How to structure a novel

I’ve neglected the blog for many months, mostly because of the pressure of work on my now-completed novel, titled Painting of Sorrow. It has started its journey to various agents.

Several years ago, I wrote a (unpublished) book titled  Stolen Children. Three books later—No Motive for Murder, The Child on the Terrace and now Painting of Sorrow—and needing to begin again, I resurrected the manuscript. The major problem with it for now,  is structural.

An interesting article on structure from Randy Ingarmanson appeared in his website. You may know him as the Snowflake Guy, from his method of writing a structured novel, called, yes, The Snowflake Method.

The current article, Writing the perfect scene, gives a quick overview the structure of scenes and sequels,  covered however, in more extensive detail in Elements of Fiction: Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham. Randy’s article is useful as a quick reminder and I store it under research in my Scrivener binder for Stolen Children.

Cheryl Freedman, writing to me about the Bony Blithe min-com this coming Friday, suggested the books by Karen Elizabeth Gordon as “grammar with a twist…or perhaps, twisted grammar”. I took a brief look and thought hers would be a sound (and fun) addition to my library of craft books.

That’s it for Monday, May 23, 2016. Forty-six years ago this afternoon, George and I married in Kingston, On. Forty-six years of love, partnership and friendship.

 

New Directions

WORK-IN-PROGRESS

My work-in-progress, a novel, occupies most of my time these days. I’m revising. Last fall, I won a prize at The Book Promoter: an editorial review by editor/agent Svetlana Pironko of the Author Rights Agency.

After talking with her and reviewing the changes she suggested, I began a revision, this time on paper. I’m eighty pages in.

BUSINESS WRITING

As well, I follow a course from Susan Anderson — Freelance Writers Bootcamp — on writing for business, either business to business or business to client. Some of the types of writing she teaches — blogging, content writing for web-sites, white papers — are interesting to me. Her course teaches how to do those and about 10 more.

WORDPRESS

Yes, I have a WordPress blog and even my own domain name at Wordpress —ginny200.com — but I set it all up with only rudimentary knowledge. An article on Mashable, 13 cheap(or free) online classes to boost your digital skills, led me to a course called WordPress for Beginners. I’m taking it now.

EDITING

I have an extensive library of books about editing, everything from Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Rennie Browne and Dave King, to the most recent, The Frugal Editor by Carolyn  Howard-Johnson. A favourite is Revision and Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell.

All this to explain that I’ve been busy this winter.

Master Class

Spring in Ontario—from a humid 29C to a rainy 7C this am.

A Rainy SundayThe burst of growth in May astonishes me, every year. In April I despair of ever seeing the ground again, and here it is, sprouting hosta and Korean lilac and early leaves of daylilies. What a country. The long, ice-riven winter gives way to this glory.

I’ve been working on some technical aspects of my booklaunch.io page for The Child on the Terrace, including adding a trailer. You can check it out at the link above. The trailer was produced by The Book Promoter group in Dublin, Eire.

Next weekend takes me Barbara Kyle’s First Thirty Pages Master Class. Preparation includes reading and critiquing the first 30 pages of all 9 other participants. 80-90 thousand words all together, a good-sized novel. I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with all these talented people and Barbara, who is an excellent teacher.

That’s about it for today. No blog next Sunday as I shall be away.

Summer and Writing

Summer came this week: sunshine, temperatures in the low 20’sC, and neighbours emerging from winter hibernation. The daffodils are blooming.

It’s the month for me to canvass for Five Counties Children’s Centre, the facility for our area which helps children of varying abilities with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and learning problems of all kinds. I started yesterday.

The official launch date for The Child on the Terrace-July- is fast approaching and I am doing a final read-through for typos, run-on sentences and so forth. A book trailer is next on my list.

I’ve been reading Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Fundamentals of Screenwriting, a book that is often recommended for its chapters from character to story-line. All useful for the novelist as well as the screenwriter. Thinking about Sequence, the linked actions that together form a section of the novel, with simple names like The Chase, or The Escape, helped me with developing a cohesive plot. This is my second time through the book, only one of many to come, I’m sure.

At some point, a novelist has to consider writing a synopsis which is a marketing tool. Jane Friedman wrote an interesting blog on the subject with a number of useful links added. Check out her number 1 pick,  How To Write a Book Now for a step-by-step guide to the synopsis. As well, Scrivener’s outline function can be very handy when it comes time to write it.

The Write Life is another site with unexpected resources, like this week’s 21 Places to find Blogging Jobs.

That’s about it for this Sunday in May.

21-Blogging-Jobs-for-TWL-square-300x300

Spring thoughts: Literary devices and Genre fiction

Spring has been creeping up, ambushing us with thunderstorms and lightning a week after a snowfall, with downpours that filled holding tanks and turned fields of clay to marshland, havens for the ducks. No flowers. Last spring at this time a solitary iris bloomed in the front garden. Spring Iris, 2014

It’s time to rake the leaves and twigs off the garden beds and plan a fresh covering of mulch. The chores of spring, a relief after a long winter of bone-breaking cold and ice and deep snow.

I’ve lost track of which draft of my work-in-progress I’m working on. It may be the 5th or 6th, but it’s growing closer to what I would like it to be.

That’s the problem, of course. What genre is it? Suspense, women’s fiction, commercial fiction, romantic suspense or my personal favourite: cross-genre.

My aim is a tightly-plotted page-turner that also says something about redemption and renewal in a woman’s life. Too lofty a goal, too literary for a novel that includes a brutal killer and guns?

In the U.K. newspaper, The Guardian,  Anita Mason, whose The Illusionist was shortlisted for the 1983 Booker prize, in an article that was adapted from an Oxford Literary Festival debate said:

So: of course there is a difference between literary and genre fiction. Our experience as readers tells us so, commercial practice says so. But it is not the difference between two continents separated by ocean. It is the difference between the two ends of a continuum. Between those two points is an infinity of fruitful positions.

In the Oxford Literary Festival debate, she spoke against the motion “Genre fiction is no different from literary fiction”. The article is worth the read and can be found here.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/apr/22/genre-fiction-literary-centre-anita-mason

That’s where I aim to be with this work-in-progress, on the continuum, moving a little closer to the hub where literary fiction lives.

Themes, symbols, literary devices of all types: all tools in crafting a novel.

Revision, Editing and Mark Twain

Easter Sunday Morning, and it snowed again overnight. A skiff of snow, my mother called it.

I’ve been searching my saved websites, blogs and so on, for advice on editing that I meant to read, I truly did, before starting the revision process again.

Today, I found a blog that Margaret Atwood wrote in 2009, Ten Editing tips for your Fiction Mss. Coincidently, I’m reading her book about the writing life, titled Negotiating with the Dead. Her teaching is always interesting and often funny. https://marg09.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/ten-editing-tips-for-your-fiction-mss

I liked her advice on dialogue, especially the use of contractions and cutting “that” from speech. I’m guilty of not doing the first and including the second far too often, which makes for a tedious revision.

Another difficult writing chore is producing the synopsis. One of the sites that I found to help with that is http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/04/17/how-to-write-a-1-page-synopsis/

The author of this section, Sooz, presents us with a template and three rules-of-thumb. The rules seem simple: Name only three characters in a short synopsis, tell the ending and stick to the main plot, only including subplots if space allows. The template creates a synopsis of Star Wars as an example.

A return to Mark Twain’s rules for writers is always amusing.

 

Twain’s Rules of Writing (from Mark Twain’s scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

 

  1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
  2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
  3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
  4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
  5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
  6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
  7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.
  8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
  9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
  10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
  11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

The author should:

Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Eschew surplusage.

Not omit necessary details.

Avoid slovenliness of form.

Use good grammar.

Employ a simple, straightforward style.

 

 

Today, I’m remembering my grandmother Jane Callahan and my friend Dan Wilmot, both of whom died on Easter Sunday.

 

Three Sites to Improve your Writing

8:42 on Sunday morning. A big flock of robins came back yesterday, to feast on the fermenting tiny crabapples on the trees out front. And red-winged blackbirds. Now, they are reliable. Spring must be coming, even though it’s still -8C with the windchill this morning.

Sarah Selecky is a writer and teacher of writing. At the link, among other resources, you can sign up for daily writing prompts. As it happens, I like writing prompts and had some of my first success at Wynter Blue Publishing. They ran a monthly contest—24 hours to write a short story including three provided words.

Sarah asks that you write longhand for 10 minutes, daily, in a notebook, in response to a prompt which may be a word or a writing style or a pov. When I signed up, I wasn’t sure about spending those 10 minutes on a creative exercise. However, it turns out it’s not only a good way to jump-start a writing day, but fun. The prompts drag up long-buried memories and ideas. Today’s reminded me of the head nurse of the ICU in one of my training hospitals, more than forty years ago and her vendetta against orange peel in her wastebasket.

I was scrolling through my saved articles again today and came across one titled 5 Key questions to Ask as You Write your Novel. The author was C.S. Lakin, another writer and teacher. Good advice, worth posting on a sticky at your desk.

Ten Literary Devices and where to Find Them in Science Fiction, a post by Annalee Newitz on iO9 makes the devices clear by referencing popular movies and television. I especially liked onomatopoeia, demonstrated by the entire Klingon language, from Star Trek.

That’s about it for today. I’m about a third of the way through a revision of my work in progress and must get back to it.

Signs of Spring amidst Revision and Marketing

Ides of March. For Americans, the taxman cometh. We’re waiting for spring, a spring the weather gurus tell us is going to be delayed. No one told the buds on the chestnut trees out front. They started to swell before the deep freeze ended.

Work goes on. Marketing and revision of my work-in-progress. In June, I’m joining Barbara Kyle’s Master class for revision of my first thirty pages.

The Child on the Terrace is still in advanced copy mode but soon I must send the final changes to the publisher. Most of my  reviewers, busy people all, have yet to get back to me.

Revision is difficult work, akin to juggling multiple objects rather than a simple set of coloured rubber balls. I’ve been following a blogger, Janice Hardy who calls her site Fiction University. She is half-way through a month of blogs on the process and very useful they are. Today’s is here, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/03/day-fifteen-clean-up-description-and.html#more but all the previous blogs plus a great deal more is available on her site. Well worth multiple visits.

This week I attended a dinner and lecture at the Canadian Club. The speaker mentioned a local artist, long-deceased, named W.A. Goodwin. As it happens we have one of his watercolours. When I bought it, I investigated him and found a lengthy newspaper record. He lived to almost 100 years old and was a well-know citizen. I did some of his family genealogy as well. Magpie that I am, I kept it all.

After the meeting, the manager of the local museum called me and asked to see it. The museum is mounting an extensive show from an archive of material the researchers acquired on loan from the family. I was pleased to contribute our painting and some of the information I’d gathered to their archive. Find the museum here: http://www.oldegaolmuseum.ca/exhibits.html

The museum created a Facebook page for W.A. with pictures, paintings, diary entries and more. An interesting and charming page.

https://www.facebook.com/W.A.Goodwin

 

Buds on chestnut trees, March, 2015

Buds on chestnut trees, March, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

10 Literary Devices

I was browsing my writing files today. You know the kind, a dump for every website or blog you come across that has information that might be useful someday. I have two: Writing about Writing and a catch all Writing Stuff. Interesting items in both, especially one about writing devices.

Writing devices have names like aporia and pathetic fallacy and if like me, you’re a writer whose last formal English course was in 1st year, the definitions are murky at best or absent at worst from memory. The website below discusses 10 and relates them to Science Fiction, mostly movies, that make the use clear. Annalee Newitz posted it in 2012 and it’s well worth a read.

http://io9.com/5930325/10-literary-devices-and-where-you-can-find-them-in-science-fiction

Beautiful day in Southern Ontario and the weather promises to be seasonal and sunny for the next week!

I’m revising my WIP and still marketing The Child on the Terrace while waiting for my reviewers. If anyone would like an ARC, please let me know.

http://booklaunch.io/10202081974970941/54ccf3fd68a94f561bcb20af

Four Writing Resources

It’s March 1, St. David’s day, patron saint of Wales. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant. Here in Kawartha Lakes it’s a bit warmer than it has been. -6C rather than -25C, but we’re going to get a bit more snow. But it’s the first of March with twenty more days until Spring arrives, we hope.March, 2014March, 2013March, 2013March, 2013

Wild Turkeys at Elora, March, 2014Wild Turkeys at Elora, March, 2014(photo Anne Simpson)

And yet Spring still came each year.

I attended a workshop at University of Guelph on Friday, March 20, to hear Barbara Kyle talk about the writing process. She is a generous teacher and at the end of the workshop session gave each of us access to a tutorial series online that she recorded some years ago. It is an excellent review of everything from Style to Getting Published. I’ve been listening to one tutorial a day before beginning the day’s work of revision. Invaluable.

If you haven’t heard her speak or visited her website, I recommend it. Barbara Kyle.

Writing resources can be anything from excellent teachers to books on grammar, from programmes like Scrivener to a friend who’s willing to read revisions. Over the years, I’ve found all of these and more.

1. Writescape

2. Barbara Kyle

3. Writers Digest

4. Scrivener and Scapple at Literature and Latte.

And then there’s marketing. I’m still searching for reviewers and will send copies either e-book or trade paperback on request.

Check out my booklaunch page for information about The Child on the Terrace.