Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Indie Life: Fifteen Minute Break-Character Vitals

I am continuing with the next installation of my series, Fifteen Minute Break. Today, I want to talk about characters.

Fifteen minutes is more than enough time to create a character development sheet. A character development sheet is a form used to record the attributes about your characters. It covers everything from physical features to occupation to family, all your characters vitals. Vitals is a good way to think about what's on this sheet.

Think of the vitals taken at doctor visits. The information recorded on the sheet may be very brief but very important. There is no arbitrary questions, not even height and weight (by the way, these are important for medication and dosing). These things give a snapshot of you, the patient and guides the doctor through his decisions.

You're character development sheet does the same thing for your character. They help guild you as the writer to properly develop your characters. You may not have long answers, especially if you're working in fifteen minute increments, but all of the information is important. Let's take the example from above. Your character's height and weight are very important because it will govern how they act and respond to the events in your book. If you have a character who is going to fight the bad guy to the death, you need to make sure he's physically up to the challenge.

Feel free to download my character development sheet or create your own. Take fifteen minutes and fill one in for each character in your book, but minor characters might not need as much work as main characters. Also remember this is just a starting point. As you get into your book, you may realize that some of the attributes that you've given your character actually don't work. That's okay.  Make the changes on the sheet as you go.

Creating a character development sheet doesn't only help you shape your character, it can also be used when you begin the editing process. Your character development sheet will remind you that your character's eyes are brown, not blue. It will remind you of any habits that you've given your character and of their personality. By keeping this sheet nearby when your editing, you can ensure that your character stays consistent throughout the whole book.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

This Is Who I Am

On Monday, I hosted a post on my upcoming dive into NaNoWriMo. In it, I talked about how I've learned what kind of writer I am by doing this challenge almost every year since 2011. But as I thought about that post, I realized that I've also learned what kind of person I am. And it only took forty years! My musing about my life began with something very simple: I bought a small whiteboard for my refrigerator to keep track of my work schedule.

That whiteboard reveals a couple of truths about me. First and foremost, I don't have the greatest memory. As a matter of fact, my husband started managing my work schedule after I repeatedly went to work at the wrong time, sometimes late and once, a full hour early. So I started texting my work schedule to him and he posted where we both could see it on a notepad on the fridge.

Second truth the board reveals is I am an out of sight, out of mind kinda girl. If I don't have a very visual reminder, I will forget. I actually have a bigger whiteboard in another part of the house to remind me of all my writing and graphic design projects. That way I can see everything I need to do with a glance. Third truth is that I am a visual person. I need to see things and they stick in my mind better when I do.

These are truths that I know about myself. I've known them for years. The difference between now and then is that I have finally accepted them.

I used to hate that I needed all these reminders. I used to hate feeling like I was disorganized (and honestly, I am. My husband calls my life organized chaos). I had an idea of the person I wanted to be in my head and I never quite measured up. I would often say in my head, If I could just be more whatever like whoever. Sadly, the things I wanted to change about myself weren't bad or sin, they just were. Of course, I didn't see it that way. I couldn't accept that I'm a slightly disorganized person unless I strictly manage my time.

 But now, I recognize that this is who I am and instead of fighting against it, I need to learn to work with the person I am. With that acceptance, I've found that I far more organized that I've ever been and I have a lot less self-loathing. This who God created me to be and if I could have changed it, I would have before now.

This is who I am. I've accepted that and now I can move on.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ready, Set, NaNo!

This year will be the fifth year I’ve dived into the exciting waters of NaNoWriMo. I’ve won three of them, surpassing fifty thousand words. I quite excited about this year because I’m the most ready that I’ve ever been for NaNoWriMo. I have a good bit of my novel plotted, enough to get me started. I have great confidence that I’ll cross the finished line with an almost complete novel.

I never imagined that I would grow to love this challenge. The task seemed so daunting the first year I participating. Fifty thousand words seemed impossible, but I did it and I was hooked. Once I got past my initial fear of writing so many words in 30 days, I realized that NaNoWriMo has been a great way to develop as a writer.

I am not the same writer as I was in 2007. I shudder to think of how bad my writing must have been back then. NaNoWriMo has helped me improve my craft. When you write fifty thousand bad words, it’s easy to recognize when something is good. More valuable than improving my craft, I’ve figured out what kind of novelist I am. That alone is work all the effort.

As I NaNo’ed, I figured out my process. I figured out that I can’t work with a detailed outline of my novel ahead of time. I figured out that I must discover the plot as I write. That was a major revelation. I need to know my characters and their background, but during NaNoWriMo, I need to let them lose on the page and let them do what they do naturally.

Yes, I admit that this is not the ideal way for writers who want to move to a place of getting publishing contracts by synopsis only. I, however, cannot change my process. Heaven knows I tried. But each year, I find that I only need a general idea of the story before I get started. Having it all mapped out doesn’t work for me. I need to be engaged in the story just as my reader is, discovering the twists and turns as I go.

I think that’s the most valuable prize I will ever get from NaNoWriMo. Now that I know how I write, I can write all year round, discovering my stories as I go. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Indie Life: The Fifteen Minute Break

I have recently rejoined the workforce. The journey has been a major life adjustment. I actually have to plan my life (ugh) and learn to be more efficient in smaller blocks of time…namely, my fifteen minute break.

I get two 15 breaks at my job. When I first started working, I was convinced that I would just have to find time once I’ve gotten off work to write. I convinced myself that fifteen minutes wasn’t enough to work on my novel. Two months in, I wasn’t really making more time at home to write and had to make that fifteen minutes work.

For the next couple of Wednesdays, I will be sharing a series of posts on how to be more effective with just fifteen minutes. I’m calling them the Fifteen Minute Break.

The first thing is to get acquainted with fifteen minutes. You might think it’s short like I did, but it’s long enough to get short bursts of work done. To get a real time feel, set your oven timer (or whatever buzzing device you have) to fifteen minutes. Do this a couple of times. The key is to get a realistic feel for how much time you actually have.

Also, you can time tasks to see how long they take. Here is a list of tasks that take fifteen minutes:
  • Brushing your teeth 7.5 times.
  • Preparing 5 packages of Oodles of Noodles
  • Downloading upgrades on a PC (maybe longer depending on the age of your computer)
  • Pumping two tanks of gas (take a friend)
  • Playing 7 rounds of Tetris Frenzy
  • A long shower (you’ll need lots of moisturizer afterwards)
  • Going through the drive through a Chick-fil-a (but it’s worth it)
  • The time it takes the officer to get out of the car after he’s pulled you over for speeding (don’t ask me how I know)
  • Finding your phone when you’re late for work
  • Getting through the “express” line in the supermarket
  • Washing a load of laundry on quick wash
  • Saving money on your car insurance (Never actually done it so someone else will have to verify)

Come back next week and I’ll talk about the tools you need to be more effective on your fifteen minutes break. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Indie Life: Back to School

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…at least for parents of school age parents. It’s back to school time. Even if you don’t have children or your children have all grown up, there is something changes at the end of summer. Vacations and play are over. Time to get back to learning.

Since we’re in a season when so many are thinking about their educational pursuits, maybe indie writers should do the same. Now would be a good time to go back and focus on the basics: writing craft.

So much of our indie lives are focused on marketing and promotion. Or on getting our website in order or scheduling our blog posts, but what about our actual writing? How much time do we spend becoming better writers?

A well-crafted book is the foundational of a successful indie life. There is no substitute for it. You can promote to the high heavens, but if your prose doesn’t shine, it will all be for naught.

Poorly written book is one of the stigmas of indie books, and unfortunately, in some cases, it’s true. Since indie publishing is so easy now, anyone with some free time and a Word document can have a book live for purchase in a few hours. I have certainly read my share of poorly written indie books with poor sales, but our books don’t have to end up that way.

Putting time into improving craft can be very beneficial to not only your sales, but to your as a writer. Learning something new will put fresh wind in your writing sails. Mastering a technique can boost your confidence. Pushing to improve as a writer can also cure writer’s block and eliminate any feelings of stagnation.

How do we go about improving? Most of us can’t enroll in writing classes (but if you can, I suggest you do), so our education takes other forms.

Read. I’ve heard the advice of reading in your genre, but I would suggest broadening that to reading everything. Some elements of writing, like pacing and character arcs, can be learned from a well-written book from any genre. Read more and pay attention to what is working and what is not in the book. Take notes and see if it can apply to your writing.

Read writing craft books. If you have a library card, you can improve your writing. Most library systems are well stocked with writing craft books. Check a few and read them. Pick up a copy of Writer’s Digest. Many of these resources will present different suggestions on tackling a particular technique, but keep reading until you find one that works for you.

Do your homework. Now that you are armed with information, it’s time to apply it to your writing. This will require you to really take a hard, objective look at your writing. Most writers already know what their writing weaknesses are. Practice some of the tips you gained on your weak areas. And don’t forget your strong areas. Yes, they are already working, but look at ways to make them better.

Get critiqued. This is a challenging one because most of us have had some interesting experiences in critique groups. That being said, having someone other than your mother or husband critique is very helpful. Find two or three people who are broad readers, people who read all genres, and ask them to read your manuscript. These people are called beta readers. Even if they can’t tell you what exact technique you need to improve on, they can tell you when something is not working.

Our writing careers started with us learning about writing craft, and that learning shouldn’t stop once we’ve published. We need to push to learn and improve. Learn something new today.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tea & Read: Undeniably Yours

Title: Undeniably Yours
Author: Becky Wade
Genre: Contemporary Christian Romance
Rating: One Cup of Tea (★)

This is the second book by Becky Wade that I've read. I loved the first. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this one as much as I did the first. 

When Meg Cole's father dies unexpectedly, she becomes the majority shareholder of his oil company and the single inheritor of his fortune. Though Meg is soft-spoken and tenderhearted--more interested in art than in oil--she's forced to return home to Texas and to Whispering Creek Ranch to take up the reins of her father's empire.

The last thing she has the patience or the sanity to deal with? Her father's thoroughbred racehorse farm. She gives its manager, Bo Porter, six months to close the place down.

Bo's determined to resent the woman who's decided to rob him of his dream. But instead of anger, Meg evokes within him a profound desire to protect. The more time he spends with her, the more he longs to overcome every obstacle that separates them--her wealth, his unworthiness, her family's outrage--and earn the right to love her.

But just when Meg begins to realize that Bo might be the one thing on the ranch worth keeping, their fragile bond is viciously broken by a force from Meg's past. Can their love--and their belief that God can work through every circumstance--survive?

One of the things I enjoy about Becky Wade's writing is her voice. She has a very cozy tone in her books that makes me want to switch my hot tea to iced tea and find a porch to sit on. I also love her characters. They ring true and Meg and Bo are no different. I liked Wade's treatment of Meg's anxiety and her attitude towards her wealth. It resonates with me. Bo also is everything you want your strong male lead to be, handsome and conflicted. The plot lines were good although a little predictable. The pace kept me interested but it didn't have the urgency to keep reading. It was leisurely, which isn't exactly a bad thing. 

My main problem with this book was there is a surprise element at the ending that I didn't enjoy. If this element had been suggested throughout the whole book, I wouldn't have lowered the rating as much. The ending felt very deus ex machina. I found myself really disappointed at the ending. 

I think I will take another chance on Wade's next book since I so enjoy her voice and her characters.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tea & Read: A Noble Groom

Title: A Noble Groom
Author: Jody Hedlund
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction
Rating: One Cup of Tea (★)

This is the first book I've read from Jody Hedlund. I must admit that the cover of this book drew me in more than the storyline. 

Recently widowed Annalisa Werner has the feeling her husband was murdered but can't prove it. Alone with her young daughter in 1881 Michigan, she has six months left to finish raising the money needed to pay back the land contract her husband purchased, and the land is difficult to toil by herself. She needs a husband. With unmarried men scarce, her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.

For nobleman Carl von Reichert, the blade of the guillotine is his fate. He's been accused and convicted of a serious crime he didn't commit, and his only escape is to flee to a small German community in Michigan where he'll be safe. He secures a job on Annalisa's farm but bumbles through learning about farming and manual labor.

Annalisa senses that Karl is harboring a secret about his past, yet she finds herself drawn to him anyway. He's gentle, kind, and romantic--unlike any of the men she's ever known. He begins to restore her faith in the ability to love--but her true groom is still on his way. And time is running out on them all.

This book has the basics right. Carl and Annalisa are great characters. I liked Annalisa's balanced character. She was both tough and tender. I loved her drive to save her farm, but that fact that she recognized that she needed help. Carl really does exemplify the title. He really was noble and heartwarming. His caring nature won me over from the time he was introduced. The writing was good and flowed easily and the authors treatment of classicism was believable and added depth to the story. 

My lower rating comes from the fact that the pace of the book was quite slow to me. I didn't quite feel the drive to finish it, although it was enjoyable while I was reading it. A couple of the plot lines were very predictable but were saved by the strength of the characters.

This was an easy, but enjoyable read. I would venture to read other books by Hedlund.