Creating a Novel v.s. Building a Story

Today has been a mellow, peaceful Sunday spent reading, napping and catching a movie. Between The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Rules Don’t Apply (movie with Warren Beatty), I had a realisation.

How-To v.s. Content
On my Road to Writerville I’ve read countless How-To books on everything from character to plot to dialogue (some of it even stuck). Today I realised that I have been so busy focusing on the How-To that I’ve neglected content.

My research on the subject matter of my books has never been as deep as it could be. I’ve been more focused on creating a novel than building a story.

A balance has to be struck
I’ve never agreed with the “write what you know” maxim which is probably why I focused on technical how-to so much. I don’t want to write what I know – I want to write what I’m fascinated in. But just because I’m fascinated in something, doesn’t mean I know enough about it to write convincingly.

Wild Write Your Passion
In one of Natalie Goldberg’s books she says (I paraphrase) “wild write your passion”. What she’s saying, I think, is that the more you write, research and live your passion, the deeper the colour of that passion will seep into your skin so when you do finally sit down to write, you will be writing what you know.

Reading “How-To” books will only take us so far. After that, we have to move on from meta-writing and get interested in the real world.

My favourite quote is still from Henry David Thoreau: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

Have an excellent day.
Tina

How to use a story grid to build a solid plot (infographic included)

Story Building and Plotting by Tina KonstantIf your story is any more complicated than The Three Bears, then you might, at some point, get into plotting.

For years I was a “Pantster”, until I was told (in no uncertain terms by a very talented editor) that although I was getting better at character, dialogue, descriptions, show-not-tell… my plot was crap.

So I did a lot of reading and landed on this method of story building and plot development that, if you’re working on a novel, you might find useful.

How to use it?

First, build your grid (see below): Along the top put all the main elements of your story – use any structure you like – the one in this example I used for the current version of FF. Down the left column, list as many characters as you want to include.

Then…

  1. Starting with your lead, fill in the boxes. What happens at every stage of the story?
  2. Do the same for the other characters. For instance… if your lead is in deep conversation with with authorities about the bad guy, what exactly is the bad guy doing at that moment? Sitting in the wings waiting her turn? Noooooo, I’d hope not. Include each characters’ story line, even if not all of it will be included in the book. It will give you great context.
  3. When all the squares are full, look at the grid and identify which squares need to be included to weave your complete story. When you get down to writing, you’ll probably find that each box is a chapter.
  4. Pull all the words out of each box, bind them together and before you know it, you’ll have yourself a pretty decent plot and a synopsis you can submit to agents.

A side note…

You don’t have to complete the boxes in order. You might already know the main bits of your story and who plays them out. So fill those in first, then fill in the blanks.

When you look at every characters’ complete story you’ll be surprised what you find. There’ll be all sorts of connections and motivations that you might not of have noticed before.

Happy plotting
Tina

P.S. I can’t remember where I first found this idea. If someone knows, please let me know. I’ll add the reference and credit to this blog.

 

Procrastination gets a bad rap

What if procrastination isn’t a bad thing? What if it’s a critical part of the creative process? I’m not making excuses for either of us, I’m just asking the question: What if there’s a reason you’re not forging ahead with your cunning plan?

Here are more questions… Instead of beating yourself up because you’re not “getting on with it” ask yourself: What’s missing? Am I ready for the fallout if it goes wrong? Am I ready for the fallout if it goes right? Is the idea ready? Is the idea big enough/small enough/clear enough?

Maybe it needs to stew a little longer?

And there you have it…

Maybe the thing you’re avoiding just needs to stew a little longer. Maybe the idea is a good one, but you’re missing a key ingredient. Maybe it has to sit in its juices for a while to mature before you put it into the world. Maybe procrastination isn’t procrastination at all… maybe its being patient.

Have a most mellow day, folks
Tina

P.S. Here’s a TED talk I think you’ll enjoy. It’s by Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

 

 

Ideas, ideas and glorious inspiration!

hMy bet is you’re not just a writer. You’re also an employee, a parent, a cleaner-upper and a dozen other things, which doesn’t leave much space for inspiration because you’re too busy fussing about what keeps money in the bank, your job secure, your kids safe, your dogs fed, your grass short, your garage clear… you get the picture. In our normal lives, there’s very little time for inspiration because we’re too busy dealing with the mundane. So if you’re starved of ideas, take a moment to look at what’s going on in your head.

Do yourself a favour… Take a moment to sit down with no distractions (I know, you might have to go to the toilet to do this – and even then, there’s no guarantee) and write down everything you THINK about every day. Not the stuff you do, but what you THINK about. What fills your head? What do you plan, worry about, fret over? Here are a few examples:

–     When to walk the dogs
–     Sorting food for animals and humans in the house.
–     Dinners for the next week
–     Mail
–     Finances
–     Space
–     Grass cutting and lack of it
–     Cleaning the car
–     Sorting the house, garage, office
–     The boss or your staff
–     The job, the need to get one or change one
–     Kids uniforms
–     Issues at school
And the list goes on forever…

Now, have a look at that list and be REAL about when you actually DO this stuff and how often it needs to happen.

–     Walk the dogs? Once a day. Do you really need to think about it?
–     Feed the animals and the people in the house? Plan a menu, write it down and move on.
–     Kids to school? Morning.
–     Household admin? Once a week.
–     Cut the grass? Saturday morning. Again, do you really need to think about it?

You get my drift?

We might only need to do something once a day or once a week, but we think about it ALL THE TIME!

Instead of thinking about characters, story lines or learning something new and inspiring, we’re filling our heads with administrivia.

Instead of smelling the dish we’re preparing so we can let our characters do the same in the next book/short story, we’re thinking about a grocery list!

Ideas and inspiration are like orchids in a hailstorm. If all you do is rain hell down on them, they’ll have no space to grow.

So monitor your thoughts. When you find yourself fretting, pondering, stressing or re-hashing routine stuff, say instead: “Thanks, got that, I’ll deal with it when I need to. Now for something more interesting…”

Have fun today folks. Give your head some space and inspiration a chance.
Tina

Writing Retreats: A writer’s place to be

Addo Reach and Hein's Cottage - writer's retreatJust spent a couple of weeks with family in South Africa. My mother’s house, a Bed & Breakfast in a little town called Alicedale, about an hour out of Port Elizabeth, is the kind of place writers dream about when they think about writing retreats. 

The only sound you are likely to hear is the buzz and hum of birds and bees, and random music drifting out of a neighbour’s open door. Peace and seclusion with just enough contact with the outside world to remind you it exists.

It’s in a place like this that you let go of ideas you thought you were wedded to and make new ones that seem somehow braver.

You don’t have to search for a quiet spot in this peaceful place to meditate. All you need to do is sit, and look, and listen to the early morning mist as the sun brushes against it. There’s a sigh in the air at the moment it clears the ground leaving the morning sky blue.

In the beginning, your town and city feet might itch; you’ll find yourself pacing and walking the halls, making tea and noise. Then, on your third day (give or take), things suddenly slow down and you’ll stop watching the clock or the shadows as they shrink and grow then take over for the night.

When you finally accept that nothing is going to happen – there’ll be no noise or chaos, no surprises or mad rushes – then your breathing will slow, your eyes will open and you’ll be able to reach that little bit further into the secret hiding places in your mind where the best version of the writer in you lives.

That’s a place you want to be. It’s the place you want to go to even when the world around you is mad and rushed and crazy. It’s the feeling of slow and still and quiet. It’s the sense of peace that only wide open spaces populated by little more than aloes and elephants can give.

From there, create and write. It’s exactly the place to be.
Hope to meet you there someday soon.
Tina

 

Keep Calm… It’s just a novel! 12 ways to chill your boots if your novel freaks you out.

Keep Calm! It's just a novel.OMG!!!!! It’s been a month/a year/a decade and I haven’t finished my novel!!!!!!!! Damn, we wind ourselves up about the most remarkable things. 

It’s all a question of perspective. The main problem is that our perspective (the glorious writer) doesn’t match the rest of the world. We have a schedule! Doesn’t the world get that? We have deadlines! The thing is, the more you freak out over your novel (whatever stage you’re at) the slower the process will become.

So here are at least 12 ways to chill your boots if your novel starts to freak you out.

ONE: Do something that’s worth freaking out over. If you’re scared of heights, go skydiving! I guarantee that facing down something worthy of being freaked by will put your novel in perspective.

TWO: Play tiddlywinks. I don’t know what it is… Maybe it’s the comical seriousness required to get the little suckers in the cup. Takes your mind off things.

THREE: Remove all deadline. Obliterate them. Don’t set them!

FOUR: Get some puppy therapy! Even watching this video will make you smile. So go get some!!

FIVE: Go rock-climbing or scuba-diving. There’s something about these two sports that will put you in an almost meditative state. Blissful. I promise. Get to it.

SIX: Get a mix of people you like, love and maybe not like so much and go play paintball! Shoot the folk you don’t like and blame your buddy. Yeah, baby!

SEVEN: Watch a whole day of TV! Sod it!! TWO DAYS! Get a box set of something awesome and watch every episode back-to-back.

EIGHT: Go on a course. Choose something you’re fascinated in, something unrelated to your book, something you’ve always wanted to learn about. Make sure it’s a real class with real people, not online. Climb right into the subject. Boots and all.

NINE: SING! Doesn’t matter if you can’t. Really it doesn’t. Just open your lungs like a parrot at dusk and squawk! If you like, join a choir and make a habit of it. Your noise is too great for the shower! Get it out there!!

TEN: Go to a tap dance class. I bet there is research somewhere that proves that tap dancing is the most liberating of all the dance forms. There is something remarkable about making music with your feet.

ELEVEN: Get a full on, no messing, hot-stone massage.

TWELVE: Pick up a favourite book by your favourite author, find a coffee shop, take your shoes off and enjoy.

Last I looked, writing a novel was supposed to be fun. So snap open the goodie bag and jump in the puddle… doesn’t matter what you do, but whatever it is, keep calm… it’s just a novel.

Add mellow to your writing day today…
Tina

 

How to get from the real world to a story idea?

How to go from real world to story ideasfind story ideas in the real worldThe short story is a fiction microcosm. A Petri dish where all the elements of a good read, from story idea to the afterglow you get when it stays with you, are present, but in small pieces.

As part of my own exploration into that Petri dish, I’m reading a lot of short stories by some very good writers, including Joanne Harris’s collection, “A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String.”

Before the start of each short story she writes a short paragraph introducing the story and sometimes describes what inspired it. In many cases, the leap from the real world to the story idea is a big one.

I looked at my own short stories and realised that similarly, many of them bear little resemblance to what inspired them in the first place.

As I let that idea stroll around my head I began to see the “intangible something” that fills that gap between the real world and the story idea. After all that strolling and thinking, I also finally accepted that any time I tried to force the leap from “real world” to “story idea” the story just didn’t work. 

Hence the question: How to get from real world to story idea? What happens in the gap between real life and fiction? Where does the story evolve from? What is that spark that forms the bridge between fact and fiction? Where does it come from?

In the quest for a great story idea, the most elusive of all writing tools, inspiration, clearly plays a part. 

So I did some web research into inspiration. Here are a few views from other people:

ONE: I like this one most… From a blog by Ariel Constantinof: How to find inspiration for writing? Don’t: Ariel says you don’t find it, you make it. It’s not some magic that floats into your head. You seek it out and if it doesn’t happen, just start writing anyway. I agree. I do this a lot. Start with a few words and sometimes an image, and it goes from there. The ending, you’ll find, is as much a surprise to you as your audience.

TWO: Write to Done gives 31 ways to find inspiration, from blogs to people watching. The common factor with most of these suggestions is that you get into the world! Why? Because more often than not the conversations we have with ourselves are nonsense. If you’re looking for inspiration, you need to get out of your own head!

THREE: Another approach is taken by Henri Junttila in his article Inspire to Write. Meditation, silence, quietude. Getting out of your own head by going deeper into it 🙂 Very cool.

To be inspired, you need raw material.

Stephen King’s famous comment on reading, I think, sums it up: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

When all that raw material from a thousand different sources stews and simmers in our minds, the ideas, no matter now disparate merge and a story idea blossoms whether we like it or not.

This blooming happens at the most random of times (in the shower, in a hot tub, walking the dogs, washing dishes…) which is why, perhaps, we think there is some magic behind inspiration. The truth is, if you read and think, explore and converse with the world, then inspiration is inevitable. All those small ideas bind together making it possible to make the leap from carpets to cats.

Make magic today folks.
Tina

Do you feel at home in your story world?

You and your story worldExactly how at home do you feel in your story world?

No matter how real or fantastic it is, your story world needs to feel like a place you’ve known your whole life. You are the kid on the block who’s explored the gutters at two in the morning because you can’t sleep. In your world, you’re the one who knows every ally and shortcut. You know the parts of the city, town, forest, planet, building or ocean that your characters haven’t even heard of. You are the god of this world. You create the storms and bring out the sun. You know how the characters’ actions will change their environment. You know whether the seeds they plant will flourish or die. You know every brick, stone and sewer pipe.

When you know your story world that well, you know, as you write, what story will work there and which one won’t.

You will know that the story you are building there won’t work any where else. It belongs in that world. The one you created.

So if something in your novel or short story isn’t working, maybe it isn’t the characters or the plot. Look instead to the world they inhabit. Is the world fully formed? When you close your eyes and explore it, is it clear or foggy? Do the locals let you in? Or when you walk the streets are they empty with the doors barred? What do your characters do when you walk into the bar? When you’re not writing, but just exploring the place, what do you see? Who do you talk to? Who talks back?

Your characters inhabit your world, but they will only come out to play when you are willing to do your world justice.

Do you get what I mean? If it’s a little off-weird, I apologise. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just need to invite you into my world so you know what I mean.

Get your boots on then…
Tina