Writers up! Stir up a plot with Kate Dancey

July-September 1941, Gross

Photo Credit~Anthony Gross 1941

Hey there, neighbor!

One week from my last post and I’m now seven fat chapters into my new novel. I  rewrote it from page one all this past week and it is much better developed with lots of new characters. Best part is, I know where my characters, whether bad or good, came from and where they are going, and what will happen when they get there. I have a subplot of a love story simmering nicely, a couple of comic relief characters, some truly scary moments for the protagonist where she is pushed to the sharp point of endurance mentally and physically, and she’s made some new friends along the way.

Save the Cat method of story telling using note cards and beat-sheet style of outlining to plot before writing truly freed up my mind and allowed for much more depth of story than my original, so the couple of weeks of writing time “lost” in plotting turned out to be a terrific gain.

This is very exciting, and thus far a fruitful venture in writing, and I hope you are pounding away at your keyboard and finding success, too! Did you purchase Save the Cat, yet? I promise I gain nothing from plugging the book. In fact, it’s brilliant author, Blake Snyder, passed on from this world, but he left a legacy of writing tips to his scribbling fans. I’m so pleased to be able to point the way to his book; just following his advice of giving back. So, yeah, I have two of his books, now, and Save the Cat Strikes Back is the perfect companion book to the first. Whenever I’m stuck, I just look to my STC note cards, pay attention to the storyboard, and write to the beats. Yeah baby! The long and short of it? Plotting with note cards and storyboard  is lump free delicious gravy for your word-count. I’m adding characters more easily, dropping them in just the right place ahead of time so that I can stir up some trouble with them later, and boy is it fun disrupting my protagonists life.

Too mean, you say? No it isn’t. One of the secrets to great plotting is telling how your character goes from being, say, a clumsy, allergy ridden and isolated lab biologist who spends her spare time building allergy-free, self-sustaining miniature gardens, to an environmentalist group leader selected as part of a crucial biosphere mission to spruce up planet Mars. You really want to set a lot of obstacles in your protagonists way, physically and mentally or spiritually if your character is going to experience growth. Just like I had to go back, regroup and stop writing the manuscript for a while to learn about plotting with a storyboard before continuing on. It was hard, but I did it (hey, even an writer can arc) and you can, too! The more hardships you shovel onto your protagonist, the more awful your antagonist, the more crap you pile on all of them equals a better story. The plot is carried forward with the arc of the character, and you as an author benefit from knowing exactly where each growth-spurt will occur. All from a little restructuring.

Now, if you aren’t sure about note card outlining, ala Save the Cat, here’s a great site from Rune Lords author David Farland‘s Author Advisory Conference Calls where a variety of authors speak about methods they use to achieve writing success. In this particular clip,  New York Times bestselling author Aprilynne Pike discusses her number line method to keep the story purring along, and your plot on track. Mr. Farland tirelessly devotes time to teaching aspiring authors how to launch themselves into the happy business of becoming first time novelists, as do the successful authors who lend their time to his programs.

David Farland’s Authors Advisory Conference Calls

Learn about how the pro’s do it, apply the methods to your own writing, and enjoy the experience of seeing your word count and character arc rise to new heights!

I’m at 25K words now. Not too shabby.

Cheers and Happy Writing!

Kate Dancey

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Write that novel! Spring into step with Kate Dancey

CopyIMGP5a *peeps over fence*

Hey, neighbor! Spring is here; time to regroup, rethink and re-engage with the world on a fresh  trajectory in writing! Care to join me?

To celebrate Spring I’ve got a new website–glad you could make it–where I’m working on a new project and noting what it will take to complete a full length novel, then shop it out to agents and Get. It. Pubbed. Along the way I thought it’d be nice to share lessons learned in the process–and a few tricks I gleaned while learning what gets a reader to lose themselves between the covers…of books! The sweet stuff of life, comes when the writing is fun!

Have I done this before? Yes and no. I published a short story through a small, but traditional house. It’s 15,000 words and was submitted after lots of research to avoid the pitfalls of the Dumps Monsters kind (damned unscrupulous malicious publishing scammers–yes I coined that phrase; my article about those ugly folk is here) and without an agent. I got lucky. Got an offer, did a happy dance, and accepted–after reading the entire contract–which I hope you will, too, when you get the opportunity. In November 2012, I had my first signing with a book-club in Los Angeles. Pretty neat! But it isn’t a novel length endeavor, and I’m up for that challenge.

I began writing my current novel about a month ago, and I was zipping right along at the keys when things started to feel disconnected. Not enough characters, not enough plot, zero subplot, and a poor crooked spine on my novel. My poor seedling ideas had fallen sick and sagging.

There I was,covered with blight at only 3 scraggly chapters in. Not much to show for all my ideas you say? Fair enough.

I had to put aside my notions of story-telling, though I’m quite the pantser (term for a writer who writes by the seat of their pants instead of planning every step) and learn how to better craft a beginning, middle and end. More importantly, my readers deserve to know what happens in between those points, and want them presented in a logical order, but with surprises and turns at the write places that move the tale along. So, I stopped pantsing in order to plot it out. Now don’t get me wrong; I still pants it, but I can tell you from personal experience that the plotting process is worth learning, and it works like a dream. You can veer from it and enjoy a good, long pantsing session, as long as it flows along with the plot points and moves the story forward.

We’ll start with the beginning and end. How? Because they should be opposites. Your protagonist, villains, and all their entourage should arc (how a character grows and learns on a spiritual level is known as a character arc), and the image you leave them with on the last page should reflect that a change has occurred in their world. Who would bother reading a book if everything stays the same? Your audience experiences your story from point A to Z because things happen, and the more a situation alters…the better the story.

I employed lessons from a screenwriter’s guide, Blake Snyder‘s Save the Cat–which you should rush out and purchase today if you are an aspiring novelist, and which I will introduce to you here. I also hooked up with some fine folk at NANOWRIMO,  which we will discuss in future.

Why a book about screen writing? Because it helps you to learn how to break a story down into 3 sections, making it easier to handle, then it breaks  into 15 beats, and finally, 10 note cards per section that you use as a guide to craft a plot with no holes in it. In the STC method you have the ability to see how your character and his buddies arc and you can tell pretty quickly using the story board where the plot is wilting. Did I mention they have online pointers for free as companions to the book? Brilliant!

Now, I have my fifteen beats laid out on a storyboard so I can keep my spine straight, and my ideas growing are strongly toward the sun. I know what happens, when, and where, right up to how it ends…and on into the plot for book 2, and the beginning structure of book 3–all because I germinated those ideas in book 1. Got it? Go get it.

With the storyboard and beat sheet to guide me, I allowed myself to return back to writing this week, planting words in earnest. I’ve managed to include many original ideas, and reserve some seeds for future writing–planning ahead is an excellent practice and a lesson only recently learned! Agents love it when you have not one, but two books ready to go! So, I’m going full speed ahead with my tale about Native American Shamanism, old world tree spirits, water sprites, Traditional Paganism, and one lone practitioner who inherits some haunted acreage. It’s been fun writing her story, and when it’s published, I have high hopes that you will enjoy it, too.

I’ll stop to report my progress here from time to time, and give you tips and links on how to get that novel written! Then feel free to come along for the big blooming show as I shop it and get my agent. Spring into action with me and lets help this neighborhood garden produce lots of great stories. Oh, and NANOWRIMO summer camp begins in April!

Woot!

Ready? Spring for those words, and remember to Save the Cat!

Kate Dancey

March 22, 2013

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