Understanding Your Style – From Leeanne Harris and DFW


There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” 
― W. Somerset Maugham


I promised you the low down on the various talks I attended, so here was the first one: “Understanding Your Style” by Leeanne Harris,

For those of us who struggle with how to put together a plot, this one can be a real eye-opener. You’ll notice my quote from Maugham at the top of this post. It’s there to underscore the truth of Leeanne’s talk. Her whole point was, there’s a range of plotting styles you can use that are perfectly legit. For those of you struggling with outlines that kill your story, don’t fret. For those of you accustomed to pantsing your way through a novel, this might help you, too.

There are a spectrum of plotting styles. (I tried to input a diagram, but I’m still learning WordPress and it doesn’t like me right now.) There’s the Linear plotter who knows the inside and outside of each character and plot point before ever sitting down to write a word. This kind of writer will frequently write a synopsis and not vary from it at all.

Advantages to this kind of plotting include:

  1. It’s faster. Fiewer plot holes to fill in.
  2. In general, these people can churn out more books than pantsers.
  3. Having an accurate synopsis to hand into the editor/publisher means they can take that puppy to the marketing (read: bank) personnel and sell the book on synopsis spec.

Disadvantages: 1. The author knows what’s going to happen and can get bored. As a middle-of-the-road pantser, I can tell you my characters want to tell me who they are and what they believe. If I don’t let them, they’ll go out on strike and I have no book. This is why I say a linear writer might find this post helpful. If you’re bored or blocked on your book, change things up. *Gasp* Cut loose and do a scene in the middle of your book, or write what author Holly Lisle refers to as a candy bar scene: that battle or sex bit you’ve looked forward to writing since you came up with the idea. Then go on from there or write other scenes. Your linear style may have stymied you, so go around that block. The outline is there to help you. If it’s not helping, it’s time to move to a different point on the plotting continuum.

You can therefore guess the pros and cons of the Pantser or Big Picture life.

Pros:

  1. The characters can come out much more lifelike, original and unplanned because they were.
  2. These stories are driven by a whole lot of passion and that gets transferred.

Cons

  1. Filling in holes, adding chapters, characters, scenes and what have you.
  2. You will need an understanding editor, agent, publisher and marketing team. They will want to try and sell your story based on your synopsis, but they’ll do it knowing the pantser’s synopsis and story may bare no resemblance to one another.

Linear writers feel out characters and write a synopsis. Everything is written in order.

Big picture authors write scenes as they pop into the writer’s head and can be moved at the writer’s whim. These people sometimes don’t write any sort of outline until events are about half done or even until they’re on the second draft and they have a clear notion of what the book’s really about. Big picture authors will leave notes or brackets to themselves to delineate scenes that still need to be written. (I do all of that, but I also I like to number my chapters as individual files. I had saved my first book as a huge file on my computer and the file became corrupted. TRAGICALLY, that means that file is no longer accessible and the world will never know what an enormous piece of trash that book was. I can tell you, though, this taught me to save my next book in small pieces: 1.5, 2, 2.5. Then if I need to switch a chapter, I change the name to 1.2 so it still fits numerically.)

Now we’ve all heard of plot and character driven plots, right? Did you know there’s a third type?

In a plot driven story, the situation occurs and the characters required by that situation present themselves:

  1. What women want.
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean
  3. Die Hard
  4. Belgariad, LOTR (and a whole host of fantasy)

In character-driven plots, the character dominates and drives everything – so much so that the story is even sometimes named after them:

  1. Sherlock Holmes
  2. James Bond
  3. Castle (T.V. Series)
  4. MacGyver

And then there are Theme-driven stories (I’d never heard of this category, but it makes sense to me.) In Theme-driven stories, the author gives the character a challenge and gives them a chance to solve the problem.

  1. Pride and Prejudice (and most of Austin’s books are about Pursuit of Love)
  2. Rob Roy (Honor)
  3. Braveheart (Pursuit of Freedom)
  4. Princess Bride (Pursuit of True Love)

Lastly, Leeanne talked about how plots come to authors. Characters can occur first, then you come up with a plot for that person to face. It seems to me that method makes the most sense with Theme-driven and Character-driven stories. Then you can build the story around that character. You can also find a situation and fit it with appropriate characters. This is ideal for Plot-driven tales.

Most of all, I want to reiterate Mr. Maugham’s statement. There is no correct way to do our job, folks. The only thing I know of that you must do as an author is write, so return to your word processors or note pads and do it, but let me know if this helps. I’d love to know how you approach this part of story-telling.

 

DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) Writer’s Conference

Me and James Rollins - How cool is that?

Me and James Rollins - How cool is that?

This event was enormous and awe-inspiring in the range of publishing professionals available to speak with. As a life-long, card carrying wall flower guild member, I’m proud to say I approached four agents and received four requests for submissions. The wine helped, but only a little bit. LOL Two of those requests were done while sober, folks, and I was not sloshed during the other two.

I hope I have the chance to return to another DFW conference someday. I hope it’s as a speaker.  The keynote speaker this year was James Rollins and he was cool, funny, down-to-earth accessible and a great motivator. If a guy who removes genitalia (cats) for a living can become a best selling author, so can you.

They had tons of classes to choose from, some better than others, of course, but many had difficult topics to cover. Believe it or not, Stacy Barney, editor at Putnam, had an easier time conveying voice than pacing. We all seemed to struggle to define pacing, but then, I’ve been told it’s something I need to work on.  The good news is, Stacy and Eddie Schneider (agent extraordinaire at JaBerwocky) agree that they’re willing to fix pacing and characterization if the voice is too compelling to let go. Comforting, yes?

I went knowing I’d meet Rashda (Mina) Khan, an online friend, but I made so

Vic and Author, Rashda (Mina) Khan

You Can't See Our Aching Feet On the Table

many other friends, I’m still humbled by the kind and supportive behavior. This was an uplifting place with authors GIVING THEIR PERSONAL EMAILS OUT. Yeah. No snarks creapt into the building.

The conference was not held at the hotel, which was mine and many others’ biggest complaint. It was a beautiful conference building, but it was also two city blocks from the nearest hotel. I didn’t mind the exercise, but my traveling buddy needed a walker and that distance wore her out on the first day after the hotel’s one and only van driver didn’t show to pick us up. Also, what happens to the conference’s reputation if one of their attendees gets into an accident walking or driving there? Needlessly tragic, in my opinion. I hope they use a larger hotel with conference rooms in the future. That said, great time. More details next week. Right now, I need to implement the critique I received from the amazing Ann Collette and hit submission mode. (Cue Mission Impossible music.)

And Now For Something Completely Different

I hinted at this AND the job change several months ago, (Changes Are A-Comin’) and both events happened sooner than I’d expected. Well, the job change was more or less on schedule, but I honestly thought the website might not happen until the end of the year. I’m happy to say Tessa Elwood, friend, website guru and awesome author was able to put this up for me despite her overwhelming workload. I can’t thank her enough.

Really.

It’s perfect timing, too, as I’ll come back from the DFW writers conference next week with all sorts of news, tips, etc and it will all go here on my beautiful new blog and website.

All of my previous posts are here and it’s much more tidy now, too. I think I’ll buy Tessa something large and chocolaty. ;D

 

Due to Difficulties Beyond Our Control…

Like loss of paid work, I will need to cut back on my blogging schedule.

Yup, I lost my job last week. It’s not a surprise. (See my previous posts on Fear.) It’s even a blessing in many ways. The job hasn’t suited me for years and my managers and I hadn’t seen eye to eye – ever – on many issues. Also, seventeen + years of employment at one location, one job means I am severely burned out of anything remotely resembling office administration and clerical work. Better to start fresh now and they were generous with the severance package.

So for those of you wondering, I am interested in freelance writing/editing/proofreading work. I have experience writing marketing and training materials.

So why do I think I’m going to slow down here? Because I can’t afford to rely on finding said freelance work all the time, which means I will continue to look for full time employment AND continue to write fiction and whatever else I think of. All of which means, I suspect this blog will suffer.

My apologies and I promise if I run across opportunities and/or stories that must be shared, you’ll be the first to know. I hope this won’t take long, but I simply don’t know what God has in mind.

That’s part of the adventure. 😀

Travel Scholarships to Southeast Asia

I think I may have posted about this in a past year, but it’s worth noting again:

It’s GRANT TIME!

This opportunity is open to students, emerging and non-professional writers and lovers of travel looking for a career change. The scholarship is open to all nationalities, however, you must have a high degree of proficiency in written English. The opportunity is designed to give you a taste of what it’s like to be a travel writer on the road, so you must be comfortable doing some travel on your own. Minimum age 18 by the date the scholarship application closes (April 23, 2012). A current passport with at least six months before expiry. You must be available as per the dates set out. Please note these dates are not changeable in any way; you must be available for the entire assignment. You should be an exceptional writer with a lust for adventure travel, a desire to experience new cultures (and eat them!) and above all, a burning desire to become a professional travel writer! Deadline April 23, 2012.