Writing Buddies & Why You Need One

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When writing The Dove of Hope, I had a full-time buddy that chatted with me on Google Hangouts every day.  We talked through plot problems, shared our favorite writing excerpts, and celebrated break throughs.  We both wrote 50K words that month and both finished our FIRST full-length novel (YAY!).

Now my “writing buddies” are whoever will listen! I grabbed my sisters (11 and 13) to help me outline R+B, a recent story idea.

SIDE NOTE: One of my favorite writing tips is think of what the reader would expect, and make the opposite happen.  

So I talked through a few scenes in R+B and asked my sisters what they thought would happen next or how a certain character would react.  Lemme tell you, it was SO MUCH MORE HELPFUL than I thought.  Originally, I thought I would listen to what they thought would happen and switch it up so readers wouldn’t expect the plot.

A few times they came up with the same thing I had outlined, so I made a note and moved on.  But the rest of the time – oh my goodness, they gave me such exciting ideas!!

So, here are the reasons why YOU need a buddy when writing – and like my sisters, they don’t have to be writers themselves.

 A fresh look is ALWAYS helpful.

I think we’ll all agree that it’s both ridiculously hard yet necessary to let someone read your work. Whether it’s during the outlining process or during DRAFT 5, you need it. Whenever you prefer to share your work.  A new set of eyes will help you find plot holes and weak characters.

 In the blogging world, it seems much easier to find people willing to talk which is a huge bonus to blogging for both writers who have support at home and those who don’t!

Encouragement is a must.

Seeing someone get excited after reading your story is amazing.  Yes, it’s hard to let someone in, but you’ll be glad you did.

My sisters have read (without my knowledge at the time…..girls)  a few of my stories. And the fact that they remember little things about the characters makes me SO SO happy.

You can work through problems.

Just like having my sisters’ opinions during outlining -it’ll save some time if you know your plot isn’t predictable BEFORE the words are on paper.

If you’re frustrated trying to figure out how to make your villain seem creepy or your climax more powerful, ask for ideas.

You don’t have to be an unsociable hermit.

We’ve all seen it happen during NaNoWriMo.  You lock yourself away, fingers flying, eyes locked on the screen.  Let’s not even talk about that last day when you’re scrambling to meet the goal and  may or may not be heard from for hours.

With a buddy, it forces you to come back to reality and chat – which is important.  And this is coming from an introvert 😉

It’s a 2 way street.

If you have a friend who is writing a story, then not only do you get help writing your masterpiece but you get to experience some one else’s amazing work! It’s so exciting to see my 11 year old sister ask for character name ideas for her own story after she helps me with mine. ❤

 

So next time you’re having some trouble with your plot, find someone willing to listen and start brainstorming! ((An amazing place to do this with online buddies is here – NaNoWriMo.org))

Do you have a writing buddy? Have you ever written a collab story (a HUGE goal of mine)?

 

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How I’m Plotting 

Plotting generally doesn’t work for me.   Extensive, scene-by-scene outlines make me lose excitement after plannin so many “boring” scenes.  AKA scenes that don’t involve fighting or romance.  But not plotting ends in me never starting because I never know where to start.

With the only novel I’ve finished – The Dove of Hope – I had a writing buddy that chatted with me daily so we kept each other writing without outlines to guide us. (SIDE NOTE: WRITING BUDDIES ARE AMazInG) We talked about endings and shared excerpts, but that was the extent of our plotting.

Without a friend to write with, I have a million unfinished projects.

When starting my most recent project, I decided to try a mixture of two plotting techniques – the zero plot method and the snowflake method.

To start off, an overview!

The Zero Plot Method

This method involves writing a quick draft without any details.  You describe the main events that happen with any important details and leave out the rest to fill in in Draft 1.  For example, here is part of my zero plot for the the first chapter or two for R&B, my current project.

R, a young widow, follows her mother-in-law M to her home town in Alaska after World War I. She is forced to sell her wedding ring in order to pay for room and food during the first few weeks. They come into town and discover it ridden with miners and railway workers after the Treadmill Mine incident the year before. In new surroundings, R is forced to quickly find a job, despite the abundance of workers, in order to open L’s broken-down shop. She runs into B, a handsome farmer, and M remarks how much he looks like O’s husband.  

Ignoring how rough it sounds – gotta love first/zero drafts – I wrote the main events in present tense to quickly get the words on paper. Try not to think too much about it and write through the whole story.

The Snowflake Method

This method takes plotting a little slower, leading up to a summary that basically is a zero draft.  I found the snowflake method on this site.  It takes you step by step, starting with a one-sentence summary:

A young widow struggles to open a shop in a growing Alaskan town while falling for a rich man.

You go on to create a quick one paragraph summary about each character in your novel. Next, you expand your one-sentence plot summary into a full fledged paragraph with characters and conflicts.

You continue to expand each sentence of the character and novel summaries into full paragraphs until you have a few pages of each. At this point, you have a zero draft and pages of character arc information.

The website leads you into creating a spreadsheet to lay out each scene from your summaries before writing the first draft.  I prefer not to do this step.  I also don’t expand the character summaries beyond one paragraph.  Once I go much farther past these steps, I lose inspiration and start drowning in the details.

Merging the Two

By the time I finished using these two methods (following the first steps of the snowflake method and jumping to the zero draft), I had created the following for my novel in a couple hours:

  • A list of major characters
  • A full paragraph description of each character’s goals, motivations, and a brief plot line.
  • A one-sentence book summary.
  • A full paragraph book summary with each major conflict and the ending.
  • A 3 page “zero draft” of my novel with major scenes involving the main characters.

What I didn’t create from the methods:

  • Full page character descriptions with small details like dislikes, favorites, physical descriptions, and backgrounds.
  • A spreadsheet of in-depth scene descriptions.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know that my favorite part of writing is creating characters.  That’s where the planning stops for me. I have a general view of what I want the character to be like but details don’t come out until I’m writing the first draft.  Once in the middle of writing, I create a more in-depth description of each character once I get a feel for them.

Remember, your plotting doesn’t have to be pretty either…this may or may not be a scene idea in my zero draft:

He has to find R is some amazing, exciting way and he FINALLY professes his love to her. Kisses may occur mwahaha

Then you start pounding out the words, filling in scenes here and there and most likely changing your outline as you go.

I’m excited to put these methods to use in all my unfinished projects!

How do you plot?  Or do you prefer to jump in without outlines?


 

Also, forgot last post, but I have a new blog design! I know…this is not the first time I’ve changed it.  But oh well!  🙂

The Importance of Planning

When I started the September writing challenge, I took a step back and evaluated my current novels for several hours. Attempted to plan and organize my ideas, I looked over my plots, settings, characters,  etc.  This led to lots of changes. A lot.  Despite not writing anything in September,  the changes I made will help in the future when I do finally sit down and write.

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Take The Davidson Effect. I almost threw out the entire story. Instead, I took out four main-ish characters, threw two of them into another story and the other two into my “character pit” for later use.

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The Stone Brothers? Changed the time period by 60 years. Considered (still am) taking out the two main characters. Added two characters from TDE into this story.  The new characters are actually going to visit the coffee shop (the main setting) from From Behind the Counter since they’re now in the same time period.  I love it when I can casually connect characters across novels!

Magical bird takes flight.

The Dove of Hope: changed the personality of the main character, developed all characters and plot more, and actually created an in-depth outline. Made the story more “mature” instead of sticking to my 13-year-old mind’s view of what makes a story exciting and interesting.

I cleaned up the Pinterest storyboards as well, cutting TDE down from about 422 pins to 120.  Now everything feels crisp and new!  My novels are slightly more planned now.

Even as a pantser,  I can appreciate how this helps.  Just like in chess, you have to plan your moves in advance to save you trouble later on.  Ignoring my lame attempt to connect the picture with the post (it’s late….), here are a few advantages of planning:

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// It helps create a more complex story.  Most people plan a couple scenes in their head before they write, but I’m talking about taking a look at each piece of the novel briefly.  Characters, plot lines, resolutions, surprises, relationships, etc.  It doesn’t have to be long, but try to figure out how each aspect of your novel is going to connect.

// You can decide what’s needed and what’s not before you start writing.  Granted, there will be things you have to remove and redo in your story afterwards but you could save yourself a little editing time if you determine beforehand whether or not to remove that one random character.

// You can evaluate the complete story.  I don’t know about you but when I wing it, I tend to forgot a few things.  With TDE, I rewrote the story several times and it just never worked.  Examining the story before I dive into writing yet another draft helped me determine what wasn’t working.  You don’t have to hope something will workout.

// You can avoid several roadblocks.  One of the fun things about being a pantser is even you don’t know what’s going to happen before you write it. It’s exciting to not have an idea before you get there.  Staring at a blank screen because you’re not sure where to go next, however, doesn’t help the story get done. If you write down a brief overview of a couple scenes (doesn’t have to be detailed or EVERY scene) you have in mind, it helps keep the story moving.  You may have an easier time transitioning from scene to scene if you know where you’re headed.

All of this said, you can’t plan everything.  Those times always come up when you’re a couple hours into writing, brow furrowed, eyes locked on the screen, cold tea beside you, enthralled in the story, and you add an impromptu plot twist or a new character.

What do you think about organizing before writing? Are you a planner or a pantser?

Tips on Character Creation //Guest Post: Abigayle Ellison

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on developing characters – a.k.a my favorite part of writing!  They are the core of any novel.  If your character can’t win the hearts of readers, chances are the readers won’t read his or her story.

Creating interesting characters, however, can be tough.  And every writer develops their characters differently, which is why I asked my friend and fellow blogger, Abigayle from The Left-Handed Typist, to share her thoughts on how to create great characters.

Without further ado, here’s Abi!


 

Hello, everyone! I am so happy to be doing a guest post for Madison today! One of the most important elements of your story is having strong characters. Unfortunately, while they can be born overnight, they need time to grow just like real people do. These are some ways I help develop my characters. 🙂

I have found that one of the most important things to do before planning a character is to know their environment. That seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Well, what this means for me is that I have to conceptualize a basicplot with a beginning, climax, goal, and ending. While it may seem like a lot of unnecessary, preparatory work, it will save you time in the end. Imagine having to rewrite a character because all the sudden the plot is going somewhere they wouldn’t. Oops.

The first thing I always do when I actually get to brainstorming a character is decide what they are going to look like. Appearance is so important! I think it’s even more important in a novel, because, unlike a movie, you can’t take it all in at once. Instead you get to feed it to the reader gradually. Still, appearance is rarely a conscious decision, as a character usually comes to me with a face. However, you would not believe how smart it is to write all the details of that image down. I can never keep the eye colors of my characters straight! In fact, that is one of the key things I do: write it downThis may be even more important to do with characters who are less prominent. They may need a defining feature to stand out in the reader’s mind and you’ll want to write that down, too.

The next thing I need to consider is personality. While some characters come in a package deal and never need much thoughtful development, that is rarely the case with a main character. Main characters need special attention and love. One of the best things I have found to make myself form the person before sticking them in testing situations is to answer a series of questions. Character charts can be very helpful for this (Google fictional character charts), as can putting your character through the Meyers-Briggs personality test. I like to be prepared before I start writing. 😉

After this basic development, I have to throw my character into the playing field. However, I like to be somewhat of a plotter. So, I give characters tests in my head. I try them out in scenes I’ve come up with and go through it all a million different ways until I’m comfortable with how each character responds and takes action. I’ve been complimented for having such solid first drafts. That is because they are the first written drafts. Every major scene has passed at least a dozen drafts in my head. I find that the most natural time to do this for me is at night when I should be sleeping instead of directing my mental novel film. Don’t ever pass by the chance to try it out when you’re in the perfect environment, even if it does mean trying out the different reactions on your face . . . in public. You know it’s worth it!

It is only at this point that I feel any character auditioning to be my lead lord or lady has the right to appear in my first draft. Now, for those of you who like to jump in cold turkey (pantsers), don’t worry! I have never known anyone to be able to start a story without an idea of what it’s about and who’s in it. Even if you don’t realize it, your brain has probably already decided on appearance, personality, and the like. I just like to go over it intentionally before I get started. If your characters form better under the pressure of your pen than the command of your brain, that’s perfectly fine. Do what you need to do. The point is that at the end of the day, you have a character that has formed into someone strong, unique, and impressive at the expense of your toil and tears. If your current method isn’t working for you, get creative! Maybe you need to just jump in, or maybe some more planning would benefit you.

How do you create strong characters?


 

Thank you, Abi, for the wonderful tips!! And for being my first ever guest writer! *squeals*  Be sure to check out her blog, The Left-Handed Typist, to read more of her posts.