Boil down your novel to one question 

It's that time of year again! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us! I am not participating this year as my main priority right now is revision and I'm not in a place to really work on something new, but good luck to everyone who is!

I was thinking about the years I did participate in NaNoWriMo. I always approached it as a "plantser"--a hybrid between a plotter and a pantser. I had some vague idea of the plot at the beginning--or sometimes I might even have a reasonably detailed outline--but it almost always changed as I was writing it.

One of the most challenging things about NaNoWriMo for me is figuring out plot. If you're anything like me, your plots can get a little complicated. Sometimes when you're in the middle of writing, you can get so bogged down that you don't even really know what the story is about anymore. If your a pantser, you figure it out after you write your first draft (or while you're writing it). If you're a plotter, you figure it out before. But at some point, you're going to need some plot structure. 

There are tons of ways to think about structure. The three-act structure, the hero's journey, etc. Today I'm going to give you a really simple way to think about plot structure. If you could boil down your novel to one question, what would it be?

Every narrative arc in a novel, movie, TV show, etc. can be summed up in one main question. Will Dorothy make it back home to Kansas? (The Wizard of Oz). Will Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy end up together? (Pride and Prejudice). If you have a series of books, there may be one question driving the whole series (Will Harry defeat Voldemort?) But each book needs to ask it's own question.

I think this is a good way to think about plot when you're in the middle of drafting because it doesn't mean stopping to make a detailed outline. It just means taking a few minutes before you sit down to write to think about what is driving the plot of your book.

So this week, I encourage all of you--especially those of you who are in the middle of your NaNoWriMo projects--to take some time and see if you can boil the plot of your novel down to one question. If not, you may need to think about the plot structure and figure out which question should be driving the plot. Is it a question of characterization? Will your character learn or grow? Is it a question related to some journey or quest? Will your character achieve his or her goal? These are all some good things to think about as you power through. 

 

Write About the Things You're Obsessed With 

I was talking to a friend the other day about one of the most important pieces of creative writing advice I’ve ever heard: 

Follow your obsessions. 

I’m definitely a person who gets obsessed with things. If you’ve ever binged Game of Thrones for hours at a time or stayed up until 3:00 AM reading Harry Potter or had dreams about the characters on Lost, you know what I’m talking about. 

There’s a lot of talk about fan fiction and whether or not it has any validity. I think fan fiction is great because it gives people a chance to follow their obsessions. If you loved a book, movie, or TV show but hated the ending, you can write your own alternative ending. If you're obsessed with a character, you can put them in a different universe just to write more about them. (Want to see Jack Skellington in modern day New York? Want to make Mr. Darcy go to college in Alabama?Want to see what would happen if Dracula started going to your gym? Write some fan fiction!) Often, fan fiction authors go on to write other original stories (50 Shades of Grey anyone? The Mortal Instruments series? Both of these came from fan fiction authors.) 

Find what it is you are obsessed with and allow yourself to daydream. Allow yourself to fantasize. Start writing stories just for yourself. Because you’ve always loved your history teacher and sometimes you imagine what he was like as a teenager. Because you are obsessed with Dark Side of the Moon and you want to write a story that makes you feel what you feel when you listen to it. Whatever it is, figure it out, and go with it. 

Do not judge or psychoanalyze your obsessions. Who knows why we are into the things we are into? In the world of creativity, there are no limits. Let yourself like what you like and give yourself the chance to write about it. 

Do not worry about what other people will think. Let yourself write and tell yourself it’s just for you. If something really great comes out of it, then awesome! You can show people if you want to. But following your obsessions is just about finding what makes you excited, what makes you tick, what makes you want to create. 

When I wrote the play, Painted, in undergrad, I became so obsessed with the Muse characters, Vincent and Izabella, that I found myself wanting to spend more time with them. I toyed around with other projects that I thought might be more “accessible” for a while but it wasn’t until I returned to Vincent and Izabella that I was able to complete a novel. Because I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t let those characters and that story die inside of me. Ten years later, Vincent and Izabella still live in We Own the Sky.

Find your obsessions and then just let yourself go. Let yourself dream. Let yourself fall down the rabbit hole. You might just find that it will lead you to the story you’ve always wanted to write.

Music in WE OWN THE SKY 

WE OWN THE SKY is in many ways a love letter to many of the songs that have inspired me. I have a tattoo on my leg of Morrissey, and underneath is the quote from The Smiths song "Rubber Ring" that says "Don't forget the songs that made you cry and the songs that saved your life." The songs mentioned in WE OWN THE SKY are songs that saved Sylvia's life. Some of them are autobiographical to me (pretty much any of the M83 songs mentioned), and some of them are songs that she loves more than I do. 

It may seem weird to the normal reader that these songs are mentioned so much in WE OWN THE SKY. It may even get annoying by the end. "Okay, we get it! You love M83!" But the person who stays up until 3 in the morning when they are 17 listening to the same Radiohead song on repeat for hours will understand. The people who have goosebump moments to their favorite songs will get it. The people who get excited and yell when that obscure band they love comes on over the speakers at the coffee shop will get it. And to us--the music lovers--you can't play your favorite songs too many times. There are never too many mentions of the songs that saved our lives. 

The entire MUSE CHRONICLES series is a love letter to music--the way songs inspire us, uplift us, move us, save us. And let's be honest, the majority of things I have written have been love letters to music. And I'm okay with that. Because as writers, we have to write what we know. What we love. Who we are. 

I made playlists on three different platforms for WE OWN THE SKY, and I wanted to share that playlist with you today.

The WE OWN THE SKY playlist:

1. "We Own the Sky" - M83 
2. "Angel, Angel Down We Go Together" - Morrissey 
3. "The Golden Age" - Beck 
4. "Breathe (In the Air)" - Pink Floyd 
5. "Young Guns" - Moonlight Bride 
6. "Everybody Talks" - Neon Trees 
7. "Lonely Boy" - The Black Keys 
8. "Mojo Pin" - Jeff Buckley 
9. "Love in the Dark" - Moonlight Bride 
10. "Tonight, Tonight" - Smashing Pumpkins 
11. "The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66-: Entr'acte" - Tchaikovsky 
12. "Sing for Absolution" - Muse 
13. "Karma Police" - Radiohead 
14. "Wait" - M83 
15. "Violet" - Hole 
16. "Blackout" - Muse 
17. "Seasons of Love" - The cast of RENT 
18. "Somebody that I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra)" - Gotye 
19. "Untitled 4" - Sigur Ros

Listen on Spotify

Listen on YouTube

Listen on Amazon Music

How to Write Better Dialogue 

Hey everyone! So I used to have a writing blog where I wrote specifically about the craft of writing. As everyone is getting ready for National Novel Writing Month next month, I thought it was a great time to bring that back here. So today I wanted to talk about something that comes up a lot in the screenwriting class I teach for Southern New Hampshire University: dialogue. 

Dialogue is something I think about a lot. In college and grad school, my main focus was playwriting. Dialogue is your main tool in playwriting. You can’t constantly change locations like you can with film, and you don’t usually have access to the character’s thoughts and feelings like you do with fiction so the story is primarily told in the dialogue. 

But you don’t have to be writing a play or a film to want to write great dialogue. Whatever you’re writing, dialogue is an excellent tool that reveals so much about the characters. Here are a few things to think about. 

Voice 

How does your character speak? How do they phrase things? What kind of words do they choose to use? Do they use a lot of slang? Do they curse a lot? How does your character’s education or cultural background inform the way they speak? 

These are all important things to think about when you are thinking about a character’s voice. It’s also important that you give each of your characters a distinct voice. If you have a plethora of diverse characters with different backgrounds and different personalities, you don’t want them all to have the same voice. 

Subtext 

People rarely say what they mean. Understanding what a character really thinks or feels about a situation may help you to craft the actual conversation that takes place. An interesting exercise is to write a scene where only the honest and direct truth is spoken. Then go back and rewrite the same scene where the lines you wrote first are only subtext. 

Whenever your character has a line of dialogue, it’s good to think about what the underlying feelings, thoughts, and motives are that cause the character to say the line. 

Purpose 

We want dialogue to sound natural and realistic, but we don’t need to go into every mundane detail that might be in a real conversation. Dialogue should have a purpose. It should either further the plot, reveal something about a character, or both. Look at your dialogue in a scene from a recent play, film, or story. Would the scene still make sense or reveal the necessary information about your character if the line were omitted? If so, leave it out. 

Exercises 

Here are a few exercises to help you work on your dialogue. 

Eavesdropping 

Go to a public place like a coffee shop or the mall. (Airports are GREAT for this!) Sit in one place and listen to the way people are speaking as opposed to what they are actually saying. Pay attention to dialect. Do they pronounce certain words differently? What can you infer about them just by listening to the way they speak? 

Playwriting 101 

Try writing a short scene (2 - 4 pages) for the stage with two characters where each person wants something different from the other person. Don't use any stage directions. When you are finished, go back and write out the subtext of each line of dialogue. This exercise will be great for fiction writers, but even if you're an experienced playwright, it's always great to sharpen your tools. 

Get to the Point 

Pick a scene from your latest novel, play, or screenplay. Go through and cross out every line you don’t need. How does it change the scene? Is there a lot of extraneous information you’re getting rid of? With this new version of the scene in mind, put the lines back in that help to serve your story.

Release day! WE OWN THE SKY is now available! 

Today is the day! My debut YA urban fantasy, WE OWN THE SKY, is available! The e-book is on sale for just $0.99 on Amazon until 8/23! After that, it goes up to $2.99.


Order the e-book here.


The book is also available in paperback. It's just $10.00 on my website and $10.99 on Amazon. (Note: The paperback version hasn't shown up yet on Amazon as of today, 8/15/17, but the paperback is available here on the website.)

Be one of the first 50 people to order the paperback from my website and get a signed copy, a promotional bookmark, and a promotional button!
 

Order the paperback here.

Book description:

What could you create if you fell in love with a Muse? 

16-year-old musician, Sylvia Baker, has always been different. She's the only one who can see the "flickering people." When she sees a gorgeous flickering man named Vincent, she learns that they are Muses. 

With his help, she finds herself creating exquisite songs that she loves almost as much as songs by her favorite bands--Radiohead, M83, and The Black Keys--and she is falling in love in a way she never knew was possible. While trying to maintain her newfound friendships and her band, she falls deeper into the world of the Muses. 

When the original Greek Muses wake to find a world in which the internet has given everyone the tools to be an artist, a battle between traditional and new methods of creation ensues. As Sylvia discovers how she is connected to the world of the Muses, she learns that this war may put her music, her love, her very life at stake.

 

Help spread the word!

Help me get the word out about my book to the world! How can you do that?

Tweet about it. Click the link below to Tweet about it. 

Tweet: What would you create if you fell in love with a Muse? WE OWN THE SKY #YA fantasy available now! $0.99 on Amazon! https://ctt.ec/c69Uc+

Share a link to this post on my blog or grab any of the images on there to share to social media.

Check out the book trailer, the Goodreads page, or the WOTS playlist.

WOTS book trailer
WOTS on Goodreads
WOTS playlist on Spotify
WOTS playlist on YouTube
WOTS playlist on Amazon Music

Thank you SO MUCH everyone for all of your support! It means so much to me. I am so excited to finally share this book with you all.

 

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