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Monday, February 28, 2011

Need to Rethink Some Things

We had a very exciting Saturday. It was pouring rain that morning, and in the afternoon there were periods of hail. Later that night, the rain turned to SNOW!! Yep, we had another snowy adventure but a much more AWESOME one. I live in a town that sees snow maybe once every couple of years, and usually it's just a bit of slush. The snow came down in fluffs and I kept running around in it, catching it on my tongue and taking a ton of pictures. Around 11pm, it started to turn the parking lot at my condo white! We ended up getting about an inch (maybe a bit more). Here are some pics. Yay, snow!!

After I finished geeking out about the snow, I took some time on Sunday (during the Oscars) to rework the beginning of my WIP based on the comments from my crit group. I attended my first critique group last week and it was a very informative and rewarding process. I was so excited to share my pages with new people. The feedback was very positive overall, and I was beyond thrilled with that!! I couldn't believe they liked my character, liked the story I introduced, and were eager to hear more. OMG, they liked it! I also learned A LOT about how to make my pages stronger. Here are some of the main critiques my group had:

  1. Weave description into the action. Instead of saying "I was wearing this, this and this," say "I smoothed my sage green skirt" or "His clear blue eyes bore into mine."
  2. Describe more what the main character is thinking. This was a great one because as I'm writing, I already know what Maggie is thinking because I'm in her head. But the reader doesn't. Plus, my scenes were really short and I was struggling with how to make it longer and more interesting. Adding what Maggie thinks about what's happening is important for the reader to understand her character.
  3. Cut out action that slows down the movement of the story. Maggie is a florist. One of the first scenes is her setting up for a wedding. When I was writing, it felt weird to skip over her florist duties and skip to the more exciting part. But, as my crit group suggested, I can weave in more interesting details and what she's thinking into those more mundane actions to make it more interesting. Or, just cut them out all together. If it doesn't add to the story, take it out.
  4. Add a bit more backstory to help introduce the character. One of the first things I read on blogs was "Don't fill your first chapter with backstory," so I tried to avoid as much backstory as possible. I guess I left out too much :).
After working with the pages for a couple of hours, I realized that the way I began the story might not work. I also have to figure out a bit more about how the story is going to progress, what motivates Maggie, and her background. I thought I had it set, but now I'm not so sure. My first step will probably be to pow-wow with my writing friends, and then write out an outline to help organize the ideas and find a solid storyline.

A couple of writers have told me that if there are scenes I know I want in the story, then I should write those first and come back to the other parts later. Does that process work for you? How do you work to fill plot holes? I don't want to rely too much on other people for ideas because it's my story, after all. Do you work through plot problems on your own or bounce ideas off your friends?

Thanks for reading!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shiny Ideas & Snowy Adventures

Last week, I met with the super awesome L.T. Host for a little pow-wow on my book. She read the 10 pages I had and after some feedback, some margaritas and an arsenal of "How to Write" books she loaned to me, I'm feeling really good about moving forward with this whole writing thing. I think I can do this!

Armed with my "I can do this"-ness, I went straight home and wrote two more pages. This time I introduced a new character, Maggie's best friend, who I can totally picture in my mind and had fun writing some dialogue with the two friends. YAY-NESS! Then it was the weekend and my hubby and I had a scary snowy adventure that involved driving through the mountains in heavy snowfall and me thinking "Please don't let us skid off the edge of this cliff", and then took Sunday to have a blissfully dull day of errands and house cleaning. That was much better than thinking we might plummet to our deaths (OK not exactly, but kind of - we Southern Californians are not used to snowy roads).

Then, last night I was minding my own business - showering of all things - and was hit smack in the forehead with a...


This super awesome idea creates a new twist to Maggie's story and opens so many possibilities. It was so funny because earlier that day I read this post by Mia Hayson about what to do when you get a shiny new idea! Mentally following the flowchart, I decided to use the only writing utensil I had with me - my finger! I wrote some quick notes in the steam on the shower door so I wouldn't lose it. Then, I quickly finished rinsing, jumped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and ran for a pen and paper. I didn't have much time - the steam on the door was fading already! I made it back and wrote down everything on the door, and then some. The ends of a few words faded before I could write them, but I'm pretty sure I got everything.


This was my first experience with a shiny new idea that hit me like a stampeding yak, so now I know what you guys are talking about and how thrilling it is. But, this shiny idea also complicates things A LOT. I may need to create one of Adam Heine's outlines to help sort through this overflow of ideas. Still, all of this makes me even more excited to continue this journey.

Also, I'm attending my very first critique group on Thursday. I'm very excited to get new eyes on my writing and to help tear it apart because frankly, I need that. So yay for ideas! Yay for critique partners! Yay for margaritas! And yay for snow (provided we don't die)!

BTW, here's a pic of the snowy adventure (before it got dark and scary)...

And here it is before we descended the mountain. See the road? Yeah, we drove on that. Yikes!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Let the Writing Begin ... And Happy Valentine's Day!

On Friday, we got a special delivery from Fedex ... our brand-new computer! Woot woot! Now we have two computers so I can write while my hubby plays his online games, and all will be peaceful :). Though I still need to figure out an appropriate work area. Balancing the keyboard on my knees with the computer on a side table while I sit on the office couch isn't the most comfortable.

Now on to my more exciting news ... I have started writing! After an unsuccessful first try a few weeks ago (I may be able to salvage some of it, but probably not), I came up a better idea for how to open the book and just started typing on Saturday night. Six pages later, I'm feeling pretty good about it. Though I definitely need to go back and make more edits, add more descriptions, etc. etc. I could very well end up with a different beginning, but this one works for now. I have also toyed with the idea of a preface with a scene from Maggie's childhood, so we'll see.

Here are the things I've learned so far:
  1. It was easier to figure out how my character ticks once I started writing out her actions. See what fits, what feels natural. Once I get her personality set in my mind, she will tell me how she would handle a certain situation or what she does next.
  2. Not to expect a scene to come out right the first run-through. For me, it's easier to make it feel right once I had a slightly wrong version down on the page.
  3. Writing is a very cleansing process. The story has been bouncing around in my head for about a month and now I feel slightly less stressed. I was a bit intimidated with writing the beginning because I have to draw the reader in, introduce the character without a ton of backstory, start with a scene that gets the story in motion, etc. etc. A small fraction of the weight on my shoulders has been lifted.

Things I haven't figured out yet but need to soon:
  1. How to move from one scene to the next. I'm sure I'll figure out more ways to do this as I go besides having my character go to sleep.
  2. I need a main supporting character for Maggie so she's not so lonely. I want her to be a bit spunky, not a hermit with no friends or life. Maybe she has an assitant in her floral business? Or a best friend? Or a sibling? I'm still working on this one. I may need to brainstorm with my BFFs, who are awesome writers L.T. Host and Amanda Marie.
  3. How to make my story less predictable - a few curve balls so the reader doesn't quite know how the story will end. This, again, will probably come as I write more. I have a bunch of ideas but need to piece them together in a timeline.
  4. I'm still not 100% about Maggie's personality and character. I keep falling into the trap of making her act like me and I want her to be more interesting! Not that I'm totally boring (I hope) but if the reader is going to invest themselves in Maggie's story, she needs to be more exciting.
So that's my journey so far. Not quite a first chapter, but it's a start and I have some direction now. As always, I would love some guidance and advice from the more experienced writers out there.

Also, HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY and thanks for reading!

Monday, February 7, 2011

An Introduction

Good morning! Hope you all had a nice weekend. I changed the name of my blog today to "Novel Beginnings". I thought it was a bit more clever than my former title, which I put down just because I couldn't think of anything else at the time. Hope you like it :).

The Basic Idea
Today I would like to introduce you to my little story idea. My novel will be about Maggie, a woman in her late '20s who runs a pretty successful flower shop in the town of Melas, CA. It's not a very small town like in so many stories, but it's also not particlularly large. People know each other. They run into each other at the grocery store, at the Starbucks, while taking their dogs for walks. But there's also plenty of people in town who don't know each other, or don't really notice one another as they trudge through their lives with their blinders on. Maggie is the key to helping certain people connect through a unique gift of hers. What this gift is, you'll have to wait to find out! I intend this novel to be in the light romance category, with a healthy does of humor and a bit of the paranormal.

My Progress So Far
I have already taken a first stab at writing the first couple of pages, but after that exercise (and some more discussion with my loyal supporters, a.k.a. my husband and Lessa), I think I am going to start fresh. I was just reading some info about starting to write a novel here: It was very helpful because it warned me agains some very common newbie mistakes, particularly writing all the backstory first. That was the first thing I wanted to do, mostly for my own benefit, because I don't even know Maggie's whole backstory yet or exactly what her character's like yet. Is she spunky and outgoing? A little shy but strong-willed? Dramatic or down-to-earth? I don't know yet.

Also, my husband and I are looking to buy a new computer, that way we don't have to fight for who gets to use it! So once we get that I will have much more time to write and hope to have a first page to show you guys in the not-too-distant future. That's goal #1!

Questions For The Writers Out There
How do you get started on a new novel? Also, do you have any Web sites or other resources that you think would be helpful? I have a notebook where I jotted down some plot twists and the basic storyline. But it's a bit daunting to stare at the blank screen and find a way to begin. Also, how do you decide whether to write in first person or third person? I originally wanted it to be told in first person, but now I think I want to have it in third person with a narrator because it's easier to describe the visuals of the scene that way. I know there are no right or wrong answers to all of these, so maybe the best thing to do is just try a few different opening scenes and see which feels the best and gains the most momentum.

Also, I am always looking for other writers/bloggers to follow so I can learn from their experiences as well so I welcome any of those suggestions as well. Thanks and have a great day!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Perpetual "How Are You?" Dance

In my newfound desire to get into a literary mindset, I have decided to start writing whenever I get the urge to share an idea. Any idea, even if it's a bit of a rant like this one. So here goes...

Practically every weekday (usually more than once), I get yet another invitation to the perpetual "How Are You?" dance. Even though I despise the dance and would very much like to decline, I accept out of courtesy and reply with the appropriate and never-changing response "I'm fine, thank you, how are you?" Because although my dance partner initiated the request, he or she generally has no desire to stray from the same sequence of steps as every other day. "How Are You?" "I'm fine, thank you, how are you?" "Oh, good." And if I cut the dance short with a simple "I'm fine, thank you" and don't proceed with the proper dance step, I generally get an awkward glance because I didn't ask "how are you?" back. Or, if I throw in a complicated sashay of "Not that great", the simple twirl around the dance floor of polite niceties turns into a intricate rumba of "What's wrong" and the subsequent explanation.

And so the dance continues, day after day, with the same sequence of steps, and I have no clue how to break the cycle. I'm sure my many dance partners have no idea how much this dance annoys the heck out of me. And I'm too polite to tell them to shut up - pretty please - and stop asking "How are you" as their general greeting, because I know they don't really care or expect an answer any different than the one I always give. So I am doomed to keep dancing for now and hope that someday I will be greeted with a simple "Hello."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hey, I'm Blogging!

Hi there! Most of you who will read this probably already know me, so I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of details about who I am, what I like to do in my free time, blah, blah (plus it's in the "About Me" section anyway).

But, I'm starting this blog in order to get my creative juices flowing. My awesome writer best friend L.T. Host inspired me to try to write a novel. And I want to, but it's harder to get started than I hoped. I have a story idea, and a couple of main characters, and some general ideas, but getting down to type is hard. My hubby tells me to just start writing and let it flow. But as I write I think "this sounds stupid", then I get discouraged and go watch TV. I think I just keep talking myself out of it.

So please, writers of the world who are better at this than I am, please give me some words of encouragement or advice to help me get started on my first-ever novel! Having never taken a writing class besides high school English (and my college journalism classes), I am a bit of a novice. But I'd like to think that I have something to contribute :).