Master Your Craft: The Big Idea

Master Your Craft
Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll  discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. (For more information, see last week’s intro post.) This week, I’ll discuss The Big Idea.

So you’re ready to write a novel. You’ve got a character, maybe a scene, a vague idea of the plot…you’re ready to sit down and start writing, right?

Not so fast.

Even seasoned writers can be fooled by a Shiny New Idea. So before you dive into drafting, take some time to test your book-to-be and make sure your new idea is also a Big Idea.

Here are some of the questions we Pennies ask ourselves at the dawn of a new idea:

  • Do I have passion for this story? This might seem obvious, but a novel takes a while to write, and it’s crucial that you have a deep and abiding passion that can sustain you. Another way to ask this question: Is this a story I must tell the world, or is it just a story I’d like to read? I wrote 20,000 words of my current WIP before realizing that one aspect of my story just wasn’t interesting enough to me to push me through all the research I needed to do. I’d love to read that original idea, but it isn’t a story my heart longs to tell.
  • Do I feel urgency to tell this story NOW? I have an entire file of story ideas. Some of them are really cool! But none of them are begging me to tell them right this second. That sense of urgency is another indication that this is a Big Idea.
  • Do I have a vivid protagonist with an overarching goal? In other words, who is your main character, and what does he or she want? Can you hear his or her voice? This is the foundation of any story, and if you don’t have this, it’s going to be so much harder to spin a full novel out of your idea. I’m not sure The Hobbit would have had such enduring power if Bilbo hadn’t longed with his entire being to be back in the Shire.
  • Can I visualize the entire story arc? Often the beginnings of our ideas are just the flash of a character or a scene. But of course, novels need more than one brilliant scene or one fascinating character. Take some time to consider where your story is going. What sets off the action? How does the MC change as the story progresses? What peak conflict will push your MC to the end of the story?
  • Can I write a logline for this story? If you can write a pithy pitch for your idea before you write a word of the story itself, chances are you’ve got the makings of a Big Idea.
  • Are others excited when I tell them my idea? How do your CPs react when you tell them your pitch? Are there “oohs” and “aahs”? Or are they asking questions and offering “what ifs”? Other writers are especially good at recognizing Big Ideas, and if they’re not sold, chances are you have more work to do. And it’s pretty important to get feedback at this stage, even though we can all be very protective of our fledgling stories. Our agented Pennies have reported sending slews of new ideas to their agents only to be told that none of them quite pass muster as is. Most of the time, this just means you need to do the work of fleshing out the idea and finding a unique way into the story. But it is way better to learn this before you write 60,000 words.
  • Is there a market for my idea? Although this question can put a damper on your Shiny New Idea excitement, it’s really important to do this research. Don’t be the author trying to sell a dystopian after the market flood of apocalyptic fiction!

Sadly, some story ideas are flawed from the get-go. Stubborn writers can spend years working on stories that will ultimately go nowhere…and a lot of that heartbreak can be avoided if you take a few days or weeks to really road-test your story first.

And if you can answer “YES!” to all these questions? Congratulations! You’re still not quite ready to write, but you’re one step closer to seeing your Big Idea become a Big Fat Novel.

(Need help coming up with a Big Idea? Check out this earlier Winged Pen post about creative cross-pollination, this one about writing prompts, or this one exploring where ideas come from, to get your creative juices flowing.)

Come back next Wednesday where we’ll discuss Main Character Development.

Introducing Master Your Craft: A New Series by the Winged Pen

Master Your Craft

The last month has been an exciting time here at The Winged Pen as Pennies have been hard at work behind the scenes coming up with a surprise for you.

Today, to coincide with Camp NaNo – the virtual writer’s retreat that helps you fit writing into your busy life – we’re excited to launch our new blog series: Master Your Craft with the Winged Pen (#WPMYC).

Every Wednesday for the next several months, we will take you through the entire process of writing a novel – everything from getting the Big Idea, all the way to the final, ready-to-query manuscript.

Our Pennies will share with you all of our best techniques and tools, starting with pre-writing tricks, including character development, research and world-building, to make your drafting as painless as possible.

Of course, writing a novel is going to include some pain, so we’ll walk you through the drafting process, too. We’ll help you fight that terrible enemy of the drafting novelist: the fear of the blank page. And we’ve got a host of tips and tricks to help you overcome the stalls, blocks and annoying plot bunnies that threaten to derail every first draft.

And once you’ve got your story down on paper, we’ll give you all of our favorite techniques for making a story shine until it positively gleams.

Each of our Pennies has a slightly different process and does each of our steps in a different order, so don’t feel like you have to follow this formula exactly. Instead, think of it as a compendium of writerly advice designed to help you on your novel-writing journey.

Writing a novel can be a lonely, demoralizing process. But it doesn’t have to be. Let us help you – and help each other – to shape the vibrant and enduring stories that are living so vividly in our heads into the best manuscripts we can possibly make.

We can’t wait to start sharing this treasure trove of posts with you! If you’re not already following us, go ahead and sign up so you won’t miss a single tip. And if you know someone struggling to write a novel, tell them to sign up, too. The fun starts next Wednesday, so don’t miss out!

Finally, if you have questions, comments or just want to cheer us on (sometimes we need cheering, too!), comment away here or on any of our Master Your Craft posts. We love to hear from you!

Using Setting to Create a Three-Dimensional World for Your Story: THE URBAN SETTING THESAURUS

We received a free copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Urban Settings Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces in exchange for an honest review. Since we’re fans of their Emotion Thesaurus as well as their thesauri of positive and negative character trains, we were excited to dive in. (See our review of the other books here.)

The Urban Setting Thesaurus is a wonderful resource for a fiction writer! The bulk of this book and its sister craft book, The Rural Settings Thesaurus, is comprised of two-page entries describing dozens of settings that could pop up in any fiction genre — from a police car to an emergency room, the stands of a sporting event to an art gallery. Each entry provides a wealth of sensory words describing the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even tastes that characterize that setting.

In the recording studio entry, you find sights like vocalists warming up, cords running from instruments to outlets and recording equipment, and the “recording” light to let you know to keep quiet. You hear humming or instruments being played, smell takeout Chinese food or coffee, and feel the snug fit of headphones over your ears. If your scene takes place in a setting you’ve never been to, this thesaurus can help you craft the experience your characters will encounter in a way that will make your story feel more real to your reader.

Not sure where a scene should take place? A flip through entries listed in the table of contents could help you brainstorm. Perhaps your protagonist is mulling over whether to confront her antagonist…she could do that anywhere. But what she sees, hears and touches as she weighs her decision could more vividly show her mood and emotions. What backdrop would carry the most emotional impact? Would highlight her fears and the challenges she’ll need to face?

In addition to the setting entries, there is a wealth of information in the first chapters of The Urban Setting Thesaurus on how to use setting to convey your story with the most impact. These chapters discuss how to use setting to create a mood, to characterize a room full of primary and secondary characters, and to heighten tension. They also illustrate using all the senses to pull the reader into your scene.

I’m sure I’ll turn to this helpful resource again and again.

You can find The Urban Settings Thesaurus on:

Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

For more on using The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus, see Laurel’s post here!

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

 

 

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can read THE WOUNDED BOOK, her adventure story for young readers on Wattpad. Or find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

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Review – How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript

In How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript, James Scott Bell promises the reader craft secrets to shape great dialogue. As a writer juggling a full life, the phrase “fastest way to improve” catches my eye and I hit Amazon’s buy now button.

When the book arrives, it’s a slim 135 pages. Was it worth the price? Will it stay on my How To writing shelf or end up in the donate pile? I find my favorite booth at Panera, order an iced tea, and crack it open.

I have my doubts the first few pages. Bell starts with what not to do examples that are so bad my fourth grader would know better. With a sigh, I turn a few pages. Next up is a tip that all characters should bring specific, opposing agendas to a scene. I read an excerpt from Gone With the Wind and jot a note to myself: Identify characters’ opposing agendas at the start of scene to increase conflict and tension. A few fun ideas bubble up.

The next idea sounds crazy, but I try it. Bell’s tip is to take a dialogue heavy section in my story and pick a random line. Then I go to my bookshelf, select a favorite novel, and flip it open. The first line of dialogue on that page will now replace the line of dialogue in my manuscript. Bizarre, but it works! My scene takes a creative twist and the dialogue’s interest shoots up.

Bell’s book includes tips on everything from punctuation to attributions to cursing, but the idea that pulls me in next is bare bones dialogue. I tend to be wordy. So I take a page of my dialogue and snip, snip, snip. My goal is to get each line to five words or less. The page suddenly has more white space and the dialogue more snap.

After applying Bell’s tips, I email my newest scene to my tough love critique partner whose comments tend toward “yawning here” or “this scene matters why?”

Several days later, I’m back at my favorite Panera booth, sipping my iced tea and open my email. My critique partner has responded and I nearly keel over when I read: Engaging and well written scene. Easy, enjoyable read. I wonder if it’s the tea or all the hard work. Nice job!

I write back that it’s not the tea, but the tips from How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript.

Worth the cost?

Definitely!

A keeper?

For sure.

Find Mentors after Pitch Wars?

If Pitch Wars 2017 seems too far away or too selective for you, you can always try out other mentorship programs available online.

Some are free and some come with a fee. I have listed both below.

But first….

What should you expect from a mentor?

A mentor is a professional who is ahead of the game and understands the industry better than you. By definition, a mentor advises, guides.

However, a mentor is not your friend, like a CP (critique partner) could be. A mentor is NOT someone with a magic wand like a Book Doctor or a Ghost Writer.

A mentor will point out what you need to work on, and will give you pointers and references.

Mentors will talk to you periodically, from just a few hours up to a year.

Finally, a mentor will be most helpful if you’ve tried your best, maybe won a few awards or competitions, sent a bunch of queries that did not amount to anything, and you’re now ready to move to the next level.

FREE MENTORSHIP PROGRAMS:

Writing with the stars is a mentorship opportunity for intermediate picture book writers and illustrators. 3 months mentorship. <http://beckytarabooks.com/contest/>

AWP Mentorship: Every Spring and Fall. The program matches new and established writers for a three-month series of modules covering topics from craft to publication to the writing life. < https://www.awpwriter.org/community_calendar/mentorship_program_overview>

Australian Society of Authors (ASA) mentorship. The ASA offers paid mentorships to all published and unpublished writers and picture book illustrators with a work-in-progress. <https://www.asauthors.org/emerging-writers-and-illustrators-mentorships>

CBS Diversity Institute’s Writers Mentoring Program (script writing) Will help you get your TV show on the way. <https://www.cbscorporation.com/diversity/diversity-institute/writers-mentoring-program/>

Gemini Ink Mentorship Program: Spring. Apply to the Gemini Ink 2016 Mentorship Program and be one of four writers chosen to work one-on-one over a six month period with a nationally recognized author on a book-length project, free of charge. < http://geminiink.org/writing-mentorships/>

SCBWI Mentorship Programs. Any SCBWI regions offer mentorship programs that match established members with up-and-coming authors and illustrators. Some of these programs are open to just members in a particular region, others are open to any SCBWI member. < https://www.scbwi.org/scbwi-mentorship-programs/>

WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) Mentorship Program: October.  For the 2017 year, WNDB is offering mentorships to ten upcoming voices—eight aspiring authors and two illustrators—who are diverse or working on diverse books. <http://weneeddiversebooks.org/aboutapply/>

Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Your Novel Year: Summer. Arizona State University. Online Certificate Program in the country for those looking to write Young Adult novels. <https://piper.asu.edu/novel>  

Leigh Shulman’s Women’s Writing Mentorship Exchange. For women. Will read through answers and choose 65 people to work with the mentors. Results come in June. <http://thefutureisred.com/birthday-giveaway-2016/>

The WoMentoring project. Accessible to only women, especially women who cannot afford a traditional mentorship program. This organization depends entirely on volunteers. <https://womentoringproject.co.uk/>  

1st 5 Pages Writing free Workshop. Will workshop your first five pages with authors and an agent. <http://www.1st5pageswritingworkshop.com/p/mentor-schedule.html>

MENTORSHIP PROGRAMS WITH A FEE:  

Inked Voices. An online group gathering professionals (agents, editors, writers) and a selective number of writers in a critique group.<https://www.inkedvoices.com/group/pro_groups/>

UCLA’s One-on-One Mentorships. Mentorships give you access to an instructor Monday through Friday for 4 full weeks.  You receive feedback every 12-24 hours for most work and 24-36 hours for longer material. <http://writers.uclaextension.edu/programs-services/mentorships/>

Amanda Hampson’s The Write Workshops, promises to complete your first draft in 12 months with a writing mentor. Affordable monthly fee (about $100). <http://thewriteworkshops.com/writingmentor/>

Novel in a Year Mentoring Course. In twelve monthly sessions, you will be able to submit instalments of up to 10,000 words for your editor to assess as you go. First month free. <http://www.danielgoldsmith.co.uk/writers_mentors.php>  

The Dzanc Creative Writing Mentorships is an online program designed to allow writers to work one-on-one with published authors and editors to shape their short story, novel, poem, or essay. Has an extensive list of authors ready to work with you. <http://www.dzancbooks.org/creative-writing-mentorships/>  

Creative nonfiction offers its own mentoring Program, at <https://www.creativenonfiction.org/mentoring-program>  

The NSW Writers’ Center Mentorship. A NSWWC mentorship is an opportunity for you to work one-on-one (either face-to-face, by email, Skype or over the phone) with an experienced writer or editor. <http://www.nswwc.org.au/support-for-writers/mentorship-program/>  

Blue Pencil mentorships. Professional children’s authors and illustrators who are Members of CANSCAIP will give a critique and answer five follow-up questions. You need to be a current CANSCAIP member before applying. <http://www.canscaip.org/Mentorship>  

Bespoke Mentoring. Mentoring for 3, 6 or 12 months. They will support you every step of the way, from structuring your novel to advice on where to go next with the final product. <https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/services/bespoke-mentoring>

Australian Writers Mentoring Program to offer high-level mentoring to new and emerging writers of fiction and non-fiction.  The program runs over six months,  providing five one-on-one meetings with an established, award-winning writer.  Before each meeting the mentor will read up to ten thousand words of your work-in-progress. <http://writermentors.com/>  

GRANTS:

For parents with young kids. <http://apply.sustainableartsfoundation.org/>

RESOURCES:

Find a writing coach. <http://www.book-editing.com/writing-coach.html>

Mentoring and coaching. <http://www.nawe.co.uk/the-writers-compass/events-and-opportunities/mentoring-and-coaching.html>

 

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

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