writing tips

My Writing Process: Timelines

I must be a slow learner.  You’d think that after self publishing two stories (1 novel, 1 novella), I’d have figured out what works for me and stuck with it. But no – not me. In an effort to become a better writer, I’ve attended writers conferences and workshops. I’ve purchased books and followed different blogs. I was like a sponge soaking up everyone’s advice only to find out that what works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for others.

Take outlining.  I’ve tried it – not once – but several times. Do you know what it got me?  A case of writers block. Following an outline literally sucked the fun out of the process. No matter how many times I tried to implement the “you’ll write more books if you outline” strategy, I failed miserably.

Acceptance.

I had to accept that I’m me – just me – and because I’m me, my writing style is governed by the things that make me tick.  In my everyday life, I don’t live by lists.  I may take one grocery shopping but chances are I’ll forget something on it and pick up three things that aren’t.   I’m not a planner/plotter, I’m a pantzer and that’s okay. Don’t get me wrong. While an outline might rob me of my creative breath, a timeline lets me breathe easier.

I’ve accepted that I’m never going to write a story from beginning to end. Instead, I write scenes as they come to me. Most of the time they are in order but there are those times a character may get really excited and spout off about something that happens fifty pages into the future.

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Image:  Microsoft Word Clipart

This is where my timeline comes in handy. As I edit my story, I complete the timeline.  It allows me to visually see what’s going on. I’ve tried different writing programs but I guess I’m old school. There is something about the actual writing of the events on the timeline that solidifies the story in my mind. I feel like I am better able to identify inconsistencies in both the plot and characters.

If you haven’t found your process, a timeline might help. If you have, stay true to what works for you!

Happy writing!

-Deb

 

 

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DISTRACTIONS – THEY’RE EVERYWHERE

Like so many of you, I work a full-time job and squeeze in my writing here and there. I find it tremendously sad that the thing I enjoy most is the first thing that is sacrificed at the altar of not enough time.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels a bit brain-dead at the end of a work day. And to be honest, it’s not that my job is unduly stressful or that I work in an unpleasant environment. Hardly. I like busy days and I get along with my co-workers. But there is a certain frustration that lingers with me through out the work day. Story ideas are born. Characters stop by and introduce themselves and to be quite honest, distract me from my work. I might make a note or two, time allowing, and I usher them away. By the time five o’clock has rolled around, my eyes are tired from staring at a computer screen. And those characters – they are long gone…

A short drive home and I’m preparing dinner. I might go for a ride in the jeep just to unwind. And I might plan on getting a few words down only…

DISTRACTIONSDistractions.

Excuses.

Poor time management.

Whatever you want to call it – it robs many of us (writers) of valuable time. And it does so, so insidiously, we often fail to recognize it’s happening.

It starts out innocently enough. An internet search/fact check becomes a quick stop on Amazon… A look at a cute puppy video is followed by a notification of a friend’s Facebook update… A text message that leads to a phone call… A short break that turns into an hour in front of the television…

Before you know it, your best laid plans have failed and its time to go to bed and you didn’t make any headway on your latest WIP.

The frustration is real. So real in fact, that I decided I needed to be proactive.  Following the suggestions of many other writers, I made myself some rules.

  1. Turn off the cellphone.
  2. Turn off the television.
  3. Do not access the internet.
  4. Be committed.  Schedule writing time and stick to it.
  5. Go on DND (do not disturb) during scheduled writing time.

So this is the plan.

Got my fingers crossed that I’m disciplined enough to follow through.

 

When the Universe Speaks

It’s been a month but I can finally say that I feel like the old me!  Woohoo!  Good health is something to be appreciated!

After being sick for so long, it’s been difficult to get back into the groove of things as far as my writing goes.  I guess the universe, or my muse, or whatever decided I needed a push. Who would have thought it would come from Chinese carry-out? Seriously – when your fortune cookie starts offering writing advice, it’s time to stop making excuses!

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Let the writing begin!

The Importance of Supporting Characters – Thoughts on Jenny from Forrest Gump

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about supporting characters and the important roll they have in telling a story.

Okay, she's not Jenny buthttps---unsplash.com-juliacaesar I thought the pic is a good representation of the character.I love the movie Forrest Gump.  One of my favorite characters is Jenny Curran, played by Robin Wright (adult) and Hanna R. Hall (child). Jenny is such a complex character.  At face value she’s a wild child – going through life making terrible decisions.  But when you look deeper, you see a character that mirrors Forrest in many ways.

Like Forrest, Jenny is an outsider.  While the reasons they don’t fit into local society are different, they recognize they are both outcasts, so to speak. Forrest is born with physical and mental disabilities. Jenny is born into poverty and sexually abused by her father.  Neither have the ability to save themselves.  But because of their life experiences, they recognize that they are safe with each other and they develop a beautiful friendship.

As the story progresses, we see Jenny continually running from her past, from her pain, from her feelings.  Not only does she choose men who abuse her, she abuses herself. She is a person that lacks a sense of self worth.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know Forrest falls in love with Jenny.  It appears to be an unrequited love.  At this point in the movie, my husband and boys are furious with her. (One son calls her the Mega Skankosaurus which loosely translates into the swankiest dinosaur ever.) But I can’t help but feel sorry for her.  The guilt she carries knowing that she is hurting Forrest. And then thinking of her love for him and the confusion that it might bring.  Does she love him as friend?  Or is it more?  And if it’s a romantic love, would she be happy? Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe Forrest is a unwitting reminder of the past she longs to forget…

The beauty of Forrest is that he knows and accepts himself.

And then we have the night

Jenny and Forrest make love and afterwards, she runs away again.  Only this time, we see Forrest run, too.  While her running is more figurative, his is very literal.  He is actually running from the pain of a broken heart.

For me, it is this periodic intersecting of their lives that help to propel the story. Without Jenny, the story of Forrest Gump would be ho-hum at best.  It is precisely the solid multi-layer construction of a supporting character that helps make this story great.  And that is true for any story.  No matter how intriguing a main character might be, if the supporting cast is flat, the story will be too.  This is not to say that all of the supporting characters must be well-rounded.  However, those who frequently interact with the main character should be fleshed out. (Think Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.)

These are some questions I ask myself when considering my supporting cast – particularly those characters who are more important to the story.

Supporting Characters

So – what about you? Any thoughts or tips on how you develop your supporting characters?

 

 

 

 

 

Character Information Sheet

This past week, I was invited to speak about character development to a creative writing class at a local community college – specifically focusing on how I develop my characters.

To be honest, I never gave much thought to my process.  It was just something that happened.  But the speaking invitation gave me a reason to think about how it all occurs for me.

When it comes to my characters, I tend to spend a lot of time with them.  They hang out with me while I’m at work.  (I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t always convenient.  It’s not easy trying to focus on my job when my characters keep vying for my attention.)  They ride with me to the grocery store  and walk with me on the beach.  I guess you could say we develop a friendship of sorts.

As I learn about the characters, there’s so much information coming at me – it’s easy to forget the little details.  I’ve tried a variety of methods to keep my facts straight.  Not all of them have been successful.  If you do a google search, you’ll find bookoos of these type of forms.  After looking at several examples, I decided to make one that fit my needs.  If you find that the sheet works for you, please feel free to use it.

character development sheet 1