I plot. I spend weeks figuring out characters, locations, and flaws. And then I dig in deep. I plot my story out, by acts and beats, down to each and every scene of my story. And, sometimes, those scenes have beats and entire stretches of dialog in the notes.

Thinking Through Our Fingers: In the Mind of an Outliner – Arcs and Structure.

This is front loading a story with lots of work. I know this. But as a teacher, mom, wife, and all the other things, I realized I was doing more work trying to keep a story in my head than taking the time (several weeks) to really think through where I was going. Having a structured system lets me see the big picture and the small picture.

Like the quote says, I realize it’s a lot of work. I once bemoaned how long my writing process takes me and the wise K.M. Weiland tweeted back to me, to paraphrase, that’s the least important thing in writing I could worry about. And she’s so freaking right. Getting the story right, and layered with resonance, is the most important thing. How we get there are just details.

I have to add that once I start writing, it goes pretty fast. I can do up to 6k a day because everything is already in place, except the actual words. That becomes the easy part, at least in the first draft. I sprint with my friends, the words flying from my fingertips because I know where I’ve been, I know where I’m at, and I know where I’m going. Need to foreshadow–no problem.

I highly recommend that people try plotting, to their own comfort level. There are some things in your story that you will need to work out. Doing that ahead of time prevents writer’s block.

Best resources for plotting

Good luck!

P.S. Don’t forget my new novella, out now, My Fake Vegas Boyfriend. It’s book one of my Viva Las Vegas series set in 1958. Books 2 will be out in early April and book 3 in mid-June. Read chapter one here.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. She passed less than two years after her husband, my grandfather. They’ve been on my mind a lot lately. I catch my thoughts slipping into memories, like a bittersweet treat. I saw a typewriter today and thought I’d share one of the many reasons I love them so much.

When I was 15, I wanted a typewriter. I am a techie–always have been–and a writer. I take my wording quite seriously and always have.

This typewriter had a small word-processing feature on it. Not to give away my age, but this would’ve been summer of 1989. Believe me, when I tell you, this was cutting edge.

The typewriter would store one line in its memory and on the small screen. You could go back and edit that line or hit enter at the end and the line would be dashed off by the super-quick typewriting mechanism. I know it wasn’t the kind with keys that popped up for each letter. It was a grandfather to the computers that would come later and so it held the single line in memory then printed it off. There was also–and this was amazing–erasing tape. You could backspace and it would overwrite what had been written with a clear or white square.

I guess I saw this in the Sears catalog that my other grandmother would receive. (I’ve written about her before, too.) I’m not sure how much it cost. More than a hundred–less than three, I suppose. Which was exorbitant. My parents could never have afforded that.  I knew I would never get it, but it was so pretty, and technologically edgy, and perfect for someone who loved words. I knew I wanted to write, though nothing so specific as being a writer had formed. I think I was too scared of how much I wanted it to give it voice.

It was my birthday in July and my grandfather showed up. Now, with my children, he was very hands on. Went to all their school functions–that sort of thing. But with me… he was the big gun. I knew he loved me fiercely and would do anything within his power for me. That was more than enough.

He brought with him a box from Sears that held my beautiful Brother typewriter/word processor. My grandmother was with him, of course. He would’ve never known I wanted it if she hadn’t told him. I remembered wistfully telling her about all the features, how I was going to teach myself to type, how I could use it for school projects. I was… overwhelmed and grateful. I’m still grateful.

I did use it for school. I did teach myself to type, retyping magazine articles over and over until I could type at 90 wpm. I also wrote a few short stories on it. I kept it and used it in college, at least the first couple of years. Then computers took over the world and I managed to get myself one of those.

But, what a gift that was for a budding writer. The ability to write as many words as I wanted, neatly, cohesively. My heart says that maybe I wouldn’t be who I am today if they hadn’t been so generous and thoughtful.

I’m lucky enough to have my parents and a very special Aunt who has been like a combo second-mom/best friend to me over the years. I think the lesson for me is to enjoy each moment with them. Live in it. Feel the gratitude, be overwhelmed. Put the phone down and just be. I hope you’ll do the same this year, because we’re not promised any tomorrows. Let’s enjoy our todays to the fullest.

One of the big things I struggle with when starting a story is likeability. The general premise is that a reader needs to be able to connect with a character, that the character should have redeemable qualities so that the reader can like him or her.

I have two issues with this. First of all, I’ve written nice alphas and I’ve written jerky alphas–no one cares. These guys don’t have to be likable. They need to be heroic. They can be jerks and still live by their own code of ethics. I have zero problems pulling this off, but it bugs that heroes are given so much more latitude than heroines.

Second, I have a hard time making likable heroines. I’ve written everything from the wilting flower (who everyone loved, right off the bat–not my typical heroine) to, shall we say, more abrasive heroines (these are the ones I usually start out with). I prefer to think of them as complex.

Because, here’s the thing. My characters are not happy when the story starts. Their lives are usually in shambles or, they think they have everything under control, but it’s all just a house of cards waiting to fall. And people with difficult lives are not happy, likable people.

It really annoys me that I have to try to make my heroine conform to being “likable” in order for her to be identifiable. Um, look… I’m a likable person. But sometimes, I’m a wreck. Sometimes, I’m a handful. And, you know what? I think more people can identify with me than can not.

Starting right now, I’m going to fight this stereotype–that women only like to read about sweet, light, giving creatures. The Snow White, whistling while she works as birds light upon her finger. I never even liked Snow White. Or Cinderella. They were both basically doormats for their antagonists. Why would I want to write that?

Please, give me your opinion on heroines at the beginning of a story. What do you love and hate to see? Call it research, because I really need to know.

I’m joining with several (and I mean several) new-to-you writers to put out a newsletter every other month. This doesn’t replace my newsletter, which you should totally sign up for right now.

Each newsletter will highlight four different authors. You’ll find new excerpts, books on sale, book boyfriends (<3), and author spotlights. Each newsletter will also feature contests (plural) that you’ll automatically be entered to win by virtue of just being a subscriber.

We’re having a Sign-Up Contest now. Every subscriber will be entered to win one of three (3!) prizes: a $50 Amazon Gift Card, a $35 Amazon Gift Card, and a $20 Amazon Gift Card. In addition, we have a Facebook page which will be teeming with info about us all and you should go like it after you sign up for the newsletter below.

The winners for the prizes will be drawn on December 31. They will be announced on the Facebook page and emailed.

Sign up below to discover new stories and win contests. It’s literally win/win.

wildrosesandromance

Dating Advice from Romance Novels: Magnate by Joanna ShupeI recently finished Magnate by Joanna Shupe. This first in a trilogy gripped me until the very. last. page. Like, I went and bought the prequel novella, read it in a day, then pre-ordered the other two books. This month and January will be good reading months for me.

And even though it’s set in New York City’s Gilded Age (which Wikipedia tells me is from the 1870s to about 1900), I decided a book this great had to offer some quality dating advice. So, you’re welcome.

  1. Don’t have silly, girly ideas, like thinking for yourself or working. That’s beneath the elite women. Unless, you’re awesome, and even though you are from old money, you still want to earn your keep and save your family from financial ruin.
  2. Do hit up your brother’s friends for help, even though you know it would make him, like, crazy mad. And ruin your chances to form a good marriage. Because see number one.
  3. Don’t assume that when a man invites you to a private dinner at a trendy restaurant, and then he kisses you (which means marriage, pretty much), that it was actually intended for you. Brothers are wicked matchmakers.
  4. Honeymoons aren’t for sex. They’re for being lonely and cold. And arguments. And jealousy. And a little bit of sexy kissing on the stairs.
  5. Oh. my. gosh. Do have sex with your husband, as soon as you can find a blizzard to hit New York.

I’m totally off to mine Joanna Shupe’s backlist.

What books or new-to-you authors have you discovered recently?

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revisit toolsSeveral years ago, I was working on my second manuscript and I wrote about what tools I used to get the job done. (It was a terrible story that I never did finish, but that’s irrelevant. I did mine secondary characters from it and gave them their own story, so it was useful, at least.)

What did I use then?

Paper. Fancy journal, legal pad, graph paper, steno notebook–whatever makes you feel good.  We’re writers, and if you want to be a smart writer, you will write everything down somewhere.  Might as well make it a central place.  And believe me when I tell you, when that paper is full of your story, of your imagination, your muse at work… you’ll know why you write, if only for a moment.

I’m still a paper fanatic. And I still use a plain old spiral notebook. I write down character sketches, outlines, scene notes–you name it. It nearly always starts on paper before making its way onto the computer.

A binder, preferably one-and-a-half inch, sheet protectors, and a hole punch.

I don’t really use a binder anymore. I’m more likely to keep things in Evernote or, as I’m going to discuss later on, Scrivener.

An All-in-One Printer.  First of all, they’re just not that expensive anymore.

I definitely still use a printer. I print pages multiple times for edits. I just edit better on paper (no surprise there).

So what tool do I use the most now?

Scrivener. Although I still make use of paper, I keep my entire outline in Scrivener. I didn’t for the story I wrote before my current one. I kept them on index cards. Then I got sick and didn’t write for a month. And misplaced my cards. Scariest week of my life, thinking I was going to have to recreate that outline.

I also keep all my research in Scrivener, as you can just drop entire web pages in there and access them from the program.

Further, all those character sketches and pictures of what my characters look like? All in the research binder.

It’s basically my go-to for everything.

What do you use to keep your writing organized or to get more accomplished?

I’m fascinated by other people’s process, so please share in the comments!

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What tools I use now to get the most bang for my writing buck. How about you? Click To Tweet

Starting Your Story Too LateI’ve recently been puzzling over a story that seemed to have everything going for it… and it just faltered. I’d written a hundred pages and blah, boring, and the heroine was just bitchy. It wasn’t working. Then I realized I started the story too late. We’ve all heard the warnings about starting a story too soon, but this was different. All the good, clicky stuff happened before the story started. And I just figured, hey, great backstory. Except it should’ve been story.

I kept playing with it in my mind, turning it around, and I would always come back to what if I wrote about the before? And then I decided that’s how you make a story dull, because the story starts when the action starts. Except, obviously, actions happen in a backstory, right? I felt like the serpent eating its tail.

I sort of wondered, is this a common problem? Do other people make this mistake?

If you open the window too early, your readers have to drum their mental fingers waiting for the action to start. Open the window too late, and you’ll find yourself desperately filling in with flashbacks and infodumps.

caroclarke.com

Trust me--I hate flashbacks almost as much as infodumps. Click To Tweet But dumping is what I did–what I had to do. The story didn’t make sense without that info. I mean, a tried to dole it out slowly and hide it in conversation, but a dump is a dump.

That story has gone from a benched story to a to-be-written one. At least, once I figure out how to change those first 100 pages. Anyone else got battle scars like these? Have you ever started too soon or too late?

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More Reading:

Then

12.19.08
The Importance of Pre-Writing

I tried looking at pictures. Incidentally, Apartment Therapy is an awesome site.  So I bought a graph paper pad and I just drew the dance studio/apartment in no time.  I then described the way the rooms looked.  I included whoever’s viewpoint popped into my head, because different people see different things.  This helps me in two ways: 1) I can visualize these important places and the events that took place there easier and 2) I’ve got ready made description when I write scenes in those places.

I was amazed at how much such simple pre-writing work actually ignited my imagination.


Now

I still pre-write like it’s a lifeline to storytelling.  I call that creative time when you’re first planning a story, and the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, creative crack. It’s amazing and fun. And so much of writing isn’t all fun–it’s hard, hard work.

Using Pre-Writing as a Tool for WritingIn that post, I talked about planning out spaces to make our fictional places more real. Since then, an incredible tool has taken over the internet. You can look on the right and see it’s become a passion of mine: Pinterest. Obviously, I don’t just use it for writing.

But, with Pinterest, I can see my characters, interiors & exterior places, and even crucial items. And it’s “in the cloud,” accessible to me from any device, anywhere I can use the internet (which, let’s admit, in this age, is everywhere). In the novella I just finished writing, I used Pinterest for character placeholders, info about Vegas in the fifties (the setting), and clothing trends of the time. I deeply needed my research to make that story happen.

I’ve also noticed a trend: other writer’s are using it, too. I went to an online book release party, and all the authors shared their Pinterest story boards. Are readers interested in these? I was. I loved seeing the historical clothing, the shipwrecks, the cool clubs.

siglori

Pinterest has become the author's new best friend, letting us pile up valuable research. Click To Tweet

dating advice HOC3JI mentioned last week that I’m reading the trilogy that inspired House of Cards (also the name of the first book). I have since finished and thought I’d throw down some rules.

Dating Advice from Romance Novels: House of Cards

  1. Don’t get crushes on married men. You may* not die, but you’ll definitely get hurt.
  2. How many times do I have to say it? Go for the nice guy!
  3. There’s this thing called age-appropriateness. No rule is true in every case, but if someone was pushing four decades when you were born, it’s got to make you wonder what you have in common. For example, my husband and I both grew up in the 80s. So when we run out of things to talk about, we can always rehash old Dukes of Hazard and A-Team episodes.
  4. It’s okay to not want romance. Empowering even, maybe. But don’t lie to yourself. If you secretly want to hook-up with a married power-hungry politician, sort that shit out. #blog quote Click To Tweet
  5. Don’t let your libido prevent you from seeing that he’s a sociopath.

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*Spoiler Alert: You’ll totally die.

Read More

Specifically, four years and four months older, which was the average “ideal” age gap as reported by a survey of 2,000 adults.

If you’re anything like me and most of the planet, you binge-watched House of Cards on Netflix when they debuted the entire season (like they do) in February.

Confession: I’ve watched Seasons 1 and 2 three times. Once for each new season because this is a show you have to pay attention to. The smallest detail, especially on the part of Frank or his wife, can mean huge repercussions later.

Why are we so obsessed with Francis Underwood and his dirty doings? How is someone so amoral the protagonist of the story? To answer that, we have to talk about anti-heroes.

According to dictionary.com an anti-hero is:

a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.

That’s a place to start, but it doesn’t really explain how so many people can be fascinated by a character that is, essentially, a bad, unredeemed and never-to-be-redeemed person. For something a little closer to our purposes, I’ll add Writers Digest to the mix:

Antiheroes can be obnoxious, pitiful or charming, but they are always failed heroes or deeply flawed. Often riddled with paradoxical traits and qualities, they resemble real people more than any other type of fictional characters do, and they are increasingly popular these days in fiction, film and television.

Now that makes my brain get clicky. Obviously, they’re not heroes, but failed heroes. A failed hero does not arc, but chooses to continue handling whatever life throws at him in the same way, or worse ways. What I find most interesting is the notion that anti-heroes are the most realistic of fictional characters.

I hate to think that’s true. As someone who has worked in mental health for many years, I’ve seen my share of people who get it, where they’re making flawed choices, and completely turn it around. On the other hand, people who make the same mistakes are more common than not.

Does that mean anti-heroes lack self-awareness? Not the best of them. Definitely not Frank Underwood. I think one of the qualities that make him so much fun to watch is the deliberateness of his every move.

I’d love if you’d share your fave anti-heroes. I’m currently reading the House of Cards trilogy and the main character (who is British, not Southern) as well as the story are different enough to be enjoyable unto itself.

Tweet: House of Cards and Anti-heroes. Why are we so obsessed with Francis Underwood and his dirty doings? http://goo.gl/bTF1kc

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