Christmas Treat 5: Planning and Plotting

This week—mainly because I’m automating all this while relaxing in Florida—I thought it would be interesting to do something a bit different. Namely, I am going to provide some writing exercise ideas to get you started on the road to better writing. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Recovery: Since you are likely still recovering from Aunt Mia’s famous turkey dressing, today let’s focus not on actual writing, but on goals. Next week will be the beginning of 2009, when people make promises they soon forget. This year, why not make some writing goals for yourself—and stick with them? You can vow to do something as simple as starting a journal of ideas or something as grand as submitting a novel to an agent or to sell an article to a magazine or to attend a writing conference. Think up three goals for your writing, put them somewhere you’ll see them everyday, and make it happen.

My Goals for 2009:

  • Edit, finalize, and publish my first novel.
  • Finish my second novel.
  • Write at least two short stories for publication.

The reason: A surprisingly huge part of writing involves motivation. Great ideas are a good start, but writing the words is better. Setting goals helps you to get where you want to be.

Advertisements

Christmas Treat 4: Over the Top

This week—mainly because I’m automating all this while relaxing in Florida—I thought it would be interesting to do something a bit different. Namely, I am going to provide some writing exercise ideas to get you started on the road to better writing. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Big words: Since this is Christmas, let’s make this one a bit shorter. Simply describe a particular holiday tradition that you enjoy. It can be anything at all—from caroling to the annual wreath toss. The catch? Use technical jargon to make it seem ludicrous. Instead of “opening presents,” you are “removing the excess cellulose materials to acquire the undisclosed celebratory contributions.” Have fun.

The reason: Well, aside from general silliness, the point of this exercise is to learn how to change voice for an audience. This one is, of course, over the top, but a more technical audience often requires more technical language.

Christmas Treat 3: The Elephant in the Room

This week—mainly because I’m automating all this while relaxing in Florida—I thought it would be interesting to do something a bit different. Namely, I am going to provide some writing exercise ideas to get you started on the road to better writing. Let’s see what we’ve got.

The elephant: First, think of an image, person, object, or setting (i.e., a noun) that is fairly well known. Now, write a few paragraphs describing the noun you chose. Here’s the catch. You cannot name your chosen noun or use anything that would immediately give it away. For example, if you are describing a horse, you cannot use horse, equestrian, or other horse-y words. Once you’ve written your description, see if others can tell what you’re describing.

The reason: The main purpose here is simply to improve your skills of description. When you can’t name what you’re describing, you have to think of other means to get your point across. Think of it like charades with words.

Christmas Treat 2: Words Tied Behind Your Back

This week—mainly because I’m automating all this while relaxing in Florida—I thought it would be interesting to do something a bit different. Namely, I am going to provide some writing exercise ideas to get you started on the road to better writing. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Only voices: Write a story told entirely through dialog. You can use no description or exposition at all. Everything has to be contained within the words of two or three main characters. You can even use a script format if you prefer. Alternately, if you prefer a non-fiction approach, you can certainly do the same thing. Tell a news event or marketing pitch through dialog only.

The reason: Essentially, good dialog can be tough, and telling a story only through dialog is tougher still. Consider this a bit of a learning-by-pain type experiment. However, it actually can be interesting learning how to show events or actions through the characters’ words alone.

Christmas Treat 1: Weird Stuff

This week—mainly because I’m automating all this while relaxing in Florida—I thought it would be interesting to do something a bit different. Namely, I am going to provide some writing exercise ideas to get you started on the road to better writing. Let’s see what we’ve got.

The odd: Today, take a look through the weird and odd section of one of your favorite news sites (e.g., USA Today), find a truly unique situation, and develop a short story around that idea. How did the boy end up with a dog up his nose and how did it affect his life?

The reason: Personally, the offbeat news is a great source for inspiration. And such ideas push you as a writer because they make you think outside of your normal experiences.

Episode 26: Google Docs and Writing

Long projects depend upon having a good foundation. When I first began thinking about just maybe someday possibly writing a novel, I made the I-can-just-knock-this-thing-out-in-a-week mistake that usually began with an idea and ended when I got tired of it. That’s why I have a graveyard of half-chapter novels firmly ensconced in my maybe-later pile.

Basically, I wanted the reward without worrying about the work. Spontaniety is great, but hammering out something of substance and breadth takes more than a few great lines, thoughts, or images.

Several years later, on the advice of David Eddings, I began keeping notebooks of the world within my novels of potential. I wrote backgrounds, character sketches, drew maps, and plotted out what I could. For the most part, these were dead ends—not because the framework wasn’t there, but because they never really “caught fire” in me.

Age, however, has made me more ecologically aware (or, more realistically, cheaper), and I’ve turned to Google Docs for all my pre-flights of fancy. To me, the setup is perfect for working on any writing project, and I can quickly share them with those I’d like to cut it down to size.

What advice I share here is simply how I do things. Take what you will or take none—that’s up to you.

Folders: One thing I find helpful is to make a folder of each large project (anything that will take some research or prep work). For instance, right now, I’m working on two novel ideas (with a third in the hopper). With G Docs, I can sort them out and find which one I need from wherever.

folders

I’ve also got a folder I keep ideas for blog posts, story and article starters, and other random miscellany. The color coding is also a bit of extra fun.

Documents: In each folder, I keep everything I’ve done for or about that project—except for the file itself on longer projects because I’m still trying to wean myself completely from Word. With The Connection, I’ve got two drafts of my outline and character sketches. I keep all copies of each because 1) there’s no real concern for storage and 2) I never know when I might need to revisit something I tossed out earlier.

connection

When I begin working on a large project like a novel, I often write an experimental treatment of the idea—usually the first chapter. I want to know what the characters have to say, what the world “feels” like, and how the various elements will work together. Most of the time, I at least use some of it in the final product—other times, I’m just glad no one will see it. Thankfully, this is one that made the cut (although much changed).

intro

Whether a pen and paper or local files or some expensive program, I hope that you are using something to keep your thoughts organized. As you may have heard me say before (read: every blog post), effective writing leans heavily on the crutch of preparation (okay, maybe not in those words).

If you have a great method for keeping organized, let me know in the comments.

Episode 25: Proposing a Proposal

When I was reviewing material on writing a fiction proposal, I found that the advice out there is rather disparate in some regards. The elements of the proposal are often similar, but the style and method are usually not.

Basically, there is no one particular version of a proposal that will necessarily make your book succeed or fail (as long as you include all the required material in a logical, consistent manner). Some agencies or publishers may require more or less than others, but here are the main elements you definitely need to include.

The information here is tailored for the fiction market. However, you can definitely modify it for other types of proposals (non-fiction, short fiction, magazine articles, etc.).

Cover Page: Actually, you’ll likely be emailing proposals, which means you’ll need a great letter to introduce you and the work, but make sure that you include a title (and possibly a short tagline) and your contact info.

The Premise: This is not a book report; this is where you tell the person you want to buy into your work why they should. Some suggest 250 words, and others say 500. If you can describe it in 250 words, then do so. But don’t worry if it takes more. Spend as much time as you need working on this, as you will likely sell your work—or not—here.

Who Wants It: Ready to be a sociologist? Well, in some ways you’ll need to be because part of the proposal process is telling who would want to read your work. Hopefully, you know the market you’re writing for because you yourself have been reading in that market. But take some time looking through a bookstore at the books in a particular genre or field. Look at what the publishers put on the front and back, how they package the book (colors, pictures), and what types of books are near each other.

Detailed Summary: Hopefully you already have a good grip on what will be in your book by this point. Some say that you should be finished before you write a proposal, while others suggest not finishing. Me? I wanted to be finished with most of it first so that I could have something tangible. In any case, once you’ve sold your work in 500 words or less, this is the part where you describe the sections and/or chapters inside. Some agents and publishers prefer an outline; some prefer a chapter synopsis; and some want both. Either way, expect to spend time here. Also, make sure you tell the status of the manuscript. Is it finished? Have you even started?

Who You Are: Once you’ve pitched your idea, it’s time to pitch yourself. Explain why you’re qualified to write what you’ve proposed, what experience you have, and a list of other works you’ve done. Also, you may want to include how you’ll be active in promoting the work on the Internet and other means.

As I said, I have yet to find one set method of proposal writing out there, but all of them contained these basic elements. Just make sure to keep it structured and logical.