Tag Archives: fiction writing

Write On, Wednesday: Tour of Non-Sites

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

I was driving around my neck of the woods here in southwestern Chicagoland the other day when it dawned on me how much of my novel-in-progress really could be set here.  Okay, full-disclosure: it is set in this area–at least parts of it are–but the names have been changed.  I can’t give everything away, lest there won’t be any point in using faux names for these suburbs I have created, the street names, the style of housing. 

As my car wound around the US highways,  the suburban landscape having morphed into housing developments seemingly overnight from corn fields, I see a strong resembelence to the world I  created for my characters–Annie, Steve, Joe, Beth and their counterparts. 

We could go south a ways and I could show you the real Cherrydale, inspiration for Steve’s stomping grounds.  If I shot over west, I’d point out the McMansions that made an appearance in Annie’s chapter on the secret shopping adventure for a real estate developer.  If we go back to the US highway I mentioned, I’d slow down and gesture towards the smattering of roadside motels which became Steve’s respite following a fight with his wife. 

It’s not that any of this was intentional–but merely a coincidence–(ah!  Another theme of the book).  These so-called ‘places’ came to life in my novel.  No, that was never my full intention.  But when the places spoke to me as if there were real, living breathing characters it dawned on me that they were an integral part of the book. 

However, many of the places of Slippery Slope remain a figment of my imagination.  The Cress Creek Bistro?  Doesn’t exist.  Carmargo Medical?  Don’t think so–but it is a conglomeration of several medical and manufacturing facilities I am familiar with.  The townhouse complex with Beth and Steve first live in Rock Island–fake.  Pat Cooper’s Victorian apartment and office–came to me in a dream. 

When  you start to think about your work-in-progress, where might you develop ideas for settings?  What places from your past or present may represent a unique perspective for your characters? 

Take a drive.  Look at the homes, the parks, the areas of recreation.  Do you see your characters there?  Jot some notes, snap a few photos.  Review them from time to time.  Heck, put them up on a bulletin board or tuck them into a notebook.  Let them serve as inpiration when you work on your project. 

What are you waiting for?  Write On, Wednesday!

 

Write on Wednesday: An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Caroline Leavitt

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By Leslie Lindsay

One of my favorite all-time authors is Caroline Leavitt.  She writes with such grit and honesty that it is completely refreshing.  Her latest book, IS THIS TOMORROW (May, 2013) is set under the backdrop of 1950’s suburbia.  Ava is a single, Jewish mother raising her thirteen year old son in an all-Christian neighborhood when one of the son’s buddies goes missing.  Part suspense, part literary fiction, this book will resonate with those who enjoy a good, multi-layered read. ITTUSE

Leslie Lindsay:  Many of your stories have an underlying theme of unconventional families.  In PICTURES OF YOU, the young father is recently widowed and raising a son.  GIRLS IN TROUBLE features a young woman who gives her baby up through open adoption and then weaves herself into that new family.  Ava portrays a single Jewish mother in the 1950s.  Traditional?  Not in the least.  Can you share how you are inspired to write about families that are less than typical? 

Caroline Leavitt: “Probably because my own family had its issues. My parents had a terrible marriage. I had a desperately unhappy childhood and adolescence. I’m most interested in the connections between people. To me, nothing is more important than how we do—or don’t—relate to others.”

Leslie Lindsay: I understand you started writing at a young age and then got more serious in high school.  Did you have a mentor?  And when did you finally get the nerve to submit to agents? 

Caroline Leavitt: “Not only did I not have a mentor, but most people told me no along the way. My high school English teacher told me, “Pardon me, but you don’t write that well.”  At Brandeis, my advanced writing professor called my work “garbage” and told me I’d never make it. I never listened. I kept fighting, sending things out, never letting the rejections get to me, and when I finally published my first novel, MEETING ROZZY HALFWAY, it was a sensation, and I sent the novel and my first NYT review to that professor! He told me he had known I would make it all along, that he just was trying to thicken my skin. I laughed and never wrote back.”

Leslie Lindsay: And now you are a mentor!  Can you tell us a little about your on-line/distance learning classes and critique services?

Caroline Leavitt: “I teach beginning and advanced novel writing online at UCLA and Stanford and love it. I also do private developmental editing with clients. My classes are really intense but I love them. I try to get in the trenches with all the writers and teach them what works for me and give them all the things I’ve learned along the way. I look at whole manuscript with an eye to structure. You can’t teach talent—you either have it or you don’t. But you can shape a book and structure it so a good story can really become great. I end up with twenty pages of detailed notes for clients and we talk and talk and talk.”

Leslie Lindsay:  Will you share a bit about your writing routines/processes?  When you sit down at your laptop to work on a manuscript, how do you usually proceed?  Are you a plotter or a pantser? 

Caroline Leavitt: “I plan everything out. I don’t believe in the muse. John Irving is my hero, and like Irving, I have to know my final destination, my last line, my character change. It’s like you are driving in the woods and you have no map, but you know you want to get to Denver. Having that destination changes everything. I rely on John Truby story structure, which shapes a story by means of the moral choices a character makes, and the reveals that come along the way.”

Leslie Lindsay: Does writer’s block exist for you and how do you usually get over it?  For example, right now I have no desire to work on anything manuscript related.  But I know if I open up that document and start looking at it again, I’ll be sucked into the story. 

red shirt gardenCaroline Leavitt: “I never have writer’s block. I literally don’t. I always want to sit down and write. It’s when I get sucked into something else and I can’t write that I get crazy.  I’ve been on tour for three months and unable to really have sustained writing, and it’s made me nervous and depressed. Now I’m home and I’m just starting to flex that writing muscle again.”

Leslie Lindsay: What are you reading now?

Caroline Leavitt: “Early Decision by Lacy Crawford. An arc about the whole college admissions process—something my family is just entering into with my son. It’s making me so nervous to contemplate all this, but I’m hoping the novel will act as Xanax.”

Leslie Lindsay:   If you had an afternoon to sit in the library completely unencumbered, how would you spend your time?  Writing, researching, reading?  A little of all? 

Caroline Leavitt: “Reading. Definitely reading. And for pleasure, not for review.”

Leslie Lindsay: Finally, what do you hope readers take away from your books?

Caroline Leavitt: “I most want people to feel, to somehow come away changed in some way. With IS THIS TOMORROW, I hope people will think about what it means to be an outcast and how someone who feels outcast can build community. All my novels deal with outcasts in one way or another, and all of those outcasts are struggling to connect. I also want people to know that even though life is terrible and tragic and horrifyingly random, it is also beautiful . Actually—my title of my new novel, which will be out in 2015—is sort of the way I see things. It’s called CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD. The world is both, no?”

Leslie Lindsay:  Thank you, thank you Caroline for your beautiful words or writing wisdom and inspiration. It was a joy to have you.

For more information about Caroline and her books, please see her website:

  • http://www.carolineleavitt.com/
  • Leslie’s top picks:  GIRLS IN TROUBLE, IS THIS TOMORROW, and PHOTOGRAPHS OF YOU, two of which were personal reading group selections.
  • All photos in this post were used with permission and are from the archives of C. Leavitt.  

Write On Wedneday: Do you have what it takes?!

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

Aside from the fact that I just unpacked my bags and have a completed a revised draft of my manuscript, I am still under the (perhaps false) impression I can pull this off. 

My agent pitch session is scheduled for Saturday mid-morning.  It’s my best time, personally.  Here’s how I figure:  I’ll have all day Friday to connect with conference fiolks and fill my head with lots of really great writing tips and tricks.  By the time Saturday mid-morning rolls around, I’ll be set.  (art work courtesy of my 8year old daughter) 

I think. 

If you are like most writers, you are probably scratching your head and wondering, “Can I do this?” 

According to The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, there are a good number of skills, criteria, personality that goes into making an author.  Do you have what it takes?

  • Can you spend many, many hours working on something that may never see the light of day?
  • Are kids, partners, job, and recreation going to be obstancles that you can get around?
  • Do you  have the discipline, focus, and attention span it takes to make a book and get it published?
  • Are you self-motivated enough to grind it out month after month?
  • Can you stand being alone in a room, staring at a blank computer screen or an empty piece of paper?
  • Can you put aside regular chunks of time to work on your book?
  • Do you have the desire to share your life to make the time you need?
  • Beside the hundreds of hours you spend writing your book, will you also be willing to set aside chunks of your day in the great time suck known as social networking, and then continue to nurture those networks for an indefininte period of time?

The authors of this book suggest you take a long, hard look at those questions and answer them brutally honest.  If you can say “yes” to a good majority of them, then you are probably on the right track. 

But, that’s only the beginning.

Next, you need to pick the right idea.  Then you need to effectively carry it out. And after it’s all said and done, you’ll need to “shop it around,” that is, get the right agent to represent it. 

And then the revisions.  (Again).  See bullet points above. 

Hemingway once said, “the hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.”  Well said, Hemingway, well said. 

[Disclaimer:  Image source: www.amazon.com 4.11.13, and also purchased thru Amazon.  Author of this post owns this book.  She does not know the authors of the book either professionally or personally.]

Fiction Friday: Progress Makes You Insane

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By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:  Work-in-Progress from "Slippery Slope"

I am feeling a bit nutty these days as my novel is nearing a turning point: the end.  My female protagonist may be losing a little bit as well.  Remember, this is original work from a novel-in-progress…please do not take as your own. 

And here we go… some old stuff I dusted off for Slippery Slope: 

“I breathed in the crisp fall air.  The leaves falling gently in golden hues as the sun sparkled in dainty brightness.  I parked the van, got out, and slammed the door with a thump.  Stupid minivan.  When could I get a real car again?  I walked into the waiting room.  The space smelled like paper and vanilla, the Muzak pumped out classical tunes from the sound system.   A white noise machine sat tucked in the corner, camouflaged by a plant.  I slid the glass divider window, revealing a pinched-faced receptionist.

        “Insurance card.”  It’s not a question, but a demand.  Her bony hand reaches forward and snaps the card from my grip.  She turns to make a copy and flips open a Day planner.  “Have a seat.”  She nods towards the blue seats lined up against the wall.  Blue, it figures; the most calming color in the world. 

         Jackie calls my name, standing in front of the barely opened self-locking door, “for privacy,” she’s told me before.  I didn’t buy it then, I still don’t.  More like: to keep the crazies out; people like you. 

         She ushers me into her office.  I plop down on the worn, overstuffed sofa and cross my legs.  

        “What’s going on?  How’ve you been?” 

        One question at a time for my delicate brain, Jackie.  ‘What’s going on?’ is a completely different inquiry than ‘how are you?’       

        And so I begin.

        “Well, Madi and Kenna were growing and learning by the day—the hour—and I am generating decorating jobs left and right.” 

         She nods, taking this all down in her electronic tablet.  “And what grade are the girls in now?” 

        “Well, Kenna is in full-day kindergarten and doing fairly well there, with the exception of a few ‘mean girl’ instances, which I can’t really understand.  It’s kindergarten for cryin’ out loud!”  I pause, re-crossing my legs.  “Turns out there’s a lot to be ‘mean’ about these days—iPods and cell phones are slowly making their presence in the under-ten market, something I am completely against.  There are clothes and shoes and Pottery Barn backpacks,” I rattle off.    

         Jackie nods. 

         I continue.  “And the usual—‘you’re picture isn’t as pretty as mine,’ arguments, along with lunch room and recess etiquette.” 

         Jackie inhales and leans to the other arm rest on her chair, the captain’s seat of therapy.  “And how do you feel about all of this?” 

          “Fine.  Good.  I took her shopping over the summer and loaded her up with school supplies and cute shoes and clothes, proud to send my “baby” to kindergarten.” 

         “So you are proud?”  She tucks her hair behind her ear, a sleek brown bob. 

       “Well, yeah.” 

       “And your other daughter?” 

       I swallow, “Madi is loving her preschool program.  She had grown into quite the precocious three-year old, already “reading,” books by memorization and being extremely in tune to other’s feelings and emotions.  Including mine.”

       “Oh?” she knits her eyebrows, leans in, “What do you mean?” 

       “Well, one day Madi says, ‘Mommy, you seem sad’,” I furrowed my brows and gotten down to her level, ‘What do you mean, Madi Moo?’ I asked.” 

         She touched my hand, ‘You know, momma.  Sad.’ 

        I bit the inside of my cheek, ‘Well, I am not sad.  I am just busy.  There’s a difference.’

         She shook her head, ‘No, you’re sad.’ 

        ‘Punkin, I promise you, I am not sad.’ It went on like this for awhile.  Madi trying to tell me I was sad, me telling her I was just busy with work and a little preoccupied, all while trying to tell her that I wasn’t sad about her, heaven forbid. 

       “So are you sad, Annie?” 

       “No.  I am not sad.  But to a 3-year old, I could see how she might think I was sad.  I’ve been working awfully hard at getting my decorating business up and going.  I am still trying to be the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker, and there are days I am just tired.  Worn out.  Deflated.” 

        Jackie nods her head, “I can appreciate that.”  She scribbles something on her electronic doo-dad. 

       I continue, “Joe is working non-stop.  His company recently merged with a larger, more prestigious company—the stakes are higher, the projects and clients more important.  I feel alone most of the time, often joking that we we’re two ships passing in the night; feeling like a single parent even though we’ve been married almost seven years now.” 

        “Perhaps Madi’s assessment isn’t so far ‘off,’ then?”  A smirk crawls across her face, pleased. 

        “No.  I don’t know—maybe.  But she’s three.” 

        Jackie shifts in her captain’s chair, throws her left leg over her right, brown suede boots.  I can’t help but like them.  Fuck-me boots.  “Sometimes kids can be very preceptive.”

Write on, Wednesday! To Plot, or Not to Plot…that is the Question

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

As most of you know, I am feverishly working on a novel.  Second draft revisions…rewrites, or whatever you want to call ’em are tough.  The first draft was all composed on the fly.  That is, I am a pantser (as in seat-of-my-pants).  I first heard that term when I attended the Write-by-the-Lake retreat this past June.  I heard it again when I was reading the latest issue of Writer’s Digest (March/April 2013).

So, let’s back up to that statement at the top:  Second-draft revisions are tough.  As I’ve been working through this draft with my wonderful writing partner (who reads, critiques, gives, suggestions, and kicks my butt), I’ve been seriously considering starting the next book with a good old-fashioned outline, thinking it would make those 2nd draft revisions much easier. 

After reading this article in WD, I am wrong, wrong, wrong! 

Take what you want–work how you want–but for me, the outline may not be my bestfriend.  It’s too limiting.  It’s too old-school, it’s too predictable…and it sort of takes the fun out of writing.  Here’s why:

  • Starting with an idea, a problem, or paradox seems to lead most naturally to storytelling
  • Storytelling, by definition is a rambling artistic form.  Okay, try to forget that I said, “rambling.”  Your book should NOT ramble.  Your thought-processes should.  Explore them.  When you have a cool idea, go deeper.  Eliminate the other not-so-good rambles.
  • That said, follow your rabbit holes.  You never know what your inner muse may contribute.  If it sucks later, cut it.
  • Themes and subtext start to emerge from plot-free writing.  I had no idea a theme in my book was “cleanliness, tidyness” till someone in my critique group commented on it.  I learned something about my inner psyhe and my characters. 
  • Each scene–and character for that matter–should behave predictably, but still have a surprise ending.  You can’t always work that out with a plot.  Sometimes those ‘surprises’ startle you, the writer, too.
  • Be able to straddle a couple of genres.  I know, I know…you have heard contraindications for that.  Well, I think a ‘good book’ touches on several genres.  For example, I am currently reading a Laura Lippman novel.  She’s a thriller writer.  Is is all gloom and doom?  Action?  No.  But it does cross into women’s fiction, psychological thriller, whodunit, and more…when you start with a plot or outline, you often do so with the idea (read: rule) that you are writing a romance or Christian fiction, or whatever, so those other genre elements get poo-pooed. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Do your own thing.  But remember, writing is hard work.  It sounds easy, but in the words of Nathanial Hawthorne, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” 

Fiction Friday: (On Sunday at 10pm). Heat Wave

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By Leslie Lindsay

 

What a week!  I don’t know where my brain has been , but it sure hasn’t been on my blog.  Thanks for being patient with me.  Here’s an excerpt from my novel-in-progress.  So, it’s not Friday anymore and in about 12 hours, I will be updating this again…but well, I tried.  [Remember, this is orginal work]

Chicagoland was in the midst of a dry spell.  Hot, oppressive heat clung to the horizon.  Sweat dripped, pooling in the small of my back.  I needed a shower.  I undressed and stood beneath the cool spray in the shower, tipped my head back and closed my eyes.  Even with the air conditioning on, I couldn’t get comfortable.  I traced my finger on the glass doors of the shower stall.  Joseph Douglas Munroe.  McKenna Clare.  Madison Grace. 

           When you doodle someone else’s name, it means you want to get to know them more. 

            Dr.  Joseph Douglas Munroe.  Dr. and Mrs. Munroe. 

            Steven Lawrence Kesselhoff.  I quickly wiped his name away with a swipe of my hand. 

           After turning off the shower, toweling off, and stepping out, I surveyed myself in the mirror.  I reached down and pinched a chunk of flabby skin circling my waist.  Loose skin.  Two kids will do that. If you can pinch an inch…I shook the voice away.  I had too much skin on my body. 

        I glanced to the bedroom door to make sure I was still alone.  Nothing worse than Joe walking in, leering at me when I am not at top form. He would never say anything negative – he wasn’t that kind of guy.   But I was alone.  I surveyed my profile.  My chin held more bulk than I cared to admit, my shoulders had thickened and my stomach protruded.  I tucked in my pelvis, pointing my tailbone down like my aerobics instructor had taught me.  Immediately, I looked taller, straighter.  And then I smiled, pressing my rounded breasts out and up slightly.  The veins across my chest crisscrossed, rivers of blue snaking across my body like a roadmap going nowhere.  I cupped my breasts with my hands, their weight surprisingly heavy. A new band of sweat developed under them.  I bit my lower lip.  I could still be sexy, couldn’t I? 

           I shook my head.  The towel I had twisted into a turban loosened, threatening to tumble to the floor.  I reached up to secure it, but on second thought, let it fall.  My wet hair jumbled on my head.  I raked my fingers through it, trying to tame the ringlets developing from the moisture.   Steve used to say my hair would look good shorter, “Why don’t you cut it?  I think girls look kind of sexy with short hair.”  I dismissed him, a wave of the hand and an eyeroll.  No one had short hair in college unless they were a lesbian.

         But as I got older, I admired women with short hair.  It seemed sophisticated.  Cute.  Easy.  But not sexy.  Definitely not sexy. 

         I wondered what Steve would say now?  Would the short hair somehow make up for the extra pounds?  Would he still find me sexy?

          Steve.

          My fingers, sweaty with humidity spread like wings amongst my chest. My nipples flattened from the heat and lack of stimulation. 

 

Write on, Wednesday: Naming Your Characters

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By Leslie Lindsay

A topic we love to discuss around my house is that of names.  It started even before we had children.  What names mean, what their connotations are, family names, you (ha) name it–we talked about it.  So, one would think that when it came time for me to write novels, the names would just pour out of me as if I were a walking-talking Beyond Jennifer and Jason.  Alas, it does not.  Product Details(image source, Amazon.com 9.19.12)

How difficult can it be to name your character?  Pick a name you like of the right gender and move on, right?  Not so fast.  When selecting the name of a charcter you have spent time, effort, and and hours crafting one must really be diligent on how they come about the name of a much-loved (or hated) character. 

I have a character I working with right now.  I call him Steve.  Where did this name come from?  Have I ever known any real-life Steves?  Well, kind of.  There was a boy who lived in my neighborhood growing up with this name.  But other than him, there wasn’t really any real-life inspiration.  Other than the fact that a girl in Nursing School got engaged to her boyfriend of several years.  His name?  Why, Steve of course! I remember telling her something like, “Steve.  That’s a good boyfriend name.”  I Don’t know…Yes, Steve is the boyfriend in my book. 

I am also working with Annie.  I wanted the character of Annie to be a mom–but also down-to-earth and smart.  She’s a former professional, so I thought ‘Anne’ worked well as a professional name.

Her counter-part is Bethany.  I don’t like Bethany.  And, quite frankly I don’t care for the name, either.  Beth for short, this character is plain and mousey. 

And then there is Joe.  Smart, sure.  Funny?  Not especially.  Serious, hardworking, devoted.  Yeah.  He’s your average-Joe. 

And then there are times that names will just come to you–as they have for me.  For example, I have this deep-seated need to write about someone named Melanie Dunbar.  In my mind’s eye, Melanie Dunbar is a free-lance, self-taught photographer with long blonde hair.  She has recently given up her job at the Chicago Tribune as an investigative reporteer in pursuit of a new career. 

Another character who keeps “coming” to me is Rebecca Hollinger.  I don’t yet know her story.  But, I hear her name whispered to me from time to time.  Write about me.  Write about me. 

A couple of my girlfriends suggested I look these names up on Google.  I promise myself I will.  I say, “Oh, the next time I feel stuck on my writing, I will do a little search-a-roo.” 

I did one today.

And guess what?  Melanie Dunbar is a free-lance photographer. 

How do you get your character’s names?  I’d love to hear!

Writer’s Workbook:

Write on, Wednesday: The Art of War for Writers

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By Leslie Lindsay

The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell (Dec 9, 2009) (retrieved from Amazon.com on 8.8.12)

We writers are an odd group.  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  I know because we work really hard at nothing all day.  No, no…that came out wrong, too.  It seems so easy to be a writer, but alas it is not.  You see, to be  a good writer, one must really have the drive.  One must really have patience, creativity, observation skills out the waazoo…and have thick skin.  Really thick rhino skin. 

About 10 days ago, I was really struggling with my writing.  I was cruising through my manuscript on my laptop nodding here and there and thinking, “Hummm…not bad.”  And then I got to a place where I thought the whole darn thing just sucked.  I wanted to stuff it all and move on with my life.  After all, I was packing on pounds from writing at my favorite coffee shop (I swear just smelling coffee and carbs adds inches),  and figured no one will really care about my story, I might as well just call it a day and get back to the gym.  (“Body by Caribou”). 

Then one of my writerly friends suggested THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS (James Scott Bell, 2009).  I loved this book!   I can’t tell you enough good things about it (you can read my review on GoodReads).  But here is one thing that really resonated with me: 

The long-term career writer needs these skills: (pg. 11-12)

  • Desire.  Hunger inside of you…sacrifice time and money and endure frustrations. 
  • Discipline.  You gotta produce.  Quota a day, 6 days a week.  Give yourself a word count and stick to it.
  • Committment to Craft.  You can’t just “dash off a book.”  You need to learn your craft to do it well. 
  • Patience.  It’s takes time.  But you can cut down the time if you have the three steps above (desire, discipline, and committment)
  • Honesty.  You gotta confront your weaknesses as a writer
  • Willingness to learn.  No chip on the shoulder here.  Learn all you can.  You can never stop learning.
  • Rhino Skin.  Learn from every rejection and don’t let rejection hold you back.
  • Long-term View.  Don’t think, “Do I have a book inside of me?”  Think:  “Do I have a writer inside of me?”  And answer YES!!
  • Talent.  This is the least important.  Everyone has some talent.  It’s what you do with it that counts.

How’d you do on that list?  Any weaknesses?  Be honest.  Can you turn them around?  The book actually suggests you journal about this list.  And then look back on it a year from now to see where you are in the process of becoming/being a writer, not “just” getting a book out. 

So, I have some revisions to work on…better write on, Wednesday!

Fiction Friday: Blast from the Past

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By Leslie Lindsay

Welcome back for another “Fiction Friday!” 

Here is an “out-take” from my novel-in-progress.  It just doesn’t add to the story, so I chose to remove it.  But I still kind of liked it.  Perhaps it will make it’s way into something else in the future? 

I find that I often go off on tangents like this to develop my characters, their backstory, and motivation.  It’s a way for me to “pre-write,” if you will, you know–get the juices flowing before I can tackle my real characters and their real problems. 

For now, I am saving all of my out-takes in a document on my computer.  Perhaps they will become inspiration for another project.

What do you do with the snippets that no longer work?  Okay, here goes:

“There was Ellen, and Conor. They were separated at college.  She was from a working-class Irish-American family who couldn’t afford to send her away to a nice college.  Instead, she went to a small in-state institution not really well-respected, but it was better than nothing.  Conor left for some high-ranked private school—Ellen wasn’t sure if it was Notre Dame or Boston University, her parents suggested she “forget about that boy…he’s too preppy for you.”   She did. 

She met Luke, who was a little too tall and a little too skinny, but he had a winning smile and a promising job at a local quarry—a supervisor position.  She married him, dropping out of college when she was three months pregnant.  They had a happy marriage—three kids—but he died in a terrible work-related accident.  

After her grieving was over, she lurked on the Internet, secretly considering joining an on-line dating service.  With the kids mostly grown and busy with their friends and their studies that Ellen felt lonely, displaced. 

It was one of those strange blasts-from-the-pasts when she typed his name into Google, her fingers feeling the phantom allure as they moved, almost on their own accord, Conor McIntyre.  He had moved back to the area, opened up a law practice about twenty miles away, McIntyre & Byrne.  Who was Byrne?  Ellen had sent an email mail to “contact us” and received a response within one day.  Needless to say, she didn’t need that on-line dating service.  And Byrne was a woman.  A married woman.” 

[As with every “Fiction Friday,” this is original work and does not represent anyone living or dead.  Any likiness are coincidences of the author’s imagination.  Please do not use this work as your own…thanks for reading!]

Write On, Wednesday: Dealing with Structure

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By Leslie Lindsay

 (image retrieved from myhsj.org)

I have my novel-in-process right here with me.  Yes, its in electronic form on my handy-dandy lap-top and in binder form sitting on the table next to me.  I have another binder full of hand-outs  hints, tips, ideas, inspiration from from time at the Write by the Lake writer’s retreat back in June. 

I don’t want to do anything about it.  Nope.  Nada.  No way.  “It’s hard!” I whine.  (Well, if it were easy, everyone would write a book).  But I know I need to.  Here’s what needs to happen:  I need to take all of my prose and turn into something a little more mangable.  I thought I was a person who could write without an outline…I preferred it that way.  Hey–if I knew every twist and turn ahead of time, what’s the point in writing?  For me, writing is a discovery process.  It’s about being in the moment and seeing where my fingers take me.  It’s pretty darn fun. 

But back to structure.  I started out with a scene (a good place to begin).  A darn good scene that gets everyone wondering what is going on (at least according to my critique group).  And then I go on…and each chapter is told in 1st person POV by two different characters: Annie and Steve.  I thought that was my structure.  Alas, I am challenged to think more about my current plan.  It has to do with the timing of significant events in the book.  Spring, Fall…you  get the idea.  Sometimes, I’ll have an event that happens in the fall and then next thing, I am talking about the dry grass in the summer time. 

It’s hard because I have been working on this novel for about 2 years now…so in my “real life,” seasons change.  But not necessarily in my book.  You see where this is going…I have some major work to do. 

And I don’t want to do it. 

But I have a feeling that once I get started, I won’t want to stop.  I will get into “the zone.” 

Here are some tips from my retreat:

  • Structure = Substance
  • Who cares about the 3-act plot…the 4-act structure is the way to go!
  • What are your story’s major/most important events?
  • What is the point-of-no-return complication/decision for the protagonist?
  • Pivotal complications (reversals and victories for your character)?
  • Turning point scenes (pacing is key here).  These can be internal (emotional) or external (plot) to the character
  • Big mid-point scene–completely changes direction of the story
  • Black moment and/or major setback (protagonist’s final test of character)
  • Climax and resolution

Often times, all of this is called your Plot Arc.  (I know, all of these fancy-pants terms!)

Okay, and sense this retreat was all about *bestsellers* and their turning points, I might as well recite what I learned in that regard: 

  • Turning points change everything and take your book to the next level/new direction
  • They keep the reader surprised and off-balance (turning pages)
  • They will still make sense in the scope of the book
  • They will also keep your characters on their toes (yes, they do have a life of their own)
  • Powerful, crucial scenes–use them to your story’s advantage! 

Okay–I think I am ready.  Write on, Wednesday!

For more tips, ideas, inspiration on writing-related things, see The How to Write Shop http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/ This is a FREE site, despite moniker.