly practical advice, the sort of nuts and bolts stuff that you really need to know. I mean, the stuff you REALLY NEED TO KNOW. For more details on the book, check it out on Amazon. If you'd like to read an interview with Evan Marshall, there is one at Absolute Write.
If you're wondering why the "guru of novel writing" (see interview at Absolute Write) would send moi an email, here's the reason: for the past three years. Evan, along with coauthor Martha Jewett, was working on a software program to accompany his book. The software is a novel-writing program which follows the Marshall Plan. It is designed to help you plan your novel by breaking your story down into sections, and pointing the way as you juggle multiple plot lines. You don't need the software to use the Marshall Plan -- the plan is outlined in the book, and there is also a Workbook available to help you further (as well as a book on Getting Your Novel Published). Nonetheless, the software is very helpful in laying out the templates for you--it fully automates this process. The templates are the forms you fill in to describe what happens in each section (or scene) in your story. If you have read the book without quite grasping what the plotting system was all about, the software will lay it out for you and make it absolutely clear exactly how the Marshall Plan works.
You can find a detailed description of the software on Evan Marshall's site.
Evan offered to send me a free copy of the software so I could review it. That was certainly very generous of him. I emailed him back that I would be happy to review it, and might even test out the software and blog about it here, so my readers can learn more about it and its potential usefulness.
When I first received the software, it took me seconds to install it, about ten minutes to get the basic sense of it, and within twenty minutes I had already started plotting a novel with it. Note that I accomplished this without reading any instructions! The software is intuitive, if you are familiar with the Marshall Plan.
The past few weeks I've been working with the software, and I reread the book to make sure I'm up on the concepts and excellent advice of the Marshall Plan. I'll start sharing that experience now, using the next several blog postings to tell you about the software and the Marshall Plan and how they have helped me -- and they have!
So, look forward to some enthusiasm (I've got lots after the experiences of the past few weeks), some helpful advice (the Marshall Plan is full of it), and some rather impressive results (I've been amazed at what I've accomplished).
Monday, March 30, 2009
Okay, so I'm still not ready to share the really interesting news, but I will soon, I promise!
In the meantime, check out this TRULY FASCINATING posting by K. Hurley. I have to say, honestly, it's one of the most fascinating postings I've ever read on any blog. It really challenged me creatively. That, or I'm just a really challenged individual creatively. You decide. Check it out here.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Let me start this posting by saying that the interesting news I mentioned in the last posting is not contained in this posting! Nonetheless, this posting still has some interesting news of is own.
First, this weekend I had my biggest single day of writing ever! My previous record, as far as I remember, was 9,000 words in one day. I might have reached higher than that, but I don't recall (it's somewhere in my previous postings). This time, I produced over 21,000 words in one long day of writing! It took about 12 hours, with a number of breaks and two meals along the way, so the actual writing time was less. I didn't keep track of that because I wasn't setting out to break a record. I'll estimate around 9 hours of actual writing time, but that's a guess. Of course, the prose is rough-draft quality, but some portions of it were very succinct and powerful.
Second, with these additional words, I just completed the first draft of my new novel, which I'm calling INTERIM here. It's the unexpected novel that popped up, meant to bridge the gap between the editing of the JASPER novel and beginning my more ambitious CHASM novel.
So, as I've mentioned, yes, I have been busy, just not with blogging!
Now, I need to get busy and prepare the posting about that interesting news I promised! It's coming soon....
Best wishes for breaking your own one-day word-count records,
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
The new novel that just sort of happened, which I'm calling INTERIM here (the working title isn't much better, but the story's terrific), is moving along. It's now 20% done and the prose is either in final draft form or close to it. I'm editing a bit as I go. This is another one that's just falling into place. I'm really impressed with how strongly it started. I'd have to say it's my best writing yet, in terms of those qualities I'm trying to imbue my writing with from a writerly point of view. The story concept is also intriguing. The characters have definite personalities and there are real sparks flying (ie, conflict).
The distractions have persisted but hopefully things will begin to improve now and I'll have more time and focus to get more writing/editing done.
BTW, I missed the Amazon contest this year, but now that it's on my radar I'll definitely have it in mind when it rolls around next year. I will try hard to participate then, and also to finally send something out prior to then. I've certainly grown by leaps and bounds the past few years and the quality of my writing has gotten to a point where I feel it is commercial grade, at least the stuff I'm writing most recently. Certainly the story ideas always have been, but the challenge was to improve my writing in ways that I can deliver the necessary standard of prose on a consistent basis (ie, not writing a great read followed by a total flop, but writing good prose time and time again).
Anyhoo, best wishes to all other aspiring writers in elevating their prose to the desired levels, for which I recommend Evan Marshall's THE MARSHALL PLAN as a starting point.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Sorry to post so little these days, but I'm terribly busy and somewhat distracted, so the time I have available I am spending on my writing and editing rather than blogging.
I can mention by way of updates the following:
- I printed out the JASPER novel in its entirety for the first time and am editing it from hard copy, promising myself not to make changes to the electronic document until after I have finished this hard copy step, which includes not only making changes to the printout but also rewriting (by hand) some pages, sections, or chapters as needed;
- I have begun another story, which I'll call INTERIM for now, since it's appearing as an interlude between the editing of JASPER and resuming the writing of CHASM (the new story is another fantasy novel for younger readers, a way for me to work on the process through a shorter and simpler novel format before getting back to longer and more complicated stories);
- I am holding off on CHASM temporarily but am keeping it in mind -- I want to make more headway first with JASPER because I know once I return to the writing of CHASM it will be a very involved and sustained effort.
Wishing everyone else progress with their projects,
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Happy Inauguration Day to all of us! I usually keep my comments on this blog solely to writing topics, but I can't help it: after waiting eight years for the darkness to end, I have to say FANTASTIC! Almost thought this day wouldn't come.
Congratulations to President Obama, Vice-President Biden and their families, and thanks to all who supported them.
There is hope again . . . .