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Missed by Ada Dore

Emma Shelley never thought about what life might be like without her husband. With two kids in tow, she decides to move away from where they had built a life in order to grieve in peace. Little does she know that her new little house in the suburbs is not a place to keep secrets. When nosy neighbor Maybeth Collins pokes around old wounds and opens a slew of new ones, Emma must make her choice: Face her past, or run away forever.

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Day one: NaNoWriMo

Blog, NaNoWriMo

Good day all!

Hopefully day one of NaNoWriMo is treating you well! Don’t forget it’s not too late to get started! And if you are on a time crunch check out dictation software to help get you word count up with out being strapped to the computer. I personally use this app . It’s $12.00 per year after the trial is over- which isn’t too bad even if you are on a budget. I love it because It has a very simple interface and I can pull it up quickly when an idea strikes. Also it’s super easy to copy and paste it in your notes, in an email, message. I usually just paste it into scrivener on my phone so it’s right where I need it.

How’s your writing journey going?

NaNoWriMo Prep 2019- Part 2

Blog, NaNoWriMo, outlining, Plot

Still nervous about NaNoWriMo? Don’t be!

This 50,000 words in a month challenge is a bear. But it is manageable with proper planning. If you are just coming to us, check out the first part of this post where I talk about story concepts and character development. If you’re all caught up let’s talk about plot!

Step #3: Save the Cat!

I’ve talked about Save the Cat! before and honestly, I think it is one of the best books on writing I have ever read. I think any beginning writer or anyone who might be stuck would benefit from reading it and writing in this style. Once you read this book, you’ll start to recognize the patterns everywhere. I watched movies & read books and picked out the different elements outlined in Save the Cat for practice and it has totally changed the way I approach writing plot.

It’s formulaic, but all books are- all good books. Readers crave a certain structure when it comes to stories. As a reader, you can sense when elements are off, and that is because they diverge from the beaten path. It is important to always remember that following a proven plot structure does not make you a sell-out or unoriginal, you are using the tools at your disposal for writing page-turning fiction. Your originality will spring from your writing style and all of the hundreds of creative choices that you will make along the way. And as you practice and get better at writing plot structures you will have an understanding and mastery of its rules- and only at that point should you even attempt to break them. Okay- pep talk over.

Without further ado, here are the 15 Beats of Save the Cat:

1. Opening Image

2. Set-Up

3. Theme Stated

4. Catalyst

5. Debate

6. Break into Act II

7. B-Story

8. Fun & Games

9. Midpoint

10. Bad Guys Close In

11. All is Lost

12. Break into Act III

13. Finale

14. Climax

15. Closing Image

It is important to note that the Set-Up, Debate, Fun & Games, Bad Guys Close In, and Finale are all multi-beat sections where the remaining, single-beat elements make their home.

(I’d like to point out that while the story beats of Save the Cat appear in this order, I do not personally recommend WRITING in this order. More on this to follow…)

I personally like to start with these bigger sections first, especially the Set-Up which is just laying the scene (i.e.- “Here we lay our scene in fair Verona”…) for the rest of the book, I used my “story concept” idea that doubles as my back cover blurb to build this section up. This way we can begin to see that there is a problem with the status quo. Also, we will want to introduce the main character, and possibly the main antagonist.

Then, I identified my climax. I figured this out in my character verb exercise. My main character, Magenta’s verb is “challenge”. The definition of challenge is- a call to take part in a contest or competition, especially a duel. So I thought, that’s it! The climax will be a duel between Magenta and the bad guys. So then the rest of my story will work its way towards that.

Then I backed up to the catalyst. This section ends the setup and launches us further into Act I. But I thought it would be important to Identify my climax before defining what I like to think of as “the beginning of the story” aka the Catalyst.

Initially, I had both of my side characters act as the catalyst. They aren’t fighters like my MC and they might need protection, perhaps they are running away from a mutated dog that is chasing them down and Magenta helps. The catalyst always informs your MC of the problem, it is something that happens to them that alerts them that a change might be needed.

We then move into the Debate phase (the second half of Act I) where the hero is presented with all sorts of reasons why or why not THEY specifically should be a part of the solution to the problem you set up earlier. Of course they should be, otherwise, there is no story. But MC’s are silly and don’t know that they are the MC’s. There should be something holding them back, something pushing them forward, etc. Multiple factors from multiple aspects of the set up that are pushing and pulling them until finally, they make a decision.

This is the Break into Act II. This is always an active decision (remember the active verbs we gave our characters?) made by the character. They must act. Something must change their minds. Now for me, my side character and my MC travel to the “Place of Authority” to report or bring the mutated dog. On the journey Mag realizes what she does not in fact care for Side-Character A. Even though they are to be allies, I’ve decided to inject a little bit of tension between them. They then arrive at this “place of Authority” and they make their case, Mag is relieved to go her separate ways and the story is seemingly over until she notices something suspicious and follows the trail. She then learns that not only does the “Place of Authority” know about the poisoning/mutating of the wildlife, but they are capitalizing on it. Perhaps there is a hidden facility with all of these experiments and captive animals. Well, now she realizes that her home life cannot resume as is- she knows too much now and cannot return to the status quo. And the “Place of Authority” isn’t going to take care of the problem, so she needs to find another means. She hooks back up with Side-character A, and they go on a journey for more information.

This brings us to Fun & Games. You’ll notice the previous beat was the Break into Act II. That means everything so far has been Act I. So now we have entered Act II, which has two parts, bisected by the midpoint. We will hang out in the first section, Fun & Games, from the Break into Act II until the Midpoint. This is a really beefy section and it is a huge part of the reason why we pick up books to read in the first place. This is the FUN, flashy part that we advertise on our back covers that draws someone in. This is Katniss entering the capitol & getting paraded around, this is Luke infiltrating the Death Star to save Leia, this is Harry taking his first classes at Hogwarts. It’s still kind of fun at this point. Your character should still have ups and downs, but not major ones (save those for later).

For me, we will be exploring the woods a little bit more, we will be learning more about the poisoning & mutated animals. So my F&G section will look a little like this: they travel somewhere, they arrive & earn something new, then they must leave & arrive somewhere else & they learn something new & they are forced to leave, and so on and so forth. The plot goes up & down in the action, all the while each time they are forced to leave a location it becomes more and more dangerous for my characters. Their enemies get stronger, the information they learn becomes more devastating until it comes to a head at the midpoint.

Within the Fun & Games section, there is an important beat you will not want to miss. This is the B-story, it is found right after this section begins, usually, your character will meet someone new that was not in Act I at all. This is why I changed my plot so that Magenta meets Side-Character A in the beginning as the catalyst, then Side-Character B in the B-Story instead of both during the catalyst. Your B-story character will remind you of the theme (more on that later) and they are usually a helper. Think Han Solo, Ron Weasley, and Haymitch Abernathy. They will introduce the secondary story, the underlying heart of it which often comes with introducing the main character to the world AS IT IS- not how the MC initially perceived it. This character will add value to the MC’s team often by bringing some sort of knowledge, experience or skill. Additionally, oftentimes there will be a love story if your genre is not already romance. (Han & Leia, Ron & Hermoine, and let us not forget, it was Haymitch’s idea that Peeta and Katniss act like a couple). all of these connections and relationships tell us more about the story (not the actionable plot), but the actual heart of the story, why it matters, who we are fighting for, etc. So while you are bouncing along in your Fun & Games it might be prudent in the slow moments to inject some B-Story elements to develop what you’ve introduced in the B-Story beat.

Great, are you still with me? Because we have finally arrived at the midpoint. Before we dig in, let me say this. The Midpoint is not the Climax. This is not the point of highest tension. It is a pivot point that leads us into the next section, the Bad Guys Close in. So If Fun & Games is, you know, fun, then things begin to get serious from here on out and the Midpoint kicks this off.

Some examples of midpoints: Katniss enters the Hunger Games arena; Harry, Ron, & Hermione defeat the Troll on Halloween; Luke, Leia, & Han escape the Death Star. These scenes all change the course of how things were going, Katniss leaves the F&G of the capitol and enters the Thunderdome, the course of the book now has a different tone; Ron, Harry, & Hermione solidify their friendship & Hermione is an official part of the Gang; Samesies with Leia. You’ll notice that Harry Potter & Star Wars’ midpoints are both rather positive in this sense, whereas in the Hunger Games, Katniss’s midpoint is rather negative, there is no escaping now.

Save the Cat refers to these as False Victories and False Defeats respectively. So Luke & Harry get a win (but it’s not the BIG win- hence false victory), but the story is not over yet, still, things are going to get dangerous despite this.

For the Hunger games, it’s vice versa, Katniss hasn’t lost yet, there is still hope, there is still time to turn things around. But this is the lowest point SO FAR- definitely not a victory, so it must be a defeat. But it is not the last battle and there is still a chance to win.

Your Fun & Games section will be leading up to the Midpoint. If your Midpoint is a false Victory then typically, your Fun & Games section will take an upward path of small victories.

If your midpoint is a False Defeat, then your Fun & Games section will take a downward path of smaller defeats.

For example, Harry gets a wand, he is gifted Hedwig, he gets to ride an awesome train, meets Ron, gets sorted into Gryffindor, he takes his first lessons & flies a broom. These are all really cool experiences that take Harry on a definite upward path. Now it’s important to note that there still needs to be some challenges along the way. For example, Harry learns about Voldemort for the first time, he meets nasty Draco Malfoy, he nearly gets sorted into Slytherin, and he has a hard time in Potions class with Snape. These negative beats help maintain the balance of the Fun & Games, they propel the story forward they create intrigue and maintain conflict throughout the upward path. We can see that the negatives DO NOT outweigh or overwhelm the positives at this point, which is why it is an upward path.

In the Hunger Games, Katniss is separated from her family, she is stuck with Peeta & Haymitch, she has to get interviewed on national television, she has to go through beauty boot camp with Cinna, she has to train with the other competitors, she has to deal with Effie, she has to do the whole show and dance before the Games themselves. This is a definite downward path that leads up to the actual Hunger Games themselves. Now her story is peppered with some positive moments that balance out the Fun & Games section. She has a sweet moment with Peeta when she realizes they are on the same side, she excels in the training and intimidates the capitol, she meets & bonds with Cinna, she wows Caesar Flickerman & the crowds during her interview with her dress- these are contrasting beats that do not contradict the downward path, but accentuate it while break up all of the drudgeries of the capitol.

You’ll notice that the Hunger Games is a much, much darker story than Harry Potter or Star Wars, that is really attributed to the False Defeat & the downward path of the F&G. So if you want a lighter book, go for a False Victory, if you want to go Dark try a false defeat. This isn’t always the case, but this will already lend your plot to a darker or lighter story within the structure itself. Your reader will inherently recognize these patterns even if they cannot explicitly identify them.

I know you’re probably annoyed at this point that I keep shifting back and forth between story beats. But this is typically how the writing process goes. You make decisions, you have to go back and make sure everything is in unison. The Midpoint is a pivotal point of the story, if you change your midpoint, you might have to change your Fun & Games. So it is really important to not get too hung up on writing linearly. You almost have to write all of these sections together in unison to avoid drastic changes and re-writes.

Anyway, identify your midpoint. For me, Magenta & her team finally are able to enter the heart of the wood, the very deepest part that people don’t really go into. It is basically quarantined from the rest of the woods. And this is a False Victory. They have finally arrived but their goal is not achieved and the story is far from over.

Next time, we will cover the Bad Guys Close in & Beyond!

Are you ready for NaNoWriMo?

Blog, Characters, NaNoWriMo, outlining

Yes? No? Eitherway, you are in the right place. Personally, I wasn’t going to participate. I had this whole plan to work on my big passion book project. But I’m getting bogged down, and I need a reprieve. Enter NaNoWriMo.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month happens every year in November in which aspiring or veteran writers everywhere write 50,000 words in 30 days. 

The competition begins on November 1 and concludes at midnight on November 30. I use competition lightly, the only thing you have to beat is your attitude, your fatigue, and the clock! Now technically there are prizes for successfully writing 50,000 words in 30 days but the real prize is the first draft of your manuscript. 

The concept of 50,000 words is pretty hard to visualize, but if 300-350 words occupy your standard page then you will clock in at about 140-160 pages.

I’ve participated 4 times in the competition with mixed results. One issue I have always run into is that November is right around finals season at university and I had to battle homework, studying, and fatigue when writing. However! A big, big, HOWEVER. The only time I actually successfully completely NaNoWriMo was indeed whilst in school, in the trenches studying for finals. I had less and less success the less busy I was. But I flourish under deadlines and pressure. But it might not be for everyone. 

In any case, it was interesting looking at my historical participation stats for past NaNoWriMos. I clocked in 17,000 words at one point, 28,000, then 8,000 and my crown jewel, of course, 51,000 words for the four seas (which I have been working on ever since).

But as I said, I wasn’t going to participate this year. I am in the thick of my first job in publishing, I am facing the possibility of moving, and I really wanted to power through the four seas. But then a friend approached me about participating and needless to say, I dug through old story ideas, dreamt up a dream team of characters using Damon Suede’s method, wrote a general concept/ back cover blurb, then worked through the outline using Save the Cat! and some minor setting research. So in just a few hours, I went from nah to full speed ahead.

I was pretty impressed with how quickly this idea came together, it’s very unusual for me, and I thought I might share my process.

Step #1: Story Concept

I don’t know about you guys but I have a scary folder on my computer that is filled with half-cracked, mutated ideas that I have collected over the years. I have documents with a few lines of dialogue, or names & their meanings, cool world concept ideas, and the like. If you do not have a story idea capturing system, I highly suggest you set something up. For me, I just open a new google doc and throw it in the folder. I try to label it appropriately so I can find it later but otherwise. I just capture and release. 

Some people have a box where they throw ideas on post-its or ripped out pages of notebooks and toss them in the box piggy-bank style so it’s safe but out of sight.

A great digital version of this is Evernote which you can download to your phone and sync across devices. This program is optimized for shorter documents unlike Word, Google Docs, or Scrivener.

It’s important to note that these story ideas often do not come to fruition until YEARS later. But it is important to grab them while they are fresh because they can turn into something awesome. For instance, my story concept for this NaNoWriMo is from November 2016, so it’s been curing for almost exactly 3 years.

The old idea I had was called Bird Song, and it’s sort of a riff off of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The idea is that we are destroying the environment and soon enough we will have a silent spring where no birds will be around to do what they do best because we have made their natural habitat inhabitable.

So I took this idea of extinction, and environmental issues and mixed it with supernatural radiation poisoning and mutation- et voila! Story concept. Save the trees!

 So I am imagining six-headed, rabid raccoons, blind birds, killer moss, and other strange creatures that have been poisoned and mutated by man. Why? Because who doesn’t like freaky creatures? Anyway, this is the story seed I conjured up in the Fall of 2016 and It just so happened to strike a chord with me in time for NaNoWriMo this year. And boy, am I glad it was waiting for me.

Step #2: Characters

Characters are the backbone of every story. Their actions and behaviors are what drive the plot forward. So now that I have a concept I want to find my hero. I chose this chick Magenta who I had written about a couple of weeks ago for a Reedsy competition. She lives in this post-apocalyptic world that was also ravaged by environmental issues, unrelated to the Bird Song concept, but I felt the two story threads worked together.

I took a good hard look at Magenta and figured that she would have to be a fighter-type character who could handle the radiation poisoned animals but also any shady characters she might meet along the way. She is tough and sassy but sensitive to the changing environment around her.

Last year I went to an RWA conference hosted by Damon Suede and he totally blew my mind when it came to writing characters. While there, he introduced me to his book Verbalize which is all about giving actionable traits to your characters. You can read the book here. But the basics are that instead of assigning a bunch of traits to your character (i.e.- tough and sassy), give them verbs. If your character’s action propels the story forward then you have to give them an action. By assigning them a verb-trait, you are giving them an M.O. that describes them but also gives them an operative throughout the novel. 

The next step is to find all of the synonyms for that main verb and use those as plot points throughout the story. So tough and sassy Magenta’s verb is to challenge. I liked this verb for her because she is a fighter, but also her mandate in the story is to challenge the bad guys, challenge the cause of the destruction of the environment, and challenge the ideas that people have about their contribution to a dying world. 

So she is thematically challenging the stasis state of her world, but she is also very physical and will engage in actual battles with people (that she will probably initiate, why? because she is always the challenger).

With all of the synonyms I have for Magenta, my view of her is getting clearer and clearer. I also took note of the antonyms for “challenge”, why? Because this is Damon Suede’s little trick for conjuring up your villain (or love interest). Because the person who acts in discord with your Main Character will cause conflict. So if their operative verb is an antonym to your hero then you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Perfect. 

So the antonym for challenge is to ignore, to accept, to deny, to dodge. Now, this is bringing up some interesting ideas. Maybe there’s a conspiracy to poison the forest, maybe some agency is destroying the environment on purpose. Perhaps they are political, perhaps they gain power from this somehow and in the face of a challenger, they will ignore the problem, accept the status quo, deny any objections, and dodge any questions. Perfect! Now I have a shadow of a villain, I need only put a face to them. 

I repeated this same process for my secondary characters. I gave them verbs, found their actions and directions that guide them through this poisoned forest and I found the obstacles they will encounter personally and on a bigger level with Magenta while finding their antonyms. Side Character A is to wonder, which is to question, to inquire, to dispute, etc. Not quite the same as Challenge but the verb is in harmony with it and shares a common thread. This character, however, is more of an academic type than a fighter like the MC. And then I thought, I need a tree hugger that feels the dying heart of the forest. Side-character B’s verb is to empathize. This verb is not in total harmony with the MC’s verb. That’s okay because it is in total disharmony with the enemy’s verbs. If Side character B empathizes, then ignoring, complacent, denying, villainous mass is totally apathetic, which places Side-Character B on the same side as my MC.

So now I have a rough framework of my cast.

Next time, I’ll go through how I plotted my NaNoWriMo project using Save the Cat!

How I Developed a Publishing Plan & You Can Too! Part 5

Blog, Write

Next, I Fine Tune. I wanted to set aside some time to make sure that my outline flowed. This time is for filling any gaps that are in the story beats, to fill in scenes that help the transition from plot point to plot point. 

This is basically a spot check to make sure that the outline holds water. Think about it that way. Have you ever tried to hold water in a washcloth? If your outline is a washcloth you are holding flat out that is holding water, does the water leak through a hole? It’s okay if some water leaks through the fibers, you don’t need it to be airtight- it just needs to hold enough water that you can write. 

A washcloth doesn’t really hold water very well anyway, as an outline doesn’t hold story very well. But a washcloth WILL hold a TON of water if it is balled up and scrunched up, and sopping wet. That is your book. If a washcloth is laid flat out and you can see the corners and the weaving of the cloth, but the washcloth can’t clean very well & serve its purpose. But when it is balled up and ready to do the job, it cleans like a dream and you don’t necessarily think about how the washcloth works, you just appreciate that it does.

Okay, that’s all for my very terrible metaphor on washcloths.

Next up is writing prep. 

This is the last stronghold before the chaos ensues. Your last protective measure. If fine tuning is prepping your outline for writing, then Writing Prep is preparing YOU to write. 

What do you need? You need space. You need to talk to your loved ones before you go on your own hero’s journey. You need to go buy some nice pens, and a new notebook (I personally adore legal pads). You’ll need some extra coffee and tea, some emergency chocolate (or just regular chocolate will do) and ideally a cat. 

Just kidding. 

You do, however, need to identify what you DO need. And then Acquire it. The one thing I do believe is an absolute must are books. I always have Save the Cat!, Bird by Bird and The Hero with A Thousand Faces within reach. I have a thesaurus on my desk. I have fiction books stashed around my couch, my bed, and my dressers.

I just know myself, and I know that basically anything can trigger a story seed for me. But nothing does it like a good old book. I need prompts, I need writing exercises. But honestly, some writing prompts and exercises that I find online don’t really do it for me. But reading is magic, the right phrase will tickle me and strike and idea in my mind instantly.

Here’s the problem, I think, with writing prompts. They are too specific. I don’t need someone else telling me exactly what I want to write. And you know what? When someone tells me to do something, i.e. Write a paragraph about the color green, my immediate reaction is to rebel. 

Don’t tell me what to do! But a book guides my mind there, it doesn’t demand 300 words on the texture of grass. Now this is helpful to get your fingers going but I need my fingers to work towards my book, not some random prompt. 

I need a book to uncover the words that are already rattling around in my brain. Reference books are killer for this. They are so general, that I can pull inspiration from my own mind, rather than the internet. And these story threads often become so much more meaningful and visceral because I am coaxing something out of my mind for story’s sake, not out of my fingers for word count’s sake. 

Finally, let’s not forget about writing playlists. I love making playlists for each of my characters, settings, plot points and scenes. Plus I like having a general writing playlist that inspires me and gets me feeling really creative. This is super easy to accomplish on Youtube, Spotify or Apple Music.

Phew! That is what I have for outlining resources right now. I will add my writing Schedule once I develop it. Which will probably be a week or so into the writing process once I get a feel for *where I’m at* because gosh, isn’t that just the way? No two projects seem to be the same. And really you don’t know anything about your project until you start to really tackle it. All you can do is prepare, execute, and repeat.

Oh! One last tip! I love subscribing to Reedsy’s online courses. I love these because not only do you get the info from the course but it’s sort of like a daily reminder to write. You get one email per day for ten days with tons of pretty pictures and gifs and links to other resources. I recommend starting here. Once I finish one course, I immediately register for another to keep my momentum going throughout the outlining and writing process.

Next time, I’ll go through the Writing Plan!