Monday, November 29, 2010

Always Another Plateau to Reach

Many of you had an extraordinary month. You pushed yourself to achieve big goals. Maybe you reached them, maybe you didn't, but you didn't sit on a plateau this month. Isn't that what we always aim for? Forward movement?

The thing about plateaus is that there is always another one to reach. It's okay to rest on one for a bit before pushing onward. It's unreasonable to expect your brain or body to give maximum effort every day of every month. However, we can keep our eyes upward with the next leg of our journey in sight.

What did you accomplish in November?

Join me on Wednesday to kick off the return of One-Minute Vacations! December is so rush-rush; I hope you'll stop by for a quick breath of relief!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Black Friday!

If you live in the United States, you're either working, relaxing, hunting, or shopping. Black Friday is a tradition for many folks. People set their alarms for 2:30am and rush to their top-choice store to wait in line for their must-have items. Shoppers are willing to wait in lengthy check-out lines for a good deal, and I don't blame them.

I'm not a great shopper. I think I'll be home in my pajamas instead.

For all you shoppers--best wishes and happy shopping! For everyone else--have a relaxing day!

Happy Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When You'd Do Anything to Get Back on a Plateau

We've been discussing plateaus this month, and we've focused on continuing upward. But something happened on Monday that made me long for the comfort of my own plateau.

My laptop crashed. I'm talking completely shut-down. Luckily, I was able to restore it back to the manufacturer's settings, but in the process I lost every program, every blog I've bookmarked in my Favorites bar, and yes, every plotting note of my new book plus the first three chapters.

Normally, I'm obsessive about backing up my daily work to a memory stick, but I neglected the task for two weeks.

I would love to be back on the plateau I reached last Friday.

Sometimes things go wrong. Who knows why. Yes, I could pay a service to attempt to retrieve my files from the hard drive, but the costly and time-consuming job is not worth it to me. I can reproduce the work in less time.

It's natural to be upset when a strong gust of wind blows you from your plateau. I spent a full day restoring my laptop, and I was not in a good mood while I did it. But Tuesday dawned, and it no longer felt as important. In fact, the process of having a clean laptop has forced me to re-evaluate how I was approaching a few tasks.

I found Microsoft One Note and plan on trying it out for my plotting notes. The blogs linked in my Favorites bar? Well, it's high time I organize them in Google Reader. One of my goals is to spend more time reading blogs, and this will streamline it. And I finally signed up for an online data back-up service. I don't have to worry about losing important work again.

So when your progress gets thrown off a cliff, go ahead and fume for a little while, but then study the path back up. You might find a better foothold the next time.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Plotting the Scene

Whether you plot your book in advance or write by the seat of your pants, it’s a good idea to know the elements in a scene before you write it.

First, what is a scene?
According to Jack M. Bickham’s book Scene & Structure: “A scene is a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story “now.” It is not something that goes on inside a character’s head; it is physical.”

Mr. Bickham goes on to describe the pattern of a scene as:
1. Statement of goal
2. Introduction and development of conflict
3. Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster

In other words, each scene takes place in real time—it’s not a memory, it’s not a character reflecting, and it’s not a summary of events that took place at another time.

Decisions to make before writing the scene
I think most writers have an internal sense of story whether they plot, write a brief outline, or completely wing it. However, to avoid missing key story points along the way, one thing that can help is to plot your scene in advance. I plot all of my scenes before writing them, but do what feels comfortable. You might find plotting a scene helpful when you’re stuck.

Answer the following questions for the scene you are plotting.1. Where does this scene take place?
2. What day and what time of day is it?
3. How long after the last scene does this take place?
4. Who is in this scene?
5. Which main character has the most to lose in this scene? This answer will decide whose viewpoint the scene is told in. For maximum tension, write from the viewpoint of who has the most to lose.
One of the popular “rules” of writing is to avoid head-hopping. This means that each scene will take place from one character’s point of view. Other characters may be in the scene, but the reader will be experiencing the action from the point-of-view character. It’s a personal call on your part if you choose to follow this. I prefer to write each scene from only one character’s point of view because it clarifies the scene for me.6. What is the mood of the viewpoint character?
7. What is the viewpoint character’s goal in this scene? (What does he want?)
8. What is the viewpoint character’s motivation? (Why does he want it?)
9. What is the viewpoint character’s conflict? (Why can’t he have it?)
10. How does this scene affect the character—what is his growth?

When you answer these questions, you’re ready to write your scene. Remember to include the setting details (who, where, when) at the beginning of the scene, and state the scene goal early. Unless the scene takes place immediately after the previous one, the reader won’t know three days have passed and the character is now in a deli unless these details are clarified up front.

Getting tripped up on the character’s goal? It can be as simple as Jim wants to buy a cup of coffee. His motivation? He needs caffeine to think straight. His conflict? Before he enters the coffee shop, his mother bumps into him.

If you review the Jack M. Bickham’s scene essentials from above, you’ll see this fulfills the criteria.
Scene goal: Jim wants a cup of coffee
Introduction and development of conflict: His mother bumps into him, preventing him from entering the coffee shop.
Failure to reach goal: He does not get the coffee.

Obviously, to keep the reader interested, you would want this meeting to increase Jim’s conflict and allow him to grow in some way. If this is just a nice meeting between mother and son, it probably does not belong in your book.

If you try this and find it helpful, you might want to record your scene outlines in a spreadsheet. I use Microsoft Excel with the following columns.

Scene POV Setting POV character’s GMC Character’s Mood Char. Development Growth Chapter Notes

This allows you to keep track of how many scenes are in your book, how often each character’s viewpoint is being used, if you’ve overused a setting location, if each scene has a clear goal, the reason for the goal, and a failure to meet that goal, the character growth and if you’ve missed any loose threads, and how many scenes are in each chapter. It also allows a place to jot key details in the notes section.

Whether you’re stuck and only plot one scene or you use this as a tool to plot all of your scenes, I hope this serves to enrich your writing and move your story along.

This article is available on the articles page of my website, Jill Kemerer, and it is linked on the side of my blog.

Join me on Wednesday when we return to our discussion of plateaus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part Three

This week, I'm sharing my method of writing the synopsis before the book. On Monday, we learned what story basics were necessary before we write the synopsis. On Wednesday, we learned the process of writing a one-page synopsis.

Getting through the one-page synopsis is not enough for me. I don’t feel comfortable writing until I have a complete map of the story. However, before I can expand the one-page synopsis to a longer one, I have more story questions to answer.

Advanced Plotting and the Longer Synopsis:
1. Answer the following questions.

  • After the hook (set-up) and the character leaves the ordinary world, what events could happen to get the character to the midpoint of the novel? Brainstorm different options and weigh each to make sure they serve to advance your character to her next plot point. For each event, write how the character grows, how the stakes rise, and how the conflict increases. You might not use everything you think of, but it’s nice to have options.

  • Do the same for the mid-point to the black moment. The black moment is the point in the story where the character loses hope of achieving her goal. In a romance, it's when either the hero, heroine, or both decide they cannot be together. The events you brainstorm should escalate to make things worse for your character in terms of her story goal.

2. When you've decided on key events/scenes leading the character from the ordinary world to the mid-point, then from the mid-point to the black moment, you are ready to expand the one-page synopsis to a double-spaced longer synopsis. I aim for five pages, but many editors prefer even longer. Use your discretion. You can always add or delete later.

  • Save your one-page synopsis as a new file. This is the base of your longer synopsis.

  • After the paragraph where your character leaves the ordinary world, write two or three (or more) paragraphs describing the events leading up to the midpoint. Emphasize why the events are important and how they affect the main characters. In other words, include the “because” with the “and then.”

  • Skip to the paragraph about the mid-point, and following it, write two or three (or more) paragraphs describing the events leading from the mid-point to the black moment.

  • Flesh out any paragraphs from the one-page synopsis that need more explanation.

Don't forget, a synopsis gives an editor all of your book's major plot points, including any twists, and the ending. This isn't the place to play coy. Make sure the character development shines through.

Remember, you'll need to review and revise your synopsis when you've completed the book. My characters always reveal nuances I wasn't aware of before I wrote, and I make sure the book accurately reflects these by revising my initial synopsis.

At this point, you should feel comfortable with where your book is headed. If all this plotting makes you cry “uncle,” then stop here. But there’s another step to take if you want to plot your book in more detail. I consider it advanced plotting. It's where you plot each scene before you write the book. If you're interested in plotting one or more scenes, stop by on Monday for a full description of Plotting the Scene.

Whether you decide to try a few steps, write your one-page synopsis, or go all the way and write the long synopsis before writing, I hope this information leads you to a better understanding of your book. But remember, there is no right way or wrong way to write. If plotting doesn’t suit you, don’t force it.

The full article is available on the articles page of my website, Jill Kemerer, and it is linked on the side of my blog.

Thank you for joining me this week. Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part Two

Today we're looking at the step-by-step process of writing a one-page synopsis before the book.

If you missed part one of this series, scroll down to the previous post to learn the basics needed before you start your synopsis.

Basic Plotting and the One-Page Synopsis:

1. Write the summary of your book in one sentence of fifteen words or less.

2. Get to know your characters. Figure out the main characters' goals, motivations, conflicts. For romance writers, nail down what is keeping your hero and heroine from falling in love.

3. Expand your fifteen word sentence to five sentences:
    a. The Hook (Story set-up)
    b. Leaves Ordinary World (Act One)
    c. Mid-Point (Act Two)
    d. Black Moment (Act Three)
    e. Finale (Ending)

4. Expand each of the above sentences into a full paragraph

5. For romance authors: Write one paragraph describing the heroine’s story goal, her motivation to achieve the goal, and the conflict keeping her from getting the goal? Repeat for the hero. Spell out their inner conflicts keeping them from embracing love.

For other authors: Write one paragraph describing the main character’s story goal, the motivation to achieve the goal, and the conflict keeping him or her from getting the goal.

6. Create a file for your new book in your word processor. Create a single-spaced document called one-page synopsis in this file. Copy the paragraphs you wrote in the following order:
  • The hook

  • Heroine’s GMC (goal, motivation, conflict)

  • Hero’s GMC

  • Leaves ordinary world

  • Mid-point

  • Black Moment

  • Finale

Many of you might want to stop here. You have the basics of the story. You have an idea for the beginning, middle and end, and you’re ready to write. The one-page synopsis can easily be double-spaced and expanded into a longer synopsis whenever you decide.

For those who want to continue to intermediate plotting, or writing the long synopsis before the book, stop by on Friday for the final installment.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part One

This week, I'm sharing my synopsis writing process. It's also a major part of my plotting process because I write the synopsis before I write the book.

Writers like to divide themselves into two categories: those who plot and those who don’t. I’m a plotter. I wasn’t always one, but years ago, in an effort to write faster and tighter, I decided to learn about plotting. After all, if I hated it, I wouldn't do it again. To my delight, I tried a myriad of plotting methods and loved the end result.

Here’s why I love plotting. It forces me to understand the main points of my book before I write. When I nail those down, I have a clearer idea of how my characters will grow and the events that will shape them along the way. Plus, the saggy middle virtually disappears. With a firm plan, I write first drafts quickly.

I can’t take credit for the plotting methods I use. All of them were borrowed from other writers generous enough to share their secrets. Some were found on websites, some from word of mouth, and others through books on the writing craft. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method made a big impact on me, and you can read all about it at Advanced Fiction Writing.

I consider the one-page synopsis the foundation of basic plotting. It fleshes out the main story points and gives you a skeleton of where your book needs to go. Depending on your comfort zone, you may wish to continue to intermediate plotting, where you'll expand your one-page synopsis to a long synopsis. If you want to get radical, go all the way to advanced plotting, where you plot each scene. Don't worry, I'll walk you through every step.

The following is based on my experiments to find the best plotting method for me. However, you should experiment to find the best method for you.

First, narrow down what genre book you are writing. Different genres require different pacing, tension, and plot development. I write romance novels so my books revolve around two characters’ journey to love. I sift through possible ideas and flesh out the main characters and premise of my book first. When I have a hero, a heroine, and a hook, I begin brainstorming their goals, motivations, and conflicts.

With these basics, I am ready to start writing the synopsis.

Join me on Wednesday for part two--the step-by-step process of writing a one-page synopsis.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Style Plateaus

Has your hairstyle been the same for a decade? Are you using the same makeup techniques from when you were in high school?If you're currently in high school, you can ignore that question. What about your clothes? Do you own any trendy items?

I've been on a style plateau for years. Part of it is budget, part of it is an aversion to shopping, and the other part is insecurity. I don't want to look like I'm trying to be fifteen years younger than I am. And short hair on me looks horrible, so I keep it long.

I do have a few shortcuts to make it seem I've gotten off the plateau, though.

  • Check out the latest makeup colors and trends in fashion magazines. Purchase a lipstick or eye shadow in the current shades for an instantly fresh look.

  • Emulate Jennifer Aniston or Jennifer Lopez or any of the other gorgeous celebrities in regards to their hair. They keep the same basic style for years, but they update the color, the highlights, and the way they style it.

  • Stick with basic jeans, slacks, and foundation shirts and sweaters, but add a few inexpensive trendy shirts to keep your look up to date. Also, study the shoe, handbag, and jewelry trends to add a polished air to your outfits. If you can't afford much, head to Target for similar items or a discount store like TJMaxx.

  • Shop in your closet. You probably wear the same things in the same combinations over and over. Take the sweater you always wear with the same jeans and swap the jeans for a pair of corduroys. Add a blazer and a necklace. You have a new look for free.
Are you, like me, on a style plateau? Do you have ways to make it appear you aren't on one? Or are you usually up on the latest styles?
Have a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Financial Plateaus

When I quit my job a dozen years ago to become a stay-at-home mother, I made it my personal mission to learn about money and financial matters. Although tracking expenses, saving for emergencies, and living within our means hasn't always been fun, I can truly say it has given us peace of mind.

Experts claim we've been out of the recession for eighteen months, yet many people are still struggling. Have any of these scenarios stopped your finances from working for you?

Did you stop contributing to a retirement fund?
Do you own a house you can't afford?
Are you one of many who are unemployed?
Has your household income fell, maybe significantly from before the financial crisis?

These questions can halt the staunchest saver. However, doing nothing won't get you off the plateau.

Saving for retirement is confusing. Even the experts get it wrong. Start reading articles about investment options in magazines such as Forbes, Money, Kiplingers and eventually you'll have a basic understanding of possible retirement plans that are right for you. In the meantime, you can always contribute to an FDIC insured account until you're ready to make decisions.

If you own a house you can't afford, research your options. Is there a government program designed to help you? Is your region a good rental area? Could you rent out your home and move into something less expensive? Could you sell your house for a loss? Talk to local real estate agents for advice.

If you or your spouse is unemployed, check with your state about benefit extensions. Also, the holidays are coming up and many local businesses hire part-time help. Any money coming in is better than none. If you're receiving unemployment, any part-time pay could affect it--research the effects before you accept a part-time job.

If your income has fallen, have you adjusted your spending? Are you experiencing too much month, not enough money? Be ruthless about your spending. Tell yourself it's temporary. Cut cable, ditch your expensive cell phone for a pay-as-you-go one, cook simple meals, borrow DVD's from your library, and try hard not to look at this as deprivation. Remind yourself you are spending less to avoid debt, to stay in your house, to pay for your kids' piano lessons, or whatever else is important to you.

The most effective way to get off a financial plateau, though, is to pray. God will provide. He might not provide exactly the way you want or expect, but open your eyes and you'll see His amazing gifts.

When times are turbulent, it's difficult to plan our finances, but even small steps can get us off a financial plateau and on our way to a healthy financial future.

Join me on Friday when we discuss style plateaus.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Personal Plateaus: You

The year is dwindling. Ten months ago, you may have written a resolution or goal list. Even if you didn't, I'll bet you had aspirations this year. Sometimes I think these lists serve only to distract me from what I really want--to live an authentic life.

If I'm focused solely on writing, exercising, parenting, saving, cleaning, or one of the other areas I'm trying to whip into shape, I'm not focused on being me. That's not to say the items aren't important, but they can be used as a way to avoid contemplating what I really want.

Sitting in a quiet room and delving into your deepest wishes can be frightening. What if you learn you want something different from what you have? What if the dreams you've been chasing no longer excite you? What if you realize your life is heading 100mph to the wrong destination?

On the flip side, what if you're racing on a road to nowhere?

When, in a panic, we put all of our energy into improving only certain sections of our life, we miss the big picture. It's like putting mittens and socks on a naked body in the throes of hypothermia. The body needs a blanket or coat to protect its core.

To get off a personal plateau, we have to focus on what is important to us, and to do that, we have to get quiet, not just once a year, but as often as necessary.

Have you ever focused on improving one area of your life to avoid dealing with a personal issue?

The lovely Barbara Parentini is interviewing me on her uplifting blog, Gifts by Grace. If you have a chance, get acquainted with Barbara's blog and stop by to say "hi."

Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss financial plateaus.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing Plateau? Tips to Keep Climbing

November is an exciting month for writers. Many are inspired to write 50,000 words as part of NaNoWriMo. Others fight to achieve their annual writing goals before the holidays kick in. And many unpublished romance writers are polishing their Golden Heart entries for Romance Writers of America's prestigious contest.

The first week of any writing project is usually pretty successful. After all, you're excited, but tremors of nervousness ripple through. Will you pull it off? Of course! You're determined.

Somewhere along the line, though, these big goals become enormous. We doubt our abilities, and even if we're on track, we wonder if we can keep it up. One small setback can snowball into an entire week of slacking. And one week of slacking can result in quitting.

Here are some suggestions to overcome a writing plateau and meet those goals.

  • Break up your daily goals into small chunks. For instance, if you've determined to write 2500 words per day, but you're staring at a blank screen and mumbling to yourself after writing 1000 words, don't force it all in one sitting. Give yourself mini-challenges. Twitter has a popular hashtag #1k1h meaning you'll write 1000 words in one hour. If you give yourself an extra fifteen minutes each session, you can write 1250 words.

  • Plan out each week. Get your calendar, a piece of paper, and a pen and write down a realistic goal for each day. On days you have extra obligations--maybe you have a dentist appointment after work on Wednesday, or you're meeting your mother for lunch on Saturday--downgrade your goals. Schedule a heavier writing load on days without extra obligations. If necessary, reschedule non-essential appointments.

  • Fit non-writing goals into your day. Don't let the house fall apart or ignore the laundry because you have lofty writing plans. If shopping for Christmas presents early is part of your annual routine, try to fit some shopping in. Skipping these tasks will only stress you out more, making you less likely to achieve your goal. Take twenty minutes to keep up with your dishes, or set aside fifteen minutes to order a gift online. These small tasks pad your ego and give a sense of accomplishment, putting you in a mentally happy place to write.

  • Take a brisk walk. Studies have shown that exercise feeds our brains. If you're banging your head on the computer keyboard, throw on a coat and head outdoors. Even ten minutes can give you the breakthrough you needed.

  • Limit your Internet time but don't eliminate it. Sometimes we need encouragement. A quick e-mail or a few minutes on Twitter can give us the boost to keep going. If you struggle to turn off the Internet, or find yourself "only checking one thing," but realize you just spent an hour online, set a timer. You'll be amazed what you can catch up with in fifteen minutes.
What other tips do you have for maintaining writing progress?
Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November: Plateaus

You're chugging along, working hard toward an accomplishment, but then for some reason, your progress halts. You're still putting in the time, but where are the results?

Does this happen to you? I know it applies to many areas of my life: exercising, improving my writing skills, maintaining a clean home, staying on top of my kids' chores, reaching out to my loved ones, and so forth.

The problem with plateaus is that they often progress into downhill slopes. If we aren't careful, all the hard work we put in to reach that point will disappear.

This month we're exploring methods, tricks, and bribes to keep climbing instead of standing still.
All of you who are participating in 2010's NaNoWriMo, best wishes to you! I hope you all meet your goal!

Do you ever find yourself stuck on a plateau? Is this time of year ripe for halting your progress?
Join me on Friday when we'll discuss ways to overcome plateaus in your writing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Another Door Opens

As many of you know, I've been writing full time and submitting my work for three years. The first year, I was full of excitement and hope. The second year, I was determined to improve my writing craft and build my online presence. The third year? Well, this year was tough.

I knew my writing was growing based on feedback from my wonderful critique group (Wendy P. Miller, Terri Tiffany, and Cindy R. Wilson) and a few dear author friends (thanks Jody Hedlund and Brenda Minton!), but I couldn't help but wonder if my craft had improved enough.

Then came worse thoughts, what if it would never be good enough?

Many of you are writers too. You've been writing, studying, going to conferences, submitting your work, blogging, and praying--always praying--that someday you'll get beyond the rejections.

So I'm announcing this from a humble and grateful place.

I have an agent. (I'm refraining from my customary exclamation points, but it is difficult.)

Yes, I just signed a contract with Books & Such Literary Agency and am now represented by the amazing Rachel Kent, formerly Rachel Zurakowski.

I will say there were tears involved. I will also say that hearing nice words about my work practically stopped my heart, and I'm considering investing in a home defibrillator. Those paddles would have come in handy.

If you are a writer and sometimes wonder if you'll ever get to the next level, don't give up. Hold on to each thread of hope.

Join me on Wednesday to kick-off November's topic: Plateaus.