Category Archives: Intergalactic

Recovering From the NaNover

Another year, another NaNoWriMo gone by.

On the NaNo website it says that there were over 310,000 participants from all over the world (596 regions), though I’m curious as to how many crossed the finish line (if anyone can point me in that direction, please do). But even if someone wrote only 10,000 words, that’s still 10,000 more words that they didn’t have at beginning of the month. That’s something.

nano_13_winner_shirt_ladies_detail

I’m also curious as to how the process went for others and what they do once they’ve finished. Editing is certainly as personal a process as the writing part is.

This year was COMPLETELY different than when I wrote my first NaNoWriMo (INTERGALACTIC) novel two years ago. In 2011, I had been mulling the story and characters over for a few months, I had written an outline (what I call a sequence and beat sheet) and some brainstorming exercises around it all, I had wound myself up, started off with a bang, kept up a steady pace, and even finished early. I also had enough time to hang out in the forum and see how everyone else was doing.

This year I only had the seed of an idea (a location in space and time and 2 characters), had completed one brainstorming exercise, had a fuzzy direction with no sense of how the story would end, and I PANTSED it like crazy. I didn’t have much time early on, or in the middle, so with a week left to go I was still at 18,000 words. I wrote the last 32,000 in the final week. I didn’t have time to reread what I had written the previous day, just went for it. Also, the only contact I had with other NaNoWriMoers (NaNoWriMoists?) was on the @nanosprints twitter page where we encouraged each other to do things like write 1,000 words in 30 minutes.

Both times I was writing something out of my comfort zone. Trying on a new genre. In 2011 it was more plot-based genre fiction (a comedic YA sci fi), this time is was YA contemporary lit. Well, okay, I THOUGHT it was going to be magical realism, but it ended up more in the realm of “unreliable” narrator. The protagonist simply views the world differently than most folks and she’s a little mentally unstable. When it comes time to pitch it I think I’ll call it “The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Queer Girls.” Right now it’s called WINTERSPRING AND SUMMERFALL (although I’m thinking of changing that to Summerfall and Winterspring, whichever sounds better).

I am definitely more of a “planner” by nature when it comes to novel writing, though totally willing to go in new directions if inspired in the moment. I definitely let the magic happen during the creative process. The fascinating thing for me about “pantsing” it this year was that the story still emerged, even without the plan. It sprang from the ethers and I just had to trust. I had to let go of any expectations and just see where it took me.

One of my favourite aspects this time around was when a particular character emerged out of nowhere. A minor character (a gay teacher whose partner is dying from AIDS – this story takes place in the 80’s) turned up, who not only took the story in a wonderful new direction, he added drama, an ally for my protagonist, and a subplot that rounded out the story really magically at the end.

I keep saying that I have a “hot mess” on my hands, but I think when I finally read it (I’m setting it aside until my holiday break), it will be more cohesive than I believe it to be. That happens a lot to me and I have enough years of writing behind me for it to be so. Structure happens a bit intuitively for me due to my fabulous drill sergeant screenwriting instructors at the University of Washington.

So, how did you do? Did you pants it or plan it?

Are you going to give it a break or read it right away?

Set it aside to germinate or dive right into your edit?

And, most of all, what were some of your favourite magical moments?

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Filed under behind the scenes, do something different, Intergalactic, NaNoWriMo, novel adventures, Pantsing, Rewriting, YA literature

The Next Big Thing Blog Crawl

I was tagged to do this blog hop by Tod McCoy, missed the deadline, but was determined to do it anyway, because I said I would.

The thing is, I honestly think there is nothing more boring than talking about one’s W.I.P. I warn budding authors not to do this on a daily basis. You’ll tire people.

So, unless

a) I’m at an author’s reading and everyone in the audience is just dying to know what said author’s next project is, or

b) I am in a writing group/workshop and the subject of conversation is my W.I.P.

I try to keep this kind of thing under my hat as much as possible. But, hey, since he asked . . .

1) What is the working title of your book?
INTERGALACTIC: A Pop Space Opera

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
From one my own teaching exercises, actually, soon to be published in the Tarcher/Penguin anthology Now Write: Speculative Fiction. I heard an editor on a panel once say that she wanted to find the “Lady Gaga of authors” and my mind wandered to, as the exercise goes, “Lady Gaga . . . in space!”

The two rival intergalactic pop stars were so clear in my head at that moment I drew illustrations of them in my notebook, not something I normally do.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
I call it a Pop Space Opera, but since that is not technically a genre (yet!),  I would say Light Science Fiction.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
There is actual music in this story, so protagonist IdoLL would be played by someone like Keke Palmer (she could do her own singing). And for Jettison Prix (IdoLL’s rival) I want Dara Sisterhen (I have no idea if she can sing. I worked with her on a film before and she is hi-lar-ious), and if I could get a contemporary, edgier version of Bobby Womack for Reggie Backstone, that would be great, thank you.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In a galaxy where fame can falter at the flip of a switch, a petty pop star must team up with her musical rival in order to prevent an interplanetary war.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I would like it to be represented by an agency because of the multi-platform elements. I don’t really know how to handle that, nor do I want to, so I’ll need someone else to manage it.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote it in a month for NaNoWriMo 2011.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It has been described as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a soundtrack. I’d say with a healthy dose of The True Meaning of Smekday.

9) Who or What inspired you to write this book?
See Question #2

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The novel is divided into “tracks” and I have written an original song for each track. The idea is that the music will accompany and complement the book. I am currently working with a musician to produce the first three songs of the book to use in the pitch materials.

~     ~     ~

And now I will end this blog crawl by turning the camera like they do on The Amazing Race and say: I choose not to tag anyone. (and yes, I was always the kid who broke the chain letter)

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Filed under Intergalactic, novel adventures, Show and Tell, YA literature

Weekend Workout: Prepping fo NaNo (or not)

I still haven’t decided whether I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, which begins, according to the ticking clock on their website, in 19 days, 12 hours, and 42 minutes, and 30 seconds (29… 28… 27…)

Regardless of whether you are going for NaNo 2012, starting a new project, or editing an old, I cannot stress enough the fabulousness of the Sequence and Beat Sheet. It is both inspirational and practical. I used to be much more of a “pantser” when it came to writing, but being organized beforehand has done wonders for my writing process AND saved heartache while editing.

I posted about this last year before NaNo and wanted to do so again for those about to begin. So, pardon the repeat post, although it has been edited and updated.

THE SEQUENCE AND BEAT SHEET

Basically, this is a form of outline for a story. Because of my screenwriting background, I tend to think of stories in sequences, beats, scenes, etc. Studying screenwriting is extremely helpful when learning about story structure.

After I’ve done copious amounts of prewriting (i.e. I basically know what the story is about and where I want to go), I write my first Sequence and Beat Sheet.

SEQUENCES are series of scenes that act as mini-movies. They have a set up and pay off and end in a change in status quo. Large “reversals” and “reveals” can happen at the end of a sequence to make the story go in a new direction (extremely important if you want readers to keep reading).

Writing out the sequences breaks a story down into manageable “chunks.”  In novels, those chunks usually turn into chapters, although you don’t really have to worry about that just yet.

Beats are the smaller steps inside each sequence that get you from the beginning to the end. For example, in one sequence these might be your beats:

-Anna gets a horse for her birthday.
-She starts riding lessons and has natural talent.
-Anna’s father loses his job.
-Parents can’t afford to keep the horse, or the lessons, Anna devastated.

See the change in status quo? Anna started happy and optimistic, praised for her natural talent, the world is her oyster. Then, boom, no more horse, no more lessons, no more rosy future, and new tensions in the home.

The next sequence might be like this:

-Anna convinces parents to wait one more week before selling the horse.
-Anna gets a job at the stables to support her horse-riding.
-Anna falls from a loft and breaks her leg.
-She learns her leg will never heal properly without surgery, which they can’t afford. Good-bye horse-riding.

In this sequence, Anna goes from a new optimistic and rosy-future, only to crash even farther than the first time (also important for storytelling, intensify the complications as the story enfolds). These changes from the character getting closer to her goal, and then the goal being yanked from sight, are called “reversals.” This is how we empathize with characters – we want them to get their goal, and something gets in their way.

Sometimes I know exactly what’s going to happen in a sequence and my beats are more detailed. Other times I get to the middle of a sequence and I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know something must happen, so I write something vague and add in some questions:

Anna makes an ally at the hospital (male/female? a love interest?)

For an even more detailed post about the Sequence Approach, CLICK HERE

art by Jose Manuel Merello, click for source

APPROACHING THE SEQUENCES AND BEAT SHEET

When writing out my sequences and beats, the first thing I think about is how the “status quo” is going to change at the end of the sequence, then I write out the beats it will take to get there. I also name my sequences (what is the mini story I am telling here?)

I use this Sequence and Beat sheet as an outline when writing the story, AND I rewrite it before I do my first big edit.

Here’s the second sequence of Intergalactic (the YA Sci Fi story I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year). This is the rewritten version, not my original.

SEQUENCE 2The Rethulan Gig
For this sequence, I wanted IdoLL to start nervous and impressed with the palatial quality of this venue, only for something major to go wrong so that the gig is a bust.

I came up with main beats for this sequence:

*IdoLL and the Intergalactics land on Rethula and meet the intimidating queen, who immediately dislikes IdoLL.
*IdoLL learns that she playing a private birthday party for the princess, and she’s not the main act.
*When they arrive at the venue, it is filled with children.
*An obnoxious mini-com call interrupts her tribute to Rethula.
*IdoLL storms out of the concert.

If I need more information, I sometimes go back and fill in a few details (bitty beats), to make sure that each scene has TENSION (as well as set up and foreshadowing). For instance, in the scene where she meets the queen – I added the following smaller beats:

*IdoLL meets the Rethulan Queen:
-IdoLL is uber-impressed with the palace and all the pomp and circumstance
-The Queen appears and has a creepy way of gliding on one foot.
-She mauls IdoLL’s face with her finger nodes to make sure IdoLL is “non infectious.”
-She throws IdoLL and her bandmates into a cell-slash-greenroom and won’t let them leave due to security reasons.

The character of IdoLL is a bit of a brat, so I wanted to create a sequence where we would sympathize with her, where she is devastated and we are devastated with her. There are bits of unexpected foreshadowing with the way the queen moves and her mauling IdoLL’s face with her finger nodes, which come to fruition later in the story when the princess stows away on IdoLL’s ship. Everything here is intentional and serves a purpose in the larger story.

handwritten Sequence and Beat Sheet

Does this sound like a lot of work? It can be. But when I’m writing the story,  I’m always SO glad I have my beat sheet to follow. Even if there are some blank spaces and vague ideas. I can always fill them in when I get to that sequence.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of this! And let me know if you try your own beat sheet and, if so, how it goes.

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Filed under behind the scenes, Intergalactic, NaNoWriMo, The Sequence Approach, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Reversal of Fortune

AuthorSalon.com is an intense virtual writing workshop through which, having done your due diligence, the organizers of the site present your manuscript and pitch packet to their agent and publisher contacts. It’s a fantastic concept, and it’s a lot of work. Work you have to be willing to do as a writer.

One of their requirements is a Plot and Conflict Outline, and as much as this sounds like homework, or strikes terror into your heart, it’s a great way to see how well your story holds together. For instance, do you have escalating complications that get in the way of your protagonist’s exterior goal? Do you have a major reversal en route to the climax?

These are things that were drilled into me during my screenwriting program, and things I have taught in my classes. But oftentimes when I’m writing I don’t even think about them anymore, because storytelling has become much more intuitive for me. Taking a step back and working my W.I.P. through the plot and conflict outline got me thinking about these important plot elements again. In particular, the “reversal.”

A reversal means a reversal of fortune. From good fortune to bad fortune or bad fortune to good fortune. Comedy relies heavily on reversals (the movie “The Jerk” with Steve Martin comes to mind, the way his fortune keeps turning from good to bad and back again). Reversals can happen as a result of your character’s choices and actions or influence their choices and actions. There may be minor reversals in your story (i.e. the shy boy has finally gotten the nerve to ask that girl out, only to find she’s just gotten engaged), but a major reversal has the ability to stop your protagonist in her tracks and change her exterior goal to solve something more immediate and ultimately more important (which addresses her interior need).

For instance, in my W.I.P. Intergalactic, IdoLL’s exterior goal is to save her waning career at all costs, either through her tour or by immortalizing herself in some way so that she doesn’t become obsolete. She’s lost in a false identity and afraid of being a nobody, afraid that who she really is isn’t enough.

She keeps taking a step forward, then falling two steps back as complication after complication curses her tour. A stowaway princess igniting an interplanetary war is the major complication standing in her way. When it looks like she’ll finally get a break and be immortalized at the Hall of Famous Fame, she loses it all when her bandmates are kidnapped, and she must team up with her nemesis in order to save them.

When she finds herself alone with her nemesis, her goal changes and the story addresses her interior need. With the tour demolished, she now seeks to save the people who have been her loyal friends, as she realizes how much they mean to her. Her interior need is to become vulnerable, to express her true self, and she does this through her personal sacrifices. Ultimately, she goes from being self-centered, hiding behind a mask, to being a true and grateful friend.

It is only through this major reversal, when she is stripped of everything and everyone she hides behind, that she can finally get what she really needs.

Art by Alison Woodward, Click for source

Your Workout:

Set your timer for 5 minutes.

Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) My protagonist is closest to reaching her goal when. . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

2) Things are looking up for my protagonist until . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

3) When my protagonist realizes she won’t reach her goal she . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Happy Weekend!

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Filed under Intergalactic, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout: Not Supposed (a Real Live Post)

Don’t you dislike the words “supposed to?” If I always did what I was “supposed” to do, I certainly wouldn’t be having as much fun.

On the career front, I am “supposed” to be working on Book Three of Faerie Tales from the White Forest, which is being released Fall 2013. Thank Cheese* for small presses who can publish books on shorter notice.

It’s not that I don’t want to finish it or won’t or think I can’t, I just had this other story nipping at my heels like a pack or wererats and could no longer ignore it.

I’ve been totally immersed in the White Forest for the past 5 years, filing away other shiny ideas. Those ideas hung out with each other, made friends, and eventually came knocking. They got too rowdy to ignore.

I had wanted to write a YA sci fi novel. I had wanted to write something light and goofy and funny to counter all the bleak dystopian literature out there. And for months I had had the phrase “Lady Gaga in space” running over and over in my head. I said it out loud to people and they laughed.

I finally decided it was okay to set aside Book Three. That I wasn’t procrastinating, that I would get it done, but first, I had to get Intergalactic out of my system. When I finished I thought it was either the most brilliant story or the stupidest story I’d ever written. I didn’t care. It was silly. It was irreverent. I’d never had so much fun writing anything in my life. I laughed, I cried, I decided I had something and that I would polish it up and pitch it.

And I’m having a blast editing it, too.

YOUR WEEKEND WORKOUT

Rick Jarow states that as soon as someone says to him, “This is going to sound stupid, but I want . . .” then he knows they’ve come across an inspiring or important idea.

Just for a while, set aside whatever it is you’re “supposed” to be doing, and do something stupid, silly, and irreverent just for fun. It doesn’t have to be writing-related. It could be that you’re supposed to be grocery shopping and you decide to go into the toy store and blow bubbles instead. It could be that you’re supposed to do the laundry and instead you make a collage of smiles cut out of magazines (I’ve actually done that one, it’s fun).

If you are writing, put aside your novel edits and write that wacky short story you keep thinking is dumb. You know, the one about the robot mermaid that get sent back in time and befriends a fishermen. Or write whatever is is that’s niggling in the background and don’t care about what it’s for or why or the result.

I find doing things like this reconnects me with my child-like excitement around imagination and creativity.

So go forth and have fun. And if you feel so inclined to share what you did, I’d love to hear about it.

 

*Once in a workshop some kids asked what we could say instead of “Thank God” for people who were not religions. A 10-year-old girl came up with “Thank Cheese.”

 

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Filed under behind the scenes, Intergalactic, serious play, weekend workout, writing life

Last Leg of the Blog Tour and Weekend Workout

There are four more stops on my blog tour on four great blogs. Reviews, Interviews, and Guest Posts.

Guest Post Today (May 11) on 4 AM Writer
I love Kate’s enthusiasm for all things writing.

Review/Interview Saturday, May 12 on Dead Houseplants
I snorked my coffee when I *got* that blog title. Oh, how I relate.

Guest Post Monday, May 12 on Just Deb
Deb is a great supporter of children’s writers and is a writer herself.

Interview on Wednesday, May 16 on Morgen Baily’s Writing Blog
One stop shopping for reviews, interviews, guest posts, podcasts, flash fiction and more.

And now to the Weekend Workout…

I’m in this odd in between writings stage at the moment. I still have not finished my Character – Action Workout series, but I’m not in that space right now, so maybe next Friday.

I just completed the final draft on INTERGALACTIC and am querying agents with it. I now have to get back into writing Book Three of the White Forest series, which my publisher probably wants to see by the end of the summer.

How does one step back into something that she hasn’t been working on for several months? Especially when it’s part of a larger series?

It’s time for the Fall Back Exercise.

This is the one I turn to several times in the process of writing a story. It’s useful at the beginning, at the end, during rewrites, for writer’s block, and for writing synopses. It’s the aspirin of writing exercises.

THIS STORY IS ABOUT . . .

When I sent my Intergalactic query letter to my critique partner she wrote back that I hadn’t really told her what the story was about. But wait, I had summarized all the main points of action. The problem is the main points of action are NOT what the story is about.

There’s the THING your protag MUST do or else THIS BAD THING will happen. But there’s also the emotional arc to the story.

For example, in Intergalactic, idoLL must figure out how to save her band mates and Princess Tarantella or there could be an interplanetary war. But her emotional arc is that she’s got to face her own possible cultural insignificance, swallow her pride, and partner up with her nemesis in order to save the day.

She risks losing her fame when it’s all she thinks she has. She risks losing her fame when it’s her entire identity. She doesn’t know who she is beyond the character she plays. Jettison is everything she isn’t and her instinct is to destroy her, not to rescue, defend, or befriend her. IdoLL does all three.

Now all I have to do is figure all this out for Ondelle of Grioth. Book Three (!) in the Faerie Tales from the White Forest series.

YOUR WORKOUT:

Set your timer for 5 minutes.
Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) This is a story about

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

2) In this story, a boy/girl/animal must . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

3) My protagonist makes his/her greatest sacrifice when . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Happy Weekend!

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Filed under Intergalactic, Ruins of Noe, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend NaNo Workout: Here Sloggy! Goooood Sloggy!

Today’s Goal: 3,000 words
Actual Words: 3,114
Total Actual Words To Date: 26,481

All writers hit it. That point when you realize your characters have been crawling through air ducts for 20 pages or that the 5-page circular conversation you just wrote brought nothing new to the table. With no dramatic tension in sight, you’re starting to get bored of your own story.

That’s right. You’ve entered THE SLOG!

I definitely hit it last night, but for NaNo word count sake, I just kept going. It was mighty painful.

When I’m tired, like I was last night, I tend to slip into screenwriting mode and just start typing straight dialogue. I hit my goal, but felt completely unfocused and uninspired by my characters’ lackluster conversation.

After wallowing in the slog, I find it best to take a break, get a good night’s sleep if possible, then apply the following tools to rev things up again:

I go BACK to the idea of sequence and scene.

Approaching the story in bite-size chunks helps to keep from getting overwhelmed. Refocusing on the purpose of your current sequence and scenes will help it flow faster.

I know some people at NaNo would say “Who cares, just keep writing! It’s quantity, not quality.” But I actually think that when your story gets sloggy, if you step back and re-enter your story you’ll actually write stronger AND faster. You’ll see where you need to go, how to get there, and be more motivated to make it happen.

Here’s exactly what I did this morning when I re-entered my story after a slog session.

1)   I asked myself, What is this whole sequence about? What has to happen in this sequence?

Well, I told myself, idoLL and Jettison explore the space station, come to the conclusion they are alone, and through some series of small events they open up to each other, share a beautiful moment, and basically see each other differently than they ever had before.

2)   Perfect. Okay, then I asked myself, At the end of this sequence, what happens? What reversal upsets the status quo?

At the end of this sequence, just when idoLL and Jettison are forming some kind of new friendship, they are interrupted by Doctor Baybee. The only other sentient life-form on the space station. The status quo changes because they are no longer alone and they have no idea if they can trust Doctor Baybee or not, but they need his help.

3)   Great. I know where this sequence of scenes is going, and I know what’s going to happen at the end of it. So . . .

I set my timer for 7 minutes and I freewrote using my favourite startline: The scene that needs to be written is . . . and off I went. (I actually figured out what I wanted to do in five minutes and switched to the computer when I was inspired enough.)

Personally, I think you should do all three steps, but if you are pressed for time, at least do the first two. It will only take a few minutes and it’s guaranteed to make you feel better.

YOUR NaNo Inspired WORKOUT

Wherever you are in your story, take a step back and see where you are in your sequence. Remember, a sequence is like a mini movie. There is a beginning, middle, and end and its strung together by scenes that have beginnings, middles, and endings.

My sequence starts as soon as idoLL and Jettison (separated from their crew/bandmates), land on the TREND space station. There is a series of scenes where they explore the station and decide they are alone. They share a moment in the atrium where we see a softer side to them both. The sequence ends as soon as Doctor Baybee interrupts their bonding session.

Set your timer for 5 minutes for the first two writing sessions and for 7-10 minutes for the 3rd one:

In this sequence, Character A discovers . . .

At the end of this sequence, Character A is surprised when  . . .

The scene that needs to be written is . . .

And for another approach to getting out of the SLOG, CLICK HERE.

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under Intergalactic, The Sequence Approach, weekend workout, writing exercises