Category Archives: tools

All About You on TweetDeck

I<3 Tweetdeck. I couldn’t manage on Twitter without it.

This post is going to be about how/why I use it and a specific column to add, but to get the basics out of the way, TweetDeck is a desktop application (or you can download other versions for portable stuff) that helps you manage your TwitLife. If you don’t use it and you want to get started, here’s a nice tutorial video. TweetDeck organizes the tweets in your stream into columns so you can concentrate on one thing at a time, so now that I’m going to talk about columns, you can have an idea what I’m talking about.

My favorite columns that I display where I can watch them are:

  • Favs
  • #amwriting
  • All Friends
  • Mentions
  • Susan Bischoff

Favs is a must. I auto-follow. I got to a point where it just seemed like having to read bios and go to Twitter to click follow every time someone added me was just taking up too much of my time. It’s not like I’m innundated with followers, people, but those little bits of time add up. That does mean I end up following a bunch of people I’m not actually interested in following, but with TweetDeck this is absolutely not problem.

I maintain a list of people who interact with me and whom I actually want to follow. You can do this by clicking the + (Add Column) button in the upper left and choosing Groups/Lists in the box that pops up. TweetDeck will then show you all the people you follow and you can choose the ones to add to this list. Save it when you’re done. This way, you never have to exclude someone by not following them back. (You never know when someone who tweets about their business is a reader interested in you and your writing!) And when you feel like you need to cull some followers, you can cull them from your list and not lose someone awesome because they’re just learning or they’re away for a while.

I don’t go around keeping track of who follows me and who doesn’t, and I don’t un-follow people just because they don’t follow me, BUT it does really irritate me when I go to send a DM to help out someone I’ve talked to several times and feel friendly with, only to find out I can’t because they don’t follow me. WTF? But it’s probably just a result of a limited follow policy they’ve made to keep things under control. But possibly possibly alienating people in this way doesn’t need to happen and I think lists are a better way to go.

I edit this column regularly, whenever I need to add someone new because I feel like we made a connection and I need to watch for their tweets. Once the column is on your screen, hovering around the top of it will make an edit button appear.

#amwriting is good example of a hashtag conversation. Trying to follow one of these can have its annoying moments because not everyone thinks of hashtags in this way and will drop a lot of junk into the conversation. Adding a column and putting #amwriting or another hashtag into the search box causes a new column to pop up that will be updated anytime someone uses the hashtag. TweetDeck is awesome for this. I’ve found a lot of interesting links via #amwriting, and I like to send out the occasional random tweet to a writer I don’t know who needs encouragement or deserves a pat on the back.

All Friends is where I have all those tweets scrolling by from everyone, so fast that I would certainly miss everything if this was all I had to go by. I try to glance at this every once in a while to discover awesome people I’m already following so I can follow them more closely on my Favs list.

Mentions is pretty obvious, but that’s a column that updates when a tweet contains @susan_bischoff. It’s important to keep track of when people are speaking to you directly or going out of their way to mention you in a way they know you’ll see. That’s why this is one of the columns TweetDeck makes for you automatically.

Susan Bischoff is the one I really planned to talk about today. Sometimes people just talk about me. Either they don’t want to point out to me that they’re talking about me by using @, or maybe they don’t even know I’m on Twitter. In this column I find things like “I just read Hush Money by Susan Bischoff and it was awesome!” or when people link to my blog, it pops up in this column, I guess because my name gets embedded in the link somehow? I don’t know, but it happens. When people use Goodreads’ auto-tweet feature, I get links to reviews or reading updates.

Links to my books for sale on some sites pop up in this column too, and that’s why this column has been on my mind as an important thing to talk about. Because the two times I’ve found someone selling my book illegally, it’s been via this column. It’s not like they’re going to tweet, “Hey, I’m selling @susan_bischoff’s book, come check it out!” But they do use my name to sell my book, so I sometimes see it on TweetDeck before I get it from Google Alerts.

I know a lot of this is will be old-hat for a lot of you, but I hope it’s useful for someone.

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Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Cover Art and Your Website

Here we are at the end of the week (well, it’s the end of the week for you; for me it’s Tuesday, I think, and while you’re reading this I’m probably spending quality time with my mom and boring the crap out of her about stuff like kindle ranks and DRM and all that stuff she listens to with feigned interest), with what I think is the last post in this series. If you’re new, I introduced this topic last Saturday, yammering about cracking the Kindle top 1000.

(Also, if you’re new to my blog and commenting for the first time, I’d like to let you know that I’ve written this post ahead and scheduled it. I don’t plan to be online to moderate comments until late Saturday or Sunday, but if you’re moved to reply, please don’t let that stop you!)

Why Cover Art Is Important

Before releasing my book, I was definitely of the mindset that cover art was not a deal-breaker. I was in the process of getting professional cover art, because I seriously lack graphic design skillz, but I didn’t think it was such a big deal. After all, if people I trust tell me a book is great, I’m not going to care what the cover looks like, and that’s the biggest factor for me in reading new-to-me authors.

But I finished Hush Money, it was all edited and shined up, I was learning about formatting, and I was almost ready to go. It was time for me to start talking about the book, what I’d been doing, getting people interested in the release, and I had nothing to show. (At that point I ended up leaving the artist who wasn’t able to get the job done, and going to Robin Ludwig.)

While we do a LOT of reading words on the internet, it’s also very image-oriented. You see that, right? Think of one of your virtual friends, someone you chat with, a Twitter friend, maybe a blogger or a regular commenter to your blog. What image comes to mind? Their avatar. When I was very active on LJ, I had all these dear friends whom I really thought of as Star Trek alien girl, funny old man girl, and Joan Jett. And I’d be kinda shocked when people changed their long-standing avatar. When we think of people and things, we sort of need a visual placeholder.

I didn’t have that for Hush Money, or for me, as a writer. I think it helps to have that, and to have it as early as you can create it so you start building that graphic representation in the mind of your future reader. Of course, it helps to know what the book is going to end up being about before you run out and make the cover for it.

Thoughts That Went Into the Hush Money Cover

In my mind, cover art should be:

  • Professional quality
  • Genre-appropriate
  • Unique in some way
  • Related to the book
  • In some way intriguing to the reader
  • Able to tie into future books in some way to create a brand appearance

It’s not always going to be easy to do all these things, but they’re things that Robin and I were trying to keep in mind as we developed the cover together.

Robin sent me a few mockups early in the process that I rejected on the basis of genre-appropriateness. They were great, very professional attempts. But they were not the kind of covers that I would expect to see when browsing Teen Paranormal. I was looking at a lot of vamp books:  Twilight, Vampire Academy, House of Night..dark covers, soft edges, attractive girls. I told Robin, “I don’t want another white-throated young female vamp cover, but something with similar elements.”

I think it helps when a book stands out without looking out of place. Two things help my cover in that way. One is the Talent Chronicles stripe. When I talked about elements I had seen and liked, I mentioned that I was sometimes drawn to covers with that colored band element with the author and/or title on it. I had also mentioned branding, that I’d like to have a way to tie the books in the series together. Robin’s red, vertical stripe gives me that way to brand going forward, but it’s also pretty eye-catching, isn’t it? The other thing that’s kind of unique is Joss’s “hush” gesture. You’re like wait, why do you want me to be quiet? or What’s the big secret? And the “hush” gesture relates to the title. And to thence to the book. So hopefully, that makes you want to know more, maybe enough to read the description.

So I hope that gives you some things to think about when developing covers, and gives you some ideas you can take to your artist. [cough]go to Robin[cough]

Because Robin is so full-service, she also made my website elements that match my book cover: background, header, avatar. They’re very pretty. I don’t actually know enough about web design to really talk about them beyond, ooh pretty, though. What I think is most important in the look of a website is: can I read it?

Some website Do Nots, IMHO

If you want me to hang out on your site, do not make it hard on my eyes. You may be 22, but I’m not.

  • Avoid putting lots of text on dark backgrounds, especially colored text.
  • Avoid like the plague putting text on a patterned background.
  • Don’t assume everyone’s running at your speed, you don’t need every widget ever made
  • On a related note, don’t assume everyone will wait for your pages to load
  • When choosing security/anti-spam features, remember that no one wants to fight to leave you a comment

Remember to include

  • Easy ways for me to subscribe. Give me choices. Do you know I don’t subscribe to most blogs at Blogspot because most don’t offer an email signup? (Of course, I’m also turned off a lot of Blogspot blogs because they have every widget known to man, so pages take forever to load, and leaving comments is often a struggle.)
  • All your information. Make it one-stop info shopping. Do you know I’ve visited author blogs, where the blog is not integrated with the website, and the blog doesn’t even have a link to the website? And the website is where the rest of the info is.
  • Descriptions of your works. I’m at your site, checking you out. I see three book covers with no descriptions or anything. I click the most interesting one, and it takes me to Amazon (and uses the same window!). Now I have left your site and am wandering Amazon. What if I never come back to check out those other books? One of them might have snagged me, but we’ll never know. It’s your website. It’s all about you. This is not the place to be shy about talking about yourself.
  • Tell visitors you’re a writer. No, really. You don’t know how they stumbled on your site. A while back, someone asked for opinions on a blog/website they had just set up. I went to look at it. A lot of work went into that thing, but nowhere on the landing page had this person made it clear to the visitor that the site was about a series of books he was writing.

Why the blog-centered website?

When I visit author websites, it’s usually because I want to know the reading order of books in the series because the geniuses at the publishing house listed the authors works freaking alphabetically at the front of the book. Destroying any chance that I would pick up that book while it was in my hand at the store, btw. Seriously, that kind of information is generally my only reason for looking up an author site.

When an author keeps a blog, there are two things going on. One is that the author is attempting to engage the audience between books, on another level, about different topics. The other is that the author is potentially being discovered by other citizens of the internet, some of whom may become readers. Changing content and varied topics, make it more likely that posts will get picked up by search engines, and bring in those new readers. Lots of them? Probably not, unless you’re a fab blogger like Mr. Konrath. And even for him, lots of us love his blog but don’t buy too many thriller novels. So becoming a fabulous blogger should not be the totality of anyone’s marketing plan. But every little bit helps, right?

Another reason is that developing at website, at least with WordPress.com, is really easy. I mean, really. You have your blog, but you can also make all kinds of static pages for whatever you want. You can make one of those static pages your landing page, just like a lot “regular” websites.

If you want to have your own domain name, you register and pay for that through a separate company, like GoDaddy. Then you come back to your WordPress.com blog and you pay WordPress $10 a year to associate your content with that name. Not necessary, but also not hard.

This, by the way, totally covered in @kristenlambTX’s We Are Not Alone.

You can still decorate a WordPress-based website all pretty, with a header that establishes brand, and you can use lots of widgets in your sidebar (though there are a lot of widgets that don’t work, grr, but then see above about Blogspot blogs) to advertise and direct traffic elsewhere, etc. It’s always easy to add pages and make changes.

I have another website, fairly dormant at the moment, for my doll stuff (which I need get back to someday). That’s one I’ve built, with website design software (hopelessly outdated, but still), pay for monthly hosting, and it has a self-hosted blog attached to it. It’s not rocket science, but doing this site through WordPress.com has been a lot simpler, it looks more professional, and it leaves me time to write and stuff.

This was another one that probably could have been two posts, but hey, why wait? Now you can go get back to work. I hope this series has been helpful for you. Thanks for stopping by.

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Filed under blogs, books, Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, tools, writing

What’s My Line? Help Me Figure Out My Content

Off and on, I’ve been reading Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone. It’s a social media guide for writers, and it’s very good. The first part is kind of a long introduction, and talks about why social media is important, why you need to get involved, when you should start (which, btw, is now, even if you haven’t finished your book, but how you do things will be different if you don’t have anything out yet.)

The second part gets more into the action, by having you really think about who you’re going to be, in a professional sense. I guess the best shorthand to use is that she’s helping you focus your brand. And she has you get together some bios and posts to get you started when you launch yourself. (The book is written with the assumption that you haven’t done any social media yet, but is still totally relevant if you’re already in it.)

The book then moves into the nuts and bolts stuff, with a For Dummies level guide to setting yourself up with a WordPress blog, and on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, and how you’re going to tailor things there to be most effective for you, going forward. What was cool about the way Kristen went about it, was that even though I had done most of the stuff already, she wrote it in a way that wasn’t boring. Dude, I read an explanation of what hyperlinks are, and didn’t roll my eyes or want to skim over it! So that was really well done. This is not a dry, technical book.

But I didn’t mean to write a review. I’m not even done with it yet. What I wanted to talk about was the middle part of the book, which, perhaps I should read over again. It had me focus on what I was trying to do eventually. So I decided that I wanted to be the name you think of when you think Superhero Romance. (I know, who ever thinks that? But you know I think you should.) So next was thinking about how I would focus my blog in that direction, which seemed to involve talking about, you know, superheroes.

And where are they? In comics, generally. ‘Cept I don’t read too many comics. One of the reasons I put off the Talents for a while was because I didn’t feel qualified to write them because I don’t have that background knowledge in what everyone expects superheroes to be. (But then I decided, screw that, we’ll get by, and we do.) Anyway, I realized that the comic fans are not my audience. They like comics. I like things like Buffy, Smallville, and my memories of Wonder Woman and the rest of the SuperFriends (which are better than the actuality of watching those now). And a bunch of the people I know who like that stuff? They’re not much for comics either.  I don’t know why I’m so focused on this.

Anyway, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what I’m supposed to talk about here? What would anyone want to know about? What do I consider myself an expert in? Well, sewing, knitting, and spending money on expensive dolls are not really relevant topics. I think I know a lot of stuff about writing, but I’m also not thrilled with the idea of being yet another author who writes about writing all the time. There are plenty of those blogs about that, and if I have something to say, it’s probably better served as a guest post somewhere else.

But that leaves me with a whole lot of empty days, and/or posts about things happened to me on the internet, memes, and junk like that.

Which is fine every once in a while, but it’s hardly content that makes for interesting reading on a regular basis.

So I don’t know, what am I an expert at? What kinds of posts would my readers like to see? What kinds of posts will draw people who will want to read my books?

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Blueprint Series part 13: Battling Threads

Now that we’ve learned how to plot from beginning to end, I’m going to talk about what to do with the subplots and other threads you might have hanging around in your story. (For Part 1 in this series, click here.)

I’m calling these threads because sometimes “subplot” feels like too much word for these. So we might be talking about subplots in the way you think of them, or we might be talking about themes, or just things you want to develop and remember to follow.

A friend recently had a specular, freak-out meltdown over her WIP because she went to look at her outline, and there were points there that didn’t make sense, things that seemed left out or left hanging, and the outline itself was no longer a treasure map but sort of an encyclopedia of Huh?

There were a number of reasons why this happened, but essentially it all came down to her not having spent the time to understand her threads, work them through, and tie them into the plot. Consequently, when she had thrown an idea onto the outline that made sense when she thought of it, she later had no idea how to relate it to the story. And this story was an intrigue that really grew in terms of having a lot of different threads to follow. Complexity is great, scary fields of tangled threads and seeming randomness are not.

It took hours of talk therapy to get all the information out of her. It was all there, and it was mostly all good, it just took a long time to straighten it all out, tie it all together, and show her what she really had. On the bright side, it taught me stuff about the process.

But after all this work, and getting to The End, I don’t think you’re going to like it…

Step 13: Battling Threads

  1. List different the different threads/subplots in the story.
  2. For each thread, list its major plot points, and/or how it relates to the plot point moments in the central plot as described above.

Things you might list as threads:

subplots

themes

the constant battle against the inner demon

your romantic relationship

another relationship the character has, like a friendship

a mystery

something a secondary character is doing that will affect your main plot later in an important way

something going on in the background, like events in the town that enhance the setting

Like some of the things we talked about with regard to characters and setting apply here. Namely relevancy and connections. While you’re working through these threads, trying to build them as plotlines, look for ways to tie them back in to the main story. When the main plot points in your main storyline take place, how are these threads affected? How can you use what you already have to build on these ideas? If you need a distraction for your main characters or a red herring to distract the reader, choose from threads you’re already using rather than making up an unrelated incident.

Not all threads will have all their major plots–or at least, if they do, those won’t necessarily happen on the page. It’s probably not true for all stories that plotlines should interweave. I’m sure there are some that keep seemingly independent storylines going without tying them together until some shocking reveal at the end. If that’s how you roll, more power to ya.

I’d guess the important thing is just to be aware of your plans. Keep good notes for yourself, so that you don’t lose any of those great ideas, and you’re not letting threads slip and lie half developed and forgotten as you work.

After this, the only thing left to do is to actually outline. I continue to do this in Word, just making a list of scenes with brief descriptions or bullets of what needs to be shown and why. I then work through the writing of each of the four parts, stopping in between to make notes on changes or new things that developed during the writing.

After all this, I think I need a bit of a break to finish up my own outline for my current project. If you’ve followed the series, I want to say a special thank you. I hope you’ve found it useful. Please feel free to come back and comment (any ol’ where) and tell me how it’s going.

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Blueprint Series part 12: Fleshing Out Part 4

You know what you need to bring your story to a conclusion, but how are you going to make that into a whole quarter of your story? Does it have to be? We’re going to talk about that and some other stuff today as we work prepping part 4 of your story. (Click here for part 1 of this series on story development.)

To answer my own question above, my personal opinion: No, your 4 parts do not have to be equal quarters and your Part 4 doesn’t have to be quite as long as Part 2 or Part 3. But neither should it be so truncated that it seems a lot shorter.

This is one of the many balancing acts we face in writing. Your final act should be that exciting thrill ride we talked about yesterday, full of jarring impacts and forward motion. But it also should not be over so quickly that your reader feels she’s just invested hours in a build-up to something that was over too quickly. That’s a risk if you move from your SPP directly to your final showdown against the antagonist. At the same time, if there’s a long and complicated sequence of events to set up that showdown, your risk slowing everything down and disappointing your reader in a different way.

I just thought I’d throw some worries at you while you think through this, because I’m mean like that. As you’re outlining, you may find that you have more scenes or fewer scenes in your Part 4 than you did in other parts. Maybe it will take you more words to describe all that action, and that will maintain your balance. Hopefully you’ll be writing your climax using the kind of exciting language that will make it a fast read, make your reader power through to keep turning pages to see what happens, and that will provide the balance you need.

What you do not want to do here, is to plan a lot after your exciting climax. Don’t you DARE make me walk back to the Shire with you. Seriously. I’ll go home with your character to see how it all worked out, to see her get her reward, but I don’t need another journey right now, and I certainly don’t want another adventure of any kind.

I’ve got my post-victory buzz on. Don’t bring me down, man.

So let’s look at the Blueprint…

Step 12: Fleshing out part 4

  1. What is the climax of the story?
  2. How do the characters come to terms with their inner demons?
  3. Are there any loose ends to tie up?
  4. What is the happily ever after moment?

Not a lot of questions to work with there, but, at this point, you don’t need them. There is nothing extraneous in your climax. It deals with setting up the antagonist and knocking him down. And to do this, the protagonist overcomes her inner demon, that thing that’s been holding her back all along. It’s her grit, determination, and what she’s made of herself through the training that living through this story has given her, that allow her to win. Not luck, not some guy (unless he’s a co-protag and she saves him right back), not some kind of out of nowhere magic. Your protag saves the day and defeats her foe. She couldn’t have done it back when we met her, but she’s a different person now. Right?

Do you have any loose ends to tie up? Any subplots that need resolving, mysteries to be explained, identities to be revealed Scooby-Doo style? Like I said above, once you’ve impacted the reader with the emotion of the win, getting to THE END as quickly as possible is usually best for everyone. Every page she has to turn after that risks diluting the emotional high she paid for in the book price and hours invested in reading.

(It’s probably obvious that I don’t believe in epilogues. Epilogues that do not advance the series are most often gratuitous frolicking in the story world for an author who just doesn’t want to let go yet. Some readers also don’t want to leave the story world and these characters, and enjoy a drama-free scene of martial bliss 9 months later or whatever. Put it on your website and give those readers a reason to check that out and look at your other projects. The only epilogue type I favor is one with the purpose of dropping a seed that will grow into the next book. Horror movies are good at that type of final scene, but then, making you uncomfortable is the point of a horror movie. And making you feel WIN! is the point of romance, IMO.)

What’s your Happily Ever After moment? You’ve just saved the world from a monstrous, soul-sucking demon from hell? What are you going to do next? This is where you give the protagonist her reward, or the clear promise of it, for all her hard work through the story. Because what’s harder than changing and growing? Sometimes part of this moment in your story is about your protagonist realizing what she’s learned and how she’s changed, especially in stories for younger readers who expect that moral of the story, -what we’ve learned from this after school special- type moment. Often stories end with a punch line. This isn’t so much a joke (although it is often humorous and further breaks reader tension) as a bit of an emotional punch, and is often particularly affected when it is seeded throughout the story in some way.

It seems like we’re done (except for writing), but I still have at least one more thing I want to talk about. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about Battling Threads in your story, and how you might consider dealing with your subplots. Even if you don’t plan to add a subplot, there are still threads of different types that weave in and out of your main action story, and it’s important not to leave them hanging or let them grow into a tangle that impedes your main plot.

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Filed under Blueprint, romance, story structure, tips, tools, what not to do, writing

Blueprint Series Part 11: Fleshing Out Part 3

I hope yesterday’s post helped you start to think through what my CP calls “The Valley of the Shadow of the Middle.” Middles are hard for a lot of writers. Today we’ll be working our way through the second half of this often desolate landscape. (If you’d like to start from the beginning, check out part 1 here.)

Part 3 of the story takes us from the MP (midpoint), which changed everything yet again by providing us with a whole new picture of what’s going on, to the SPP (second plot point), the event that will send your characters hurtling toward the story’s climactic end. Smack in the middle of those two points we’ll place PP2 (pinch point two), a reminder of the antagonistic force that’s more terrifying than ever.

Step 11: Fleshing out part 3

  1. How does the hero react to the Midpoint event? What’s different now?
  2. How does the heroine react to the Midpoint event? What’s different now?
  3. How do the characters take proactive action?
  4. How are the characters fighting their inner demons? How will you show that?
  5. What is Pinch Point 2? How will you show the evolution of the antagonistic force?
  6. How do the characters react to PP2?
  7. Is there a Black Moment in the sense of a break-up or break down of relations between the hero and heroine?
  8. Is there an all is lost moment where everything seems impossible for your characters? How do they react to that?
  9. How does the SPP come about?

In part 3, your protag is a different person than the one we’ve seen before. She’s not doing this for the same consequence avoidance reasons that dragged her into this mess. She’s in it now, and she’s becoming the Warrior we always knew she could be. If she could just learn that lesson, fix that skewed world view that would let her get past her inner demon, you know she’d be kicking some serious antagonist tail. But she’s not quite there yet.

So yesterday we talked about what a big deal the MP was. Something happened that really changed things in the story. How? What’s different now? How does it change your characters, and how will you show that?

Now that your characters have survived the the first half of the story, they’re hardly the wilting pansies they once were. They’re done running and hiding and trying to avoid conflict. What’s their plan of action now?

Remember how I said your protag wasn’t quite ready to win because she has to overcome her inner demon first? Remember to remind the reader about that too. Because this flaw she has is probably going to cause her problems come PP2…

Know who else has survived the story this long? Your antagonist. Remember that you’re keeping the odds stacked against your protag team and as they evolve, so does your antagonist. He’s bigger, meaner, and more bad-ass than ever. And he shows that by whooping your characters’ butts at PP2.

This may lead to an all is lost moment for your protagonist. I know I’m often very moved by those story moments in which the protagonist has taken such a beating, the odds seems so impossible, you almost want them to give up and go home, to stop taking all this punishment in a battle that seems hopeless. But that’s not who your protag is. It’s just not in them to give up (because you’ve got a fabulous climactic ending planned!), so they’re going to have to pick themselves up. Give them a story moment to wallow first, if you want to.

Note to romance writers: So much of romance now is action-oriented. Back in the day, we had a lot of historical and contemporary tales that were mostly two people moving through a story together, and much of their conflict was with each other. Today, with the huge popularity of subgenres like romantic suspense and paranormal romance, it seems wise to follow the advice of those who write in the thriller and suspense genres. But to do it with the kind of character depth, interpersonal drama, and loads of sexual tension that make romance what we love.

The “Black Moment” in romance, is something that happens that breaks your two characters apart, at least for a time. It is often followed by a “dark period” in which the characters brood separately and secretly long to patch things up. If you’re writing romance and working with this popular construction, your Black Moment and dark period will probably happen through this second half of part 3.

And now the SPP. In this scene, we turn that last corner that sends us into the sequence of events that make up your climax. In roller coaster terms, we’re at the top of the big rise, and the SPP is the thing that’s going to push us into a downhill sequence of terrifying and exciting events over which we have no control. (Ok, we do, but this is what a good part 4 often feels like for a reader.)

So what is the Second Plot Point? One way I like to think of it is as the delivery of the missing piece of the puzzle. After PP2, your characters are pretty defeated. It doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to go on. But the SPP brings some information that allows them to act. And through acting, they bring about the story’s final showdown.

And look! A middle! As someone who’s wandered the Dreaded Valley many times, there’s not much that’s more satisfying than laying out a rich middle and seeing my characters’ path running through it. I hope this helps you map out yours. And if you get bogged down and depressed listen to The Middle for a pick me up.

The last of the 4 main parts tomorrow! We’ll be filling in some of the detail that lead us to The End.

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Blueprint Series Part 8: Character Relationships

We’re working on the relationships amongst your characters on the Blueprint today. If you’re just finding this, click here for part 1.

This is another one of those that’s as easy or hard as you want to make it. Let’s just jump in.

Step 8: Character Work- Relationships

  1. For each character in the story, list other characters and make note of their relationships to and with each other
  2. List reasons why the hero and heroine should be together (goal = 20)
  3. List reasons why the hero and the heroine should stay apart (goal = 20)
  4. Are the hero and heroine bookends (peas in a pod, basically alike in some way) or salt and pepper shakers (a matched set of opposites)? How are they perfect for each other? In what way(s) do they complete each other?
  5. How are the hero and heroine the same? How are they different?

Obviously, a lot of this pertains to romance and others may or may not find it useful. The first one, however, if for anyone. I do it like this:

Joss:

+ Dylan = love interest. She’s had a crush on him forever, but assumes he doesn’t think about her at all.

+ Kat = Joss doesn’t really know what to think when Kat starts pushing her way into her life. Kat is sort of a force of nature and Joss finds herself become friends with Kat almost against her will.

Etc. For as many characters as you care to discuss. The do the next one, and work from their point of view.

Dylan:

+ Joss = love interest. He’s been interested in Joss for some time, but his friendship with Marco, and what went on between Marco and Joss, complicates things. Still, he can’t seem to stop thinking about her, and is starting to feel it’s time Marco just got over it. To Dylan, Joss isn’t like any other girl. He sees her as…

And, see, when it’s romance, I could go on all day. But you get the idea.

While outlining can seem like something very dry and creativity sucking to some people, to me it’s a place to play. I do some playing in the manuscript, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot easier to clean up messes here than there. Sketching in all these relationships can be a bit tiresome, until you start finding things. Once you have some basics of these characters down in the Blueprint, and start writing a few lines about their thoughts and feelings for each other, putting yourself into each character’s perspective, connections start happening. New backstory emerges. Stuff you knew about the stories suddenly gets explained to you. To me, this section is always worth working through.

I don’t know where I read about the exercise with the 20 reasons. Maybe Paperback Writer. Again, this is something that’s mainly for stories with a romance. The point was that if you can’t come up with 20 things keeping your H/H apart, you do not have enough conflict in your relationship.  I rarely make it to 20, but I always learn something or crystallize something in the push to get there. And, on the other side of it, you can’t go around having an H/H crazy attracted to each other over just chemistry and your say-so. I don’t care what happens in real life, we readers want more than that. So come up with some qualities and mutually fulfilled needs and crap and then maybe you’ll remember to show us those when you get into writing.

And yes, I agree that I probably just asked the same question twice in a row, as far as how are the H/H the same and different. But do you know that every time I answer it the second time, I still come up with more to say? Maybe because I’m lazy and see a bunch of words, ok that looks like I’ve done my job. No! It’s romance, dammit. You’re job’s not over. More!

That brings us to the end of this week and the end of this part of the Blueprint. We’ve discovered a boat-load of stuff. The next part of the Blueprint takes us into serious outlining. Next stop: Part 1.

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Blueprint Series Part 5: Main Plot Points

(I’m not sure what happened with the scheduling of this post, but I apologize for the delay and for the fact that it’ll be two today with another one this afternoon.)

If you’ve been following, you’re totally bored with the following:

If you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.

But now it’s over and we can move on to our focus today:

Step 5: Main Plot Points

  1. What is the Second Plot Point?
  2. How does the SPP event or sequence of events force the main character into the climax of the story?
  3. What is the First Plot Point? What is the event or sequence of events that brings the characters into the story world?
  4. What is the Midpoint of the story?
  5. How does the MP change everything? How does it put your characters into attack mode?

That’s it. I’m just asking you to come up with 3 things today. But they’re really important things.

This all comes out of a brilliant series of articles on Story Structure by author, Larry Brooks. Click here for Part 1. Read the whole series, then buy his book on the subject and read some more. If you want to know how to make a series of unfortunate events that makes a story, rather than a pile of them that makes a mess of dreck, reading Larry is great place to start.

Ok, so there’s no sense in me repeating everything I just linked to. So to boil down what you need to know for this part, I’ll explain that we’re talking about a classic 3-Act structure, in which the middle act is broken down into two parts, separated by the midpoint. Because that’s awkward to talk about, for now until the end of time, we’ll be talking about the story in terms of 4 parts. These parts will be separated by 3 key plot points. So the story goes like this:

  • Part 1
  • First Plot Point (FPP)
  • Part 2
  • Midpoint (MP)
  • Part 3
  • Second Plot Point (SPP)
  • Part 4

Now, especially since these are out of order, you’ll probably have a much easier time understanding what I’m asking of you if you go read through the Storyfix series and come back. But I’ll do my best to explain what these things are and include.

Part 1 is the setup of your story. While it will have a something that hooks the reader, things will happen in there that are important, etc, the story hasn’t actually started in part 1. Grasping this, by the way, has been huge for me. In part 1 you’ll need to be introducing most or all of your characters. You’re giving us a sense of where your protagonist is, both in terms of place and place in the world. What is his life like now, before everything changes? What does he need? What does he want? What does he have to lose?

Did I mention that everything changes? That’s your FPP, and it’s the most important moment in the story. This is the thing that pulls your character from where he is and sets him on the path toward his destiny (which is the story’s end). And it’s probably going to be something your character is reluctant to do because, hey, scary, plus there are probably things in his life he doesn’t want to risk. But whatever happens at the FPP is such that he MUST move forward into the story world.

After the FPP, your hero and your story move into Part 2 in which your hero makes an effort but…let’s face it: if he were man enough to take this on, the story would be over. He’s got a lot of work to do. There are some different ways to approach part 2, as failed attempts to deal with the problem, as avoidance, as gathering a team to combat the problem or focusing on training…

Part 2 ends at the MP. And this is a big turning point in your story. There’s something that happens here that puts a different spin on things, shows everything in a new light, changes everything again. Again, endless options and you’ll want to go and read more about midpoint elsewhere. But it’s something that really changes things for your character and puts him into attack mode.

Because that’s what part 3 is about. Your hero really stepping up his game and approaching this problem with a new outlook or commitment or whatever.

Part 3 ends with the SPP. The Second Plot Point is the thing that sets the wheels in motion for the sequence of events that lead to the climax. Sometimes it’s the last piece of the puzzle falling to place. That bit of information the hero was lacking to really go after the villain, whether that’s knowing the villain’s location, discovering his weakness, or the hero finally getting the right size gear to finish his giant mecha warrior robot beast. I don’t know. You figure it out.

I do this backward because, like I talked about in the last post, I need to know that where I started is going to get me to where I’m going in an effective way. I probably either know the FPP or have a good idea of what kind of FPP I need. So I focus on the SPP first, trying to figure out what kind of scene I will need to plunge these characters into the series of scenes that leads to and makes up my climax. From there I can sort of refine whatever idea I had about the FPP to give me a starting point. Then I can work on the MP and try to figure out how things escalate, what big deal will happen in the middle, and how it will change my characters.

The order in which you choose to do this doesn’t really matter. I think it’s really something you work on all at once and keep refining as you work deeper into the story.

If, after reading the Story Structure Series over at Storyfix, you still feel a little unsure of how that works and need more examples, poke around at the site some more. Larry’s also been doing deconstructions of movies as examples of how the structure works and how to recognize the main points. (Then get his book and read it.)

By now you’re getting a good, solid idea about what your story is and how it’s going to play out. You might want to take a little time to let that marinate. Meantime, since you know what it’s about enough to talk about it now, we’re going to go on to some Pitch and Blurb stuff next time.

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Blueprint Series Part 3: LOCK

If you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.

So today we’re working on your big ol’ story climax.

Step 3: LOCK

LOCK- Lead, Objective, Conflict, Knock-out

  1. What do you know about the climax of the story?
  2. How does the ending deliver a knock-out experience?
  3. How does the ending solve the story problem?
  4. How are the hero and heroine the catalyst for solving the story problem?

That nifty acronym is one I got out of a book called Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. The most important thing I got out of this book was the idea of knowing what the ending is going be, how the story problem will be solved, how the protagonist is going to be the one to solve it. Yeah, I know, more obvious. What I really needed, however, was the knock to the head that said: a kick-ass ending would be really good here.

So, much like GMC (see previous post), LOCK is a whole sotory concept with a similar structure. You have:

A Lead (character)

who has an Objective (goal)

who meets with a Conflict

an delivers a Knock-Out win at the end.

Now, this concept helped me a lot because I had been, to that point, very linear in my thinking. I had some vague idea of what the ending would be, or at least some of what it would have to entail, but I never knew how exactly it would come about. So in a sense I was never really writing towards it. And that caused me problems.

So that’s why we’re here at this stage in the process. Because once I have a Goal that’s Motivated, and I know what’s going to provide my character(s) with Conflict, I want to go right to thinking about how they’re going to solve it. How is my team going to provide Big Bad with the smack-down he so richly deserves. I’ll admit that I’m still not great at knowing the details, and sometimes my notes are: There’s a fight, they win, bad guy is arrested–or whatever the ending is. Some of the specifics will always be saved for the end.

The important thing to me is knowing that the ending in my head has something to do with may goal at the beginning, and that it will happen as a result of my characters actions and what they have learned over the course of the story, and not as the result of some deus ex machina BS. It could also be that my ending has little to do with the beginning goal, but in that case, this is the time to be thinking about the goal changes and plot twists that will get me from A to B.

If my heroine is obviously the main character and she’s the one who’s got the issue with the villain, I certainly don’t want to plan an ending in which she sits idly by and watches the hero mop the floor with him. L-A-M-E. If they’re going to be working together, thinking about the ending at this stage allows me to think about how I’m going to work their tag-team on the villain, and what I’m going to have to set up in advance in order to make that satisfying.

Yesterday’s post was pretty long, so I’m ending here today and we’ll continue Monday with thinking about your Story World.

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Progress report: cards

When last I was here I talked about getting into the habit of using index cards– for quick notes, for organizing thoughts, and eventually for getting visual feel for a story.  Since I’ve got a lot of stuff in my head right now, I set a goal for 10 cards a day.

10 cards has been a good amount for me.  Not so many that I’m scribbling for hours, but enough so I feel like I’ve done something.  I now have 30 cards since Saturday.  A handful of them are from a different story that intrigues me, so it’s cool to be able to make some notes on that without jumping right into “sexy new book”.

Some of my cards are for scenes I can see and have a number of points jotted down.  Some are much more vague: need scene where X happens.  Some are plant cards that will probably be merged with another scene card later: need to plant idea Y that pays off later when…

I just started reading Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, so I will probably have some cards on character notes coming along this week.  I have a lot of character stuff written here and there and I don’t plan to copy that stuff to cards.  But I expect to have ideas about several characters in my world and it will be good to jot down notes someplace besides gmail to Kettle.

I’m really enjoying the craft books this year.  I just finished Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (part of the same Write Great Fiction series).  Kettle bought that one for me for Christmas (I sent her GMC which I also ended up buying for myself), having heard good things about a few books in the series.  To me it was good enough and different enough from other craft books I’ve read or glanced through that I’m intrigued enough to continue in the series.  I should start a page of some reviews of these…

Anyway, a last quick note on the subjects of cards and P&S: At the end of the book, Bell likened building writing skills to building chess skills.  He suggested an exercise in which you read through a book for the pleasure of reading it.  Then you pick it apart, taking copious, scene-by-scene notes on index cards, noting down things that worked for you and didn’t, etc.  You’ll learn by doing the exercise, have the cards for later review, lay out the scene cards to see the structure of the novels, etc.  His exercise has 10 steps which I’m not going to wholesale copy for you (because that’s not nice) but that’s the gist of it.  He suggests doing this for 6 books over a 12-week period.  Time-consuming yes, but learning often is, and I’m intrigued.  I will try it for at least one and see how it goes.

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