Category Archives: About the Books

Time Blur

Since my last post:

The house went on the market on a Tues, showings started on Friday, same day I finished packing up and left for Boston for the weekend.

I taught my niece how to put up a tent, in the living room, much to her parents’ dismay. 😀 It was a little rainy out. Tents indoors are wicked fun!

The house went under contract on Sunday while I was flying to Baltimore. Set up residence in the hotel in MD, worked, then spent the first weekend in Charlotte for a work retreat. Went white water rafting while there (only fell in twice).  That was a freakin riot!

Returned back to MD for work and found out the entire septic system on the house was older than me and, shocker, needed to be replaced. Yay! Money pits! So while I wait for the estimate on what that will cost, I’m hanging out in MD. My work week is wrapped up, so it’s time to relax and do some writing … FINALLY!

I haven’t been able to really sit down and write for any length of time on the weekends due to trying to get my carcass out of the house and prep it for the market. This writing desert makes me cranky. So to fix the crabbiness issue, I’ll be at the keyboard this weekend working on the Forgotten Echoes sequel while the first book is with my last test reader. Coming down to the end of the tweaky edits for that book which puts it even closer to release. More on that later since I won’t be rushing it off to self-pub on Amazon like I have done before. Changing tactics on this one. 😉

Writing Process Part 3

OK, bit of a long spell between posts, but that’s what happens when you’re packing up a house to bail and throw it on the market and go pitch a tent wherever you land for the night. And everything in that sentence is literal. I’m going to have a nomadic summer, and it’s going to be amazing.

Back to the writing process.

After I fill out that page with a little blurb for each chapter, I grab a stack of 3×5 note cards. Each card correlates to a chapter, for the most part, but each card absolutely correlates to a SCENE. So if I’m going for 60 chapters, I could end up with a 62-64 cards for those times where there are two scenes in one chapter.

For anything and everything you need to know about scenes, head over to The Story Grid website by Shawn Coyne. In short, each scene breaks down into 5 beats. These beats are things that happen in the global story but also happen in each scene on a more micro level. Each 3×5 card ends up with I – V roman numerals to represent the beats. And I fill out as much of the cards as I can in pencil.

Sometimes things shift around a little or I change course some on the story, but the cards help keep me organized. I don’t type out anything until I have a really good feel for dialogue, actions, etc for each card.

This image below is both one of the most exciting things to see and the most intimidating. Steven Pressfield says” “You’re playing with dynamite when you type Chapter One.” He ain’t kidding.

 

 

 

 

Once I have those note cards and start typing, I can bang out that chapter in no time. For Forgotten Echoes, once I had those index cards done and the story in my head, I could easily write 6 to 8 chapters over the course of a Saturday and Sunday.

So, the story is written, and I fill out my Excel cheat sheet to track scene shifts and story events. I have shifted to cover some of these things on my index cards, but I still do my Excel file version too. I can Ctrl+F in Excel to quickly find something on that spreadsheet vs flipping through 60 cards to find what I’m looking for. The Excel file is a pain but a time saver in the end. Once my Story Grid Excel spreadsheet is filled out (again, see SC’s website for a sample from Silence of the Lambs… brilliant stuff!), now I plot a map.

Each scene is ranked for the hero’s internal and external progress. It’s my own ranking system to judge how things are getting more positive vs more negative. Is she doing well getting what she wants or needs or is she in the crapper? I tend to sketch out the really high and low parts first (in pencil), then fill in the rest. Once I have my scribbles, I go back in with a colored marker to better show which story line is going where.

 

 

 

 

This map is something I did not do for any of the Burnt Mountain books, mostly because I was still learning about the Story Gridding stuff at that point and hadn’t learned enough yet to get into graphing the story.

So, the red line is the hero’s external story – what she wants. The blue line is her internal story – what she needs. This was covered at a high level on the foolscap Global Story Grid back on Part 1. It all comes back around to that.

The good news is that the lines go all over the place. They cross a few times, peak when things are going well for the hero and crash when the hero’s world comes crashing down (the second plot point that kicks off the start of the climax around the 75% mark). Near the end you can see that the hero makes another spike in getting what she needs while losing what she wants (blue line goes up, red line goes down). The lines cross again, and at the very end she’s ultimately a bit higher/above the baseline for both internal and external than when she started.

If the lines were all gently sloping here and there, that would be a bit of a boring read. Below is the cover of Coyne’s book. The lines are his grid of Silence of the Lambs. There are some serious zig-zagging and significant separations in the lines where Clarice Starling’s internal and external story lines go haywire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that covers the super quick, super high level process of what I’ve been doing with the new trilogy. Yep, Forgotten Echoes will end up being a three-fer. More to come on that as things develop. Currently it is with my last test reader, and I’m seriously looking forward to getting back into my writing groove once I am moved out of the house which is imminent. Yay!

Writing Process Part 2

If you need to refer back to any abbreviations or other info from Part 1, you can find that here.

So I have my high level Global Story Grid filled out. Next up is taking a blank sheet of paper and starting some more scribbles. I ballpark it out with numbers 1 through 60 to put in a guesstimate for 60 chapters. I then start marking percentage points of where certain things should fall. This isn’t in stone (Obviously! It’s paper in pencil!) so I have wiggle room. If the first plot point hits a little earlier or later than the 25% mark, it’s not the end of the world. These are just rough mile markers so I don’t get lost in case my brain hits a fever pitch of thoughts for plot events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is quite an intimidating piece of paper. I mean, the sucker is BLANK. So I start jotting things down where I THINK they will fall until I get some little blurb on each line. This is another one of those things that gets dragged around with me for weeks as I jot things down. Some parts are easier than others to fill out. Sometimes I know what will trigger the lull or second plot point to then set off the climax around 75%. Sometimes I know the ending and/or the beginning, and I have to sort out the middle parts. But ultimately, no writing on the laptop is taking place yet. This was a direct recommendation from AH that I reluctantly followed initially then later saw the huge benefits of it.

So if you’re using Joel’s 12 sentences model, this is the same thing except Joel’s has far fewer lines. I just draft things out with 60 sentence fragments.

A new thing I did on the most recent story was an attempt to organize some seriously scattered thoughts that I couldn’t track on my paper because I couldn’t “see” who was where. I had my characters split up and needed to keep track of who was where and doing what until I brought them all back together again. To remedy this I bought a pack of sticky notes and borrowed my brother’s dining room wall while I was visiting him. I had a field day of scribblies and sticking and moving things around.

 

 

 

 

Each row is for a particular character and represents what is actively going on or perhaps happening behind the scenes while other crap is happening face up in the story. Thankfully the painting on the wall didn’t mind me working around it, and even better, I didn’t knock it off the wall.

As I moved these stickies around I got a much better idea of what needed to happen and where in the story. So I did more scribbles (and erasures) on the paper with the chapter numbers to finish filling that out. The giant chunks of blank space become less intimidating as each line is filled in. I’ll sit on this for a few days, letting it marinate in the brain pan in case something changes with a new idea or whatever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know the images are blurred, and that is on purpose since this is for a book not yet written that is the follow up to Forgotten Echoes. No spoilers!

Part 3 to come.

Writing Process Part 1

I have mentioned in prior posts that I’ve changed my writing process up a bit, for the better. Since this “new process” means nothing to you if I don’t tell you what I’m doing differently, I am opting to elaborate. I’ll do a few posts to show you what kind of shenanigans I’m up to now when I start a new book. Since I’m close to the final wrap ups for the first book of the new trilogy completely unrelated to Burnt Mountain, now is a good time to show you the madness.

For starters, a quickie cheat list of names as I move forward. I am including several links here that will take you away from my site should you choose to investigate them. This is probably a poor business model, but I don’t care. I’m happy to refer any other writers or aspiring writers to seek out the pros, because I don’t have anywhere near the volume of knowledge and experience these folks have. The next few posts are about my hybrid process that is a result of listening to the advice and experiences of these people and picking apart what worked for me.

Firstly, the person that turned me to these resources and many more, author, book coach, friend, and great cook, Joel D Canfield. His site is here.

SC = Shawn Coyne. Editor and the mind behind The Story Grid process which you can read ALL about here.

SP = Steven Pressfield. Screenwriter, author, and mentor to other writers in the trenches. His site is here. SC and SP work together.

AH = Art Holcomb. Screenwriter, author, and book coach. Gleaned some good tips from taking one of his courses. See his stuff here.

LB = Larry Brooks. Pulitzer winning journalist, author, and book coach. Avidly promotes using story structure as a writing process (process, not formula!) over pantsing here.  LB and AH work together.

I have emailed with SC a few times and was one of the moderators on his forum for his website when the forum was running. I have done an 8-week online course and spoke on the phone with AH. I have worked with LB on a couple of occasions for story concept/premise analyses. And, I have worked with Joel as a book coach and mentor, still pester him from time to time on email and in the comments section of his website, and had the great privilege of meeting him and his family in person a few years ago when on a road trip to Wisconsin.  I have not (yet) interacted with SP, but the common thread among these folks is still there: they’re all wicked nice.

OK, into the process I have adopted that is a mish-mash of things taught by the five men mentioned above. (I have done readings of books, posts, and seminars from female writers and other male writers, but I resonate best with the ones mentioned above which is why my focus is there).

As an editor, SC gets books after they’ve been written. He begins dissecting them from high level and drilling down to a microscopic level.

AH recommends starting the writing process by figuring out ALL of the details first before typing one word. Both he and SP break a story down into 3 parts, as all screenwriters do, Act I, Act II, Act III.

LB promotes knowing story structure first, knowing plot points and where they should fall in a story. He breaks stories down into percentages for locations in the story, but these still ultimately align with the 3-Act structure. Act I/Beginning Hook = the first 25%. Act II/Middle Build = 25-75%, and Act III/Ending Payoff = 75-100%. The details of first plot point, first pinch point (yes, they are different), point of no return which happens to be around 50%, second pinch point, etc. can be found on both his and Joel’s websites. Joel has a 12-sentences model that aligns with LB’s percentages.

For me, step 1 is scribbling down thoughts/ideas, literally scrawled notes in my phone, an email, a sticky note, a note card, whatever I have on hand. These sometimes get transferred to more legible versions and are typed up as things start to solidify. This is when I start to bash out the concept and premise. LB has written volumes on the differences between the two. They’re NOT the same.

Once I think I’m solidly onto something, I mimic the breakdown SC does of a story already written, except I begin building my new story FROM the high level. For me, it’s more like figuring out the basics of what I think I want to write. Sometimes I’ll also fill out Joel’s 12-sentences worksheets to make sure I have a solid grip on what is in my head.

Borrowed from SC’s website, this is his high-level view of Silence of the Lambs in what he calls a Foolscap Global Story Grid:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the image above you can see how he starts breaking down the story. If you want the details around what each of the points for the Global Story parts mean, visit SC’s website. For me, I wanted to take that high level to get a general road map. Sort of like, if I want to make a cross-country drive across the US, let’s get a map of the entire US first.

For the new book, Forgotten Echoes, this is my high level view. Yes, I’ve blurred part of the image so there aren’t any spoilers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, I do mine in Excel. I’m a geek. What else did you expect? So I create the shell for this thing and print it out. I drag that piece of paper around with me for weeks and start scribbling on it in pencil. Once I have it sorted out, or think I do, I type it up so it’s nice and pretty, and I tape that sucker to the wall behind my laptop for quick reference.

In Part 2’s post, I’ll cover what I did next.