Sunday, March 31, 2013

Help! I need a title!

I am horrible at giving titles to things.  So, yesterday I posted on Facebook that I needed help with a title for one of my WIPs.  This question is bothering me, though, so I thought I'd post it here too and see if anyone has any ideas. 

Everytime I think I've settled on a title, I change my mind a few days later.  So, I thought I'd see if anyone has any ideas or suggestions.

Today I'm leaning toward: "Devin's Second Chance" but if you all HATE that, I'm open to suggestions.

So far, my ideas have included:
Image: © Scott Griessel | Dreamstime.com
  • Secrets and Second Chances
  • Devin's Second Chance
  • A Cowboy's Second Chance
  • Second Chances
(Okay - there was another title early on, but one of my critique partners said it sounded like a self-help book, so I haven't included it here.)

Do any of those pique your interest? 

***

For a little context, here is an introduction to the story:

Widowed cowboy Devin Trent, who is haunted by his wife's final angry words, meets Claire Best the same day she receives an ominous call from her doctor saying she needs more medical exams to test for cancer.

Drawn together by his matchmaking mom and an inexplicable attraction to one another, they scramble to protect each other from the pain they are sure they will cause one another. Claire fears telling Devin about her health fears, worried her situation will expose Devin's lingering grief that always seems so close to the surface, while Devin is convinced he could never be worthy of love again. 

Can Devin forgive himself and can Claire come to trust their love enough to share her secret before it is too late and they lose their chance at happily-ever-after?


***

I'm open to ideas!!! :)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing - My 6 Step File Management Plan

The last time my writing group met, someone asked me about my file management process.  After a brief chat, that individual looked at me horrified, aghast at my multi-leveled, redundant system, but I'm not going to change.  I'm okay with my paranoia.  ;)

I also have a huge box of old CDs and DVDs.
Image: © Carloscastilla | Dreamstime.com
Some people say they would grab their photos if ever faced with a fire.  Not me.  For years, I would have grabbed my computer or, rather, the stories I've written.  Thankfully, I now have a new system, so I can skip over the computer and go for something else, like the photos - wait a minute, I back up my photos the same way I do my writing files, so what would I grab? Shoes?

I used to email copies of my word files to myself, so I had a copy of my work in case something dastardly happened to my computer, but I wasn't very good at remembering to do that regularly and I'd also end up with heaps of emails clogging my email account.  My new approach eliminates those problems.

My 6 Step File Management Plan
  1. When I start a new story, I create a new folder inside my "Writing" folder.  The name of this new folder is usually my characters' names.
  2. Then, I save every word file in that folder with the name of the project (usually the characters' names again) and the date.  Occasionally I'll also include something specific if applicable, like "outline" or something like that. 
  3. Then, each day I work on that file, I start by doing a "save as" with the new date. Yes, this means I have a lot of files, but it also means that I have a lot of back ups if suddenly my file becomes corrupt or I accidently delete a section I really like or whatever.   This is based on the method of file management we do at my day job.
  4. When the number of files becomes too onerous to sort through or when I get to the end of the project, I will create a new sub-folder called "Obsolete."  I move my older files into this folder.  I never delete anything.  Again, this is inspired by what we do at my day job.
  5. Then, I have my folders so they automatically back up to the "cloud."  Every file in the folder, including each new one I create, is automatically backed up without me having to do anything.  I've heard of people using SugarSync and DropBox, but I expect there are a lot of other similar resources.  Make sure you check them out and that you are comfortable with them before uploading anything.  Also, depending on the size of your files, some cloud storage sites are free.  I have also chosen to back up photos, which can be quite large, so I pay for a larger account.
  6. Then, about once a month, I back-up my computer files onto an external hard drive. 
Voila!  There is my system.

Do you share my paranoia?  Do you have any other tips or tricks to manage your files? 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Writing in Layers

Sometimes, when you layer you have to
think about how everything will balance.
© Dzianis Miraniuk | Dreamstime.com
In my critique group, there are a couple of people who can write a scene the day it is submitted for review.  I marvel at that.  If I sent my pages that first day, they would probably toss me out of the group.  I need days to edit, tweak and modify what I've written.
 
My first draft is written quickly.  I don't worry about having the exact words or dialogue, then I go back and layer in details, setting, emotion, and reactions.  This re-reading and layering process happens over and over.  My process can't be completed in one sitting or even one day. 

It is obvious, based on my critique group's comments, when I haven't spent enough time editing before I submit my pages.  There will be comments asking for more emotion, or not understanding why people are reacting the way they are, etc. 

Or, alternatively, when I spend the time and add in those layers, those seem to be the parts that resonate.  Most, if not all of my critique partners, will comment on some of those last polished sentences and layered information.  When I get check marks beside a particular section by all critique partners, I know I did what I needed to do and it feels good.

***

How do you write?  Do you write your first draft quickly then edit a lot after?  Or, do you make your first draft as clean as possible as you write it?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Alberta - David Thompson Highway, Easter, and Ticks

Last year, on the way to Easter dinner, my hubby and I decided to take a scenic drive through the mountains.  This was definately the long route, but it was beautiful. 

My hubby had packed his camera, so we made several stops along the way too, which was great.  Too often, I think, it is easy to just admire the view through the windshield and you miss some of the true experience. 

Here is my hubby with his camera and
tripod set up along the shoulder of the road. 
(Yes, I was worried about passing cars. 
No, he wasn't.)
So, our route was to go from Calgary to Banff National Park.  We traveled through the park along the Trans-Canada Highway (aka Highway #1, which connects Canada from Pacific coast to Atlantic coast).  Then, we turned on to the David Thompson Highway, named for an early explorer and map maker. 

David Thompson, who lived from 1770 to 1857, was busy all over North America.  They say he mapped over 3.9 million square kilometers (again, for reference, Great Britain is just under 230,000 square kilometers).  He started his surveying and fur trading career with the Hudson's Bay Company, which was established in 1670 and is still in business today (!), then Thompson moved to the North West Company, etc.   

But enough of the history lesson...

Isn't it beautiful?

This was one of our last stops.

Here's a pic of me from that day...
tick free for the moment...
While we were out, I walked around a bit, off the road.  I didn't feel comfortable on the shoulder.  Although there wasn't a lot of traffic, the cars that did come were flying by. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I like to think I'm just interested in self-preservation.

In retrospect, this wasn't my best decision.

Even though there was snow every where, I came to learn that spring was in the air. I don't know where I was struck, but at some point in my excursion a whole family of hungry ticks decided I looked tasty. 

I found my first one when I was in the car, about twenty minutes from our last stop.  Then I found another.

When we arrived at my family's house, I found another. 

At that point, I asked my mom and my sister to help me.  (My hubby and brother in law laughed at me and went to watch hockey on TV... Hmm... I need to remember that for the future. ;) )  They combed through my giant mass of curls, bit by bit.  (Do you have any idea what curly hair looks like after being searched with a fine tooth comb one tiny section at a time?  I'll just say it was good I didn't have to go into public.)  Still, no one really thought we'd find another tick.  I mean, really... people talk about find a tick or two.  I'd already found three.  It was unlikely we'd find more.  

My luck was a little different.  After many screams and horrified gasps, we discovered a troop of the little bloodsuckers were still trying to set up house at the back of my neck!!  The final count was seven.  Yes, SEVEN!!!  One even tried to jump ship and settle on my mom's head.  If you are ever in this situation, please beware!  The little creeps are fast... they jump and everything!

I swear, as I write this, I can feel bugs crawling all over my skin right now. *itch, itch, itch* 

My sister collected one and stuck it in a jar, in case I started to show signs of lyme disease or some other horrible infection. We'd googled, so we understood the risks. ;) That little guy lived in a jar on my kitchen counter for a long time.  My hubby finally threw it away when it appeared I'd survived the tick's war on my head with nothing more serious than icky memories.

My family has requested that I don't bring any extra guests to Easter this year.

***

Have you had a beautiful day get sidetracked by an unexpected multi-legged critter?  Do you have a tick experience you'd like to share?  We can create a support group. ;)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Writing through the Fog

I moved last August, and now I have a much longer commute.  This means I now *get* to drive in a wide range of weather conditions.  But, no matter whether it is foggy or clear, I still know I will end up at work in the morning and at home in the evening.
Some days are better than others...

The days when I can see all the way to the mountains are great driving days.  My commute is beautiful and easy.  However, when I'm in my car with a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel, I have to decide either to forge ahead or go back and hope the weather gods play nice later. 

In some ways, my writing process is a bit like this. 

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post on how I am a little bit pantser, plotter and quilter when I write my novel as a whole, but I think I'm also a little bit pantser, plotter and quilter when I write scenes too. 

There are some scenes I write that I know exactly how they will work before I start typing - I know the point of view, the setting, bits of the dialogue, the action and what will happen next. 

But it isn't always like that. 

There are times when I sit down to write and only have a vague understanding of where I want to be at the end of the scene (hopefully), but I have no idea what it is going to look like on the way to that point.  I start typing, and sometimes the fog clears away quickly, but sometimes it just keeps hanging on.  There are times when I write a sentence or two, then stop and hit return a few times then write a completely different paragraph or a variation of the previous. 

I figure this is just a form of writer's block.

What I find helps me is to realize that I just need to have something on the page, and not to worry too much about finding exactly the right word, mood, point of view, dialogue, etc. I can modify, edit and tweak a page of text, but I can't fix a blank page.  So, I've learned to just keep plugging away, and I am usually pleasantly surprised at how it turns out. 

Do you ever start writing a scene in the fog?  Or do you need to see all the way to the destination before you begin? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Plotters, Pantsers and Quilters

On Saturday, March 9th, Sarah Kades and Mahrie G. Reid lead a great, lively workshop on "What is your writing style? Plotters, Pantsers and Quilters"
What is your writing style?
(Image: © Photoroller
|Dreamstime.com)

So, I decided to consider my own process.  I've experimented with a lot of different approaches to writing over the years, and, oddly enough, I found something beneficial about each. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the terms, here is my definition (you may have a different one):
  • Plotters like to have a detailed outline before they sit down to write the scenes.  They like to know everything about their characters and the plot. 
  • Pantsers like to "write by the seat of their pants." They sit down and start writing without first developing a detailed outline.
  • Quilters write scenes, sometimes out of sequence, and then quilt them together later. 
(Another take on the various writing approaches is George R. R. Martin's idea of architects and gardeners, which is perhaps a more elegant description.)

For the first novel length story I wrote, I started with a scene.  It came to me in vivid detail, and I knew it was likely from the climax of the story.  Then I had to go back and figure out who these characters were and why they were in this situation.  Then another scene came to me.  Then another.  Based on those few scenes, I knew where I was going and the rest just followed.  My story was also placed loosely within the context of historical events so I had a larger framework for my story to give it a bit of structure.  After this story, I was hooked on writing!  Yay!

I wrote a few other novel length stories after that first one, prior to joining ARWA, the writing group I belong to now. One was a sequel to the first story, so I knew who the main character was and my story developed from there.  The first scene of that story was inspired by an article I'd read in an 19th century newspaper, and from there everything fell into place.  It was again tied loosely to historical events, so that helped drive the story in some ways - I knew my characters had to be here or there at different times.  The next one I wrote was contemporary.  Again, it started with a scene, but in this case the scene ended with the death of everyone in the scene... so I needed to figure out what happened and what the consequences would be.  It ended up that this scene could have been a prologue, but I decided it wasn't actually necessary for the book to work.  To me, the risk of the quilter approach might be to place value the various scenes and try to make them fit, whether or not they actually have a function in the story. 

It is around this time that joined ARWA, which was just starting a  program designed to guide people through writing a book from start to finish.  Their approach was quite systematic.  It was a plotter's approach.  So, I tried it.  The researcher and organizer in me rejoiced.  So, I tried it again for my next book.  At the end of that second one, I was bored silly of the story way before I finished the final scene.  There was nothing new and exciting.  I'd known exactly where I was going for months, so it felt like I was just filling in the blanks.  It got me to "The End" (though that really hasn't been an issue for me) but my passion for that story had faded. To me, that boredom is the risk of the plotter approach.

Then, on a different story, I went fully into pantser mode, and I got stuck.  So, I rewrote the beginning (quite substantially).  But, when I started moving through the story again, I came to another point I couldn't resolve. So, I started plotting to get past that point.  To me, the potential of extensive rewrites is the risk of the pantser approach. 

So, my typical process now is to have a scene or a few characters to start, then I brainstorm the conflict, a few turning points, the black moment, and the climax.  These items may or not be more than a few scribbles on a white board.  From there, I wing it.  If I get stuck, I do more plot development and brainstorming. 

To be fair to my determination to learn to write, I've also read a lot of "how to" books on writing and attended a lot of writing workshops over the years. I think my brain has likely absorbed some of those exercises and approaches, and I suspect I may use some techniques now without as much conscious thought.  So, perhaps when I think I'm pantsing, I may be doing more plotting than I realize.  Who knows?  All I know is that it works for me!

I guess what I'm saying is that I am not fully pantser, plotter, or quilter - but I've enjoyed experimenting with and learning about all of them.  It is also reassuring to know if / when I get stuck on a story I have the knowledge and experience to find away around the problem.  I wouldn't have had that if I hadn't taken the time to explore the different writing styles and techniques.

Do you have a writing style?  If so, what is it?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Critique Groups and Beta Readers

My Critique Group


My critique group has been meeting since 2011, and it is still going strong! (Thanks, Sarah, June and Deb, you are awesome!) 

When we first started meeting, we were quite formal, but as time passed we've adjusted our process - and not always in a conscious way.  It developed fluidly.  And, it seems to work for us.  (If you are curious, I described our approach in an earlier post.)

For example, there are a lot of "how to create an effective critique group" articles that say the person being critiqued should not ask questions.  They shouldn't speak.  I suppose it is because the writing should stand on its own - the writer will not be beside the reader, explaining things that aren't clear.  But, my critique group is not like that. At all. 

And, we like it that way.  (Yes, we are true rebels. ;) )

Perhaps it is because we are reading excerpts that are by no means a final draft, so sometimes we need extra input. The critiquers and the writer discuss various points: we argue, we brainstorm, we try to find solutions, we are encouraging, and we are candid but constructive. 

Don't get me wrong, it isn't always easy to hear criticism, and there are times when we might feel a bit defensive.  But, in the end, the feedback is always important.  How else would we learn and develop our craft?

Giving and receiving feedback can be a
great way to learn the craft of writing too!
(Image: © Palto | Dreamstime.com)

The Importance of Other People's Opinions


Which brings me to another thing I've been thinking about for a while - I wish people wouldn't publish before getting honest feedback and responding to it (if appropriate). 

I think there are a lot of people who pursue publishing too early.  By all means, write at a fast pace if that is what you do, but before you send your work to someone to fix spelling and grammar, make sure you send your work to someone who can offer comment on your scenes and story.  Yes, this is something indie writers in particular need to think about since they control their publishing process - but it seems to me, based on some of the stories I've read, that editors in publishing houses may not have the time to really give comprehensive feedback either.

So, it'd be great if every writer had a troop of beta readers or critique partners who'll give them honest opinions that they can consider and possibly address before sending their stories into the world. 

12 Candid Comments

You need someone who'll say:
  1. I think you've assumed that based on what has happened, that the reader will know what the character is feeling, but that isn't the case.
  2. There is no emotion in these two scenes.  Give me something. It doesn't have to be much... just something.
  3. The tone of this scene might be too light to fit with what's just happened in the previous scene.
  4. I wanted to shake your heroine in that scene.   Why is she so snotty / bitchy?
  5. What is the purpose of this scene?  Why is it here at all?
  6. I find this confusing.
  7. I hate your hero / heroine right now.
  8. I can't believe your character would behave this way.
  9. I wouldn't have continued reading your story after that.
  10. The heroine needs to quit pushing the hero away, because right now I don't see why he keeps coming back.
  11. That isn't heroic.
  12. Why would the hero want to be with this heroine?  Or vice versa?
I've received those comments over the last two years.  I didn't receive them all at once (that would be a little overwhelming), and not all critiquers agreed with each one of those... but the words were still important for me to hear. 

I've been given a lot of incredibly positive feedback too, but I try to pay special attention when someone flags an opportunity for improvement.  It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will love my stories - I think that is just reality you have to accept as a writer - but I wouldn't want to pass over an opportunity to learn and improve. 

12 Happy Comments

You also need to have people who'll let you know, without bias, what you are doing right or, rather, what they really think works - though, again, not all critiquers will like the same things.  There have been times when one critiquer will love something that another one will hate.  It is all part of the process. 

Here are some "Woo hoo - maybe I don't suck at this" comments I've received:
  1. I just love your writing.
  2. Very compelling imagery.
  3. You rocked / nailed it.
  4. You are a master at writing an emotional and erotic love scene and then letting out a bit of humor to make it all so real.
  5. I really felt for her in this scene.
  6. It all flows and works together beautifully.
  7. Great pacing.
  8. These people seem quite real.
  9. You've set up a ton of potential conflict, questions, attraction.
  10. I think this is an excellent first scene.
  11. I particularly like how you have a serious tone intermingled with lighter moments.
  12. (And perhaps the very best) I want to read more.

Accepting Feedback


As I mentioned earlier, there are times when my critique group doesn't collectively agree on an excerpt, which is why having three opinions is so helpful.  If all the readers see the same problem, then I know it is an issue that must be addressed.  If only one reader flags something, I still need to consider their opinion and decide if I need to take action.   And, before I finalize my draft, I'll also be seeking beta readers who can take a fresh look at my story. 

However, I fear some writers believe their story is exactly the way they want it and consequently they don't want to change it.

Maybe they are right (sometimes you do need to stand up for your story / your writing and do what feels right) but there are some books I've read where I think if the author had listened to feedback from knowledgeable people, their book would have been so much stronger.  When I read those books, I feel badly for the author because it seems they've missed an opportunity to have a much better story.

That said, there are some truths we must accept: no story will be loved by everyone, and, as much as we may aim for perfection, there is no such thing.

But, I hope we all want to write the best story we can and will use all opportunities to improve our writing skills.

*******

Are you in a critique group?  Have you sent your work to beta readers?  What are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Alberta - Wow, look at the size of that... bridge!

Since buying our travel trailer a few years ago, we have done a lot of camping or, as my hubby prefers to think of it, RVing throughout Alberta.  A couple of years ago, we went to southern part of the province, which is known for its wind.  The huge armies of wind turbines in the area is evidence of this gusty reputation (so it isn't just my own opinion).

That weekend, we stayed in a little campground with half-dead trees the width of broom handles. These little sticks did nothing to slow the wind before it slammed into our trailer.  Thankfully, though, when we went sightseeing, the wind let up. Yay!





The highlight of the trip was the bridge in Lethbridge. Sure, I’d seen that bridge every time I’d been to Lethbridge – and, over the course of my life time, that was a lot - but I can’t remember the last time I went down to the base of the bridge to Indian Battle Park and looked up at it. Like that scene in Dead Poets Society when they stand on their desks… sometimes you need to experience familiar things from a new perspective. 

No one is allowed to walk on the bridge, but I wonder what it'd be like to stand in the middle, on the top and look down...  Then again, I think I could give myself vertigo just imagining it. 

The High Level Bridge (aka the Lethbridge Viaduct), which opened in 1909, is beautiful. It is a steel trestle over the wide coulee of the Oldman River. The structure is over 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) long and just shy of 100 meters (314 feet) high. They say it is the largest railway bridge in Canada… maybe the world. 
 
The bridge is a striking piece of history, engineering and industrialization. The metal work appears lacy and delicate against the blue sky, when you stand at the base there is no mistaking the enduring strength of the structure.
 
Have you ever been awed by the engineering ingenuity still evident in the old structures in your own community?