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Storyboarding…Your Career …by Susan Lute

(Originally published in the Writer’s Serenade, August 2013 issue, with minor changes to update for Steam punk girl with Typewriter.readers of See Jane Publish)

Saturday I’m giving a workshop titled, Storymapping Your Novel. As both the titles of the workshop and this post indicate, (as those of you who follow SJP know) I’m in many ways a plotter. I didn’t start out that way. When I began doing the Storyboarding… workshops, many, many years ago, it was Storyboarding Your Story. As time when by, I realized this fun exercise could be used to plan…mold…plot a writer’s career in the same way you would a novel.

You can do this at home. You’ll need a poster board (½ sheet), glue stick, scissors, lots and lots of assorted magazines, and a large frame to showcase your finished storyboard.

Find a comfortable place to spread out. Let your mind fly free. From the magazines cut out pictures, words and numbers that jump out, speak to you, feel like, or seem to have some significance for your career as a novelist (you might not know how or why). Once you have a large pile, sort through them, placing the most significant on the poster board. Make a collage. Don’t worry if some of the images overlay others. In the middle put the the one that feels most important, the image or words that scream the loudest what you’d like your writing career to look like. Build from there to the edges.

Some of the images may relate more to your non-writing life, but blend them with your career pictures. This is a hodgepodge merging of everything that is you succeeding as an author. That can’t be done without the ‘normal’ life that makes you who you are as a writer. When you’re satisfied with the overall effect, glue everything down. Use numbers to date your board. Then take a good look. What do you see?

You don’t have to be an artist or natural born plotter to do this storyboard.

(Insert: For those of you who are readers, you can do this exercise too, for your career, or everyday life, whichever you would like to spotlight, or need help deciding where you could go from here.)

In fact when I made my very first one, I fancied myself a pantser, someone who writes a story by the seat of her pants, with no guideposts except the end – a happy-ever-after. At the time I made the one hanging in my office, I’d grown into a hybrid between a pantser and plotter. Now, after a lot of back and forth, I like to think of myself as a planner, a close sister to a plotter, only without the specific attention to detail. But, it doesn’t really matter how you approach your writing (or life), only that you do approach it…and your career, with the firm intention of finishing your current novel…and the next one…and the next one.

The best thing about storyboarding your career is you’re going to see something unexpected in your finished board. It will speak to you, tell you something you didn’t know about yourself. And, it can be framed. Mine hangs in my office. When I look at it, the visual image of my writing career reminds me, I’m a work in progress, same as the story I’m currently writing.

I Want To Be A Paperback Writer…. by Nancy Brophy

I received an email last week, along with my entire RWA chapter asking what writing books have helped along the path. While I did not respond, others did. Each time a new title was listed, emotions swelled. It was like waving to an old friend.

Everyone thinks they have a novel in them. No, make that a best seller. But they don’t. Because they underestimate the skill good writing takes.

Now only is it difficult to find the time to get the words on the page, it is even harder to get them in the right order.

Most people spend years learning the craft. We’ve studied books, taken classes, entered contests,  and forced our friends and family into reading rough drafts. Critique groups have shaped one or more novels. We’ve storyboarded, plotted, cut and pasted, edited and re-edited.

Personally I’ve met for dinner and drinks (not in that order) with my writing friends and felt very Hemingway-esque. However, I’ve also discovered that while drinking may have worked for Hemingway and numerous others, it hasn’t as of yet worked for me. Rats.

So what have I learned?

There are a lot of ways to look busy and not write.

Sometimes you have to slay your inner demons by giving them to one of your characters.

Well-meaning friends and family all have an opinion, but your words are your words. You have to have the confidence to bend in the wind without whirling like a weather vane. Trust me, everyone I know would have written that last sentence differently. And if asked, would tell me. Since I’m not planning to change it, I don’t inquire.

Every writing book has taught me something about story arc, character development, conflict, character emotion, layering, editing and time management. But the basic thing I’ve learned is that all the knowledge in the world doesn’t get words on the page. The only solution for that, regardless of where you are on the continuum of your writing career, is to put your butt in a chair, hunch over your computer and…

Write. Write. Write.

Story Telling At Its Finest…. by Nancy Brophy

As writers we are observers of the human experience. Last week I attended a conference where I heard one man’s experience.

The man telling the story was forty, a former athlete, nice looking, smart and funny. He’d been raised by a single mother. In his life he’d been successful in some careers and not in others, but finally had found true success in the past few years and was now making over one million dollars a year. The portion that fascinated me was how his life had changed.

He was proud of the fact he was able to send his nine-year-old son to some sports camp that cost $5000 a week. And the kid, who loved sports, was excited to go. Not terribly long ago, his son along with his best friend approached the father. It was the best friend who had a question. Both boys stood there, with the man’s son urging the other boy to speak. The father knew this was important so he waited patiently until the boy managed to get the words out.

The kids wanted to go to the sports camp together. The father hesitated unsure of his role and eventually said. “I’ll give the camp information to your parents.”

The boy shook his head. “I’ve already given it to them. They said they couldn’t afford it. I was hoping you would pay for me.”

The father was fond of his son’s friend, but even so, he said no. It wasn’t due to the amount of money. The money probably wouldn’t have meant anything to him. But later he told his own son that his friend had two parents who had to make their own decisions raising their child.

The ending of this story surprised me. As he began I thought this would be another “look how fabulous I am now that I have money” epistles. Believe me I’ve heard lots of these stories. Isn’t this the American dream?

Over the past week I’ve thought about this story a lot. How would I have handled it? The generous instinct would be to say sure, but actually I thought the man handled the situation with more grace and dignity than I would have managed. Plus he made the right decision. But it took me a long time to reach this conclusion.

We don’t know the other parent’s intention. What if it had been to teach their son the value of money? Furthermore, we don’t know if money was the actual problem. Charity, even needed, does not sit well with all.

I met for dinner with Authors Susan Lute and Kim Wollenburg, w/a Cassiel Knight a couple of nights ago and told them I planned to blog about this story. Kim asked, “how does it pertain to writing?”

As humans we have told stories, both written and oral for thousands of years. Behind every good story is a twist that makes the listener/reader pause. This story stayed with me because of the unexpected conclusion.

Reader’s inhale one story after another and toss each book aside. Nothing wrong with the writing, but the story lacked something. As evidenced by a week later when the reader can’t recall a single detail that made that story stand out – the  twist that stays in the mind.

Uniqueness is what breaks us out of the mid-list and makes the author’s skill memorable. This is what we are all trying to achieve and why our education is never finished.

And this is why I write.

The Summer Of Love…. by Nancy Brophy

1967 was the summer of love.

But not where I lived. For me the sexual revolution was not all it was cracked up to be. In the summer of 1967 I was the only teenage girl in America not having sex. At least that’s what I believed.

Here’s the sad part, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I don’t think I need to go so far as to say that I was building a freeway ramp for easy access to my bedroom or that I had acquired a ticket machine in my front yard that dispensed sequential numbers.

Real frankly there was no need – because I had no takers.

I dated. Saturday nights did not find me at home in front of the television. I was out and about. But I rarely saw three dates with the same guy. It wasn’t that I was picky, but even back then I bored easily. I also had the ability to shuffle old dates aside when a new one came on the scene. I don’t remember exactly why I couldn’t manage serial monogamy, but it didn’t happen.

So I made changes. In the fall of 1967, my senior year in high school I dated a man who managed to hang around the entire year. I guess it goes without saying that I was a dork, but what does that say about a guy in college who dated me for at least nine months and we never got past first base. (To be perfectly honest I’m not exactly sure what getting to first base entails, but trust me our make-out sessions involved more lip-work than hand-work.)

The good news was: I learned to be a first class kisser which turned out in real life not to be the asset I’d envisioned.

The long and the short of this story is that I entered college a virgin. And to compound the problem I chose an all-female school which boasted a pioneer woman statue in the court-yard. Rumor went that if a virgin graduated, the statue would fall over. Would I be the cause of the destruction of school property?

I re-doubled my efforts. Once again fickle behavior contributed to my downfall. I dropped from three dates to two or one, discarding men like used tissues without a backward thought.

Something was wrong with me. I went back to my only long-term relationship. A man, whose father had advised him to marry before he got too much money into me. (Some of this story is exaggerated, unfortunately that part is true). We became engaged. Still nothing….

Woodstock came and went.

I dumped the fiancé who wasn’t getting the job done.

Finally I met the one – the guy who was going to solve all my problems because during our make-out sessions he understood hand-work. This was it.

Saturday was the day – the big day. Oh, yeah. I was ready.

But let me backup and remind you, this was also the sixties on other fronts than just sex. Friday night prior to the BIG DAY he and his buddies got busted for weed. The night of my liberation, he spent in jail, talking to his lawyer, I assume, because he wasn’t calling me.

As will not surprise you since I’m on my second marriage, things eventually worked out.

This is the point where Author Susan Lute reminds me that all this is well and good, but what does it have to do with writing. And this, first and foremost is a writing blog.

So, in a seventh inning stretch that would make any baseball fan proud here’s what I learned. I wrote this blog to remind myself of the desperation that all of us feel about love and sex when we are just learning the wheres, whys and hows. The hokey-pokey dance we as woman endure when we dare to put the right foot in, followed by an instant need to pull the right foot out.

That is the emotion we try to capture in our writing because I’m not the only woman for whom early sexual relationships did not go well. If you can remind the reader of the awkwardness of their past and the wrenching of their heart, you will have a reader who loves your story. And doesn’t that give us all a happy ending.

Author Platform Building, Part 2 by Cassiel Knight

Did you do something about your strengths and challenges? Did you learn any revelations you’d like to share? Maybe a strength you didn’t realize you had or a challenge the surprised you?

Before we move on to talk about applying strengths and weaknesses, I want to share with you something I got out of this book I totally forgotten I’d gotten recently – Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author by Chuck Sambuchino (ISBN#978-1-59963-575-0). I haven’t finished it yet but I figure, these things are interesting and useful enough that I’m incorporating some thoughts into these sessions. It’s tailored, in large part, to non-fiction but that’s not problematic since the general concepts on platform remain the same.

For today, I’d like to start with:

thCAS1D94CThe Twelve Fundamental Principles of Platform

Chuck says that “no matter what platform options you engage, the guiding principles of effective visibility remain the same.” He says if we apply these twelve fundamentals to everything we do, the specifics of what we do won’t matter – we’ll have a good chance of building our platforms faster.

It is in the giving that we receive – about getting people to like you – to engage with you BEFORE you start asking for them to buy

  • You don’t have to go it alone – work with others and share the load.
  • Platform is what you are able to do, not what you are willing to do – we might be willing to do a lot but aren’t able to. Focus on what you are able to do.
  • You can only learn so much about writer platform by instruction, which is why you should study what others do well and learn by example.
  • You must make yourself easy to contact – this means make sure your links work for people to find you. If you are published, are you website links from your publisher page good? Make sure you can be found and links are good. If readers click on a link and it doesn’t work, most times they won’t work to find you. Don’t make it hard to find and connect with you. An author with Champagne Book Group, gave this analogy: Links are like bridges and websurfers hate to use boats.
  • The goal is to work incredibly hard at first, then let your platform run on autopilot – this is hard to encapsulate but basically, you have to do a lot of work to build your platform and make it run then at some point, you’ll do less but will still get maximum visibility from your platform.
  • Start small, start early – and hope for tipping points – while it is easier to start a platform WITH a book, building a platform from scratch is possible, just difficult. Get on Twitter, build a simple website, begin now. This is something I wished I’d done. Now I have to work twice as hard playing catch-up.
  • Have a plan, but feel free to make tweaks.
  • The world is changing, and the goal of platform is to look forward, not back – it’s less important what you did in the past then what you do NOW.
  • Try your best to be open, likeable, and relatable – all the things under platform will help build your platform but Chuck says that overall, it matters who you know. He’s a strong advocate for networking. So am I. It’s opened doors for me I never would have had otherwise.
  • Be part of your community and understand the needs of its members – be involved. Don’t just post about your book or links. Be actively involved with your tweeps, friends, members, etc.
  • Numbers matter – so quantify your platform – this matters more so in non-fiction but it is helpful to know how effective you are in genre fiction or if you self-publish and want to break into commercial publishing.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

Story Structure… by Nancy Brophy

Why is the inciting incident of any story the easiest to write and the hardest part to perfect? I spend a lot of time fantasizing about how a new story should begin. As the queen of 50-100 pages, I know if I want to continue the story long before the first turning point. Some characters/situations discourage me and that version is shelved. Sometimes it get woven into a later story.

I have author friends who get fan letters. I don’t, but I do get advice. Usually it involves creating a story for a minor character that I never can make happen.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list of what every story intro needs. Every story requires a good foundation. Whether you are a pantzer or a plotter, there are certain story requirements that must be introduced in the first fifty (given or take) pages.

If you think of more, let me know.

The hook – the first paragraph sets up a story question and makes the reader keep going.

Engaging characters – according to Michael Hague characters must have at least 2 of the 5 charactistics – 1) likeable, 2) good at what they do, 3) victim of undeserved misfortune, 4) funny or 5) in jeopardy.

Internal and external goals – The beginning of an external arc that carries the story and internal arc that shows the emotion. If the goal doesn’t matter neither does the story, so not meeting the goal must carry consequences.

The ticking time bomb – if it can be done in 2 months rather than today – not enough urgency and readers quit reading

Hero/heroine must have conflict between them. What is keeping them apart?  If that answer is nothing then where are you going after Chapter Two? Hero/heroine must have courage to meet the challenge and fortitude to see if through to the end.

Conflict – must be resolved by characters – not external coincidence. To sustain conflict, the author either tightens the screws or heaps on additional problems (Hear the writer’s macabre laughter in background)

Must have a call to adventure. Must have a response to the call. (90% it is a refusal)

Answer the following questions

Who – characters

What – goals

Why – motivation

Why not – conflict

Evoke emotion through details

Show – don’t tell

Visceral reactions

5 senses

No talking heads

Setting –

I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted. All I wanted to do when I started was write a good story. So the old quote is true. Writing is easy all you have to do is sit down at a desk and open a vein.

I’m sure that many of you will have other things to add to this list. Please makes comments so I can edit.

Everyday Words…. By Nancy Brophy

English is a language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.

I see this a lot on Facebook, maybe because most of my friends are writers, but each time I laugh. Obviously, they do, too.

English is tough. One word can have multiple pronunciations and entirely different meanings. Did I tear the book only to have a tear run down my cheek? Yes, I know this is a lousy sentence, but the point is good.

Lots of words I grew up mispronouncing. Harass is such a word. Until recently I pronounced it with the accent on the last syllable. Ha RASS. It seems I am wrong. The word is HAR ass. Pecan is another one. Pecan is not a Pee Can – that is something you keep under the bed.  Yet, Rachel Ray mispronounced it on her show last week.

Martha Stewart, on the other hand, makes me crazy when she talks about herbs (using the pronunciation with the H).

There are some who question if English is my first language. Believe me, I have no other options. And I lack the ear to learn Spanish, French or Swahili. Languages with different alphabets like Greek leave me completely baffled unless the letters are on the front of a sorority house.

Then there are words that are simply wrong. Say this sentence out loud. “I parked across the street.” Here’s how it sounds when I say it. “I parked acrosst the street.” When did across get a T? The phrase ‘for all intents and purposes’ turns out not to be ‘intensive purposes’. Who knew?

Every year new words are added to the dictionary – like sexting, aha moment and – everyone’s favorite – f bomb.

There are redneck words like initiate.  “My wife ate two hot dogs and initi ate a pound of fries.” And southern words (which are a subset of the redneck category). impa tickler “Whatcha doin tonite?” “Nuttin impa tickler.”

I doubt we’ll be seeing those words in Webster any time soon, but you never know.

If you are a reader, your vocabulary is large, but some words still surprise you when spoken. Quinoa is pronounced “keen wa”. Some words I love saying because of the way they roll off the tongue like “Quixotic”.

If you are author you are both blessed and cursed by auto-correct. Those of us who can’t spell frequently choose one word when we mean another or autocorrect chooses for us – frequently to our horror.

How do you say the word – wash? Or creek? Do you drink pop or soda? The part of the country where you were raised influences your language. Do you say – you guys, or you all or y’all?

My parents would have had a fit if I said, “me and Johnny”. Yet recently I’ve come to hear that usage a lot.

Since I started with a language joke, I’ll end with one. “Let’s eat gramma. Let’s eat, gramma.” Punctuation can save lives.

As writers, words are our life and it’s imperative we set the bar high. Jokes on Facebook are as good a way to do it as I know.

Publishing – Still A New Frontier… by Nancy Brophy

As we frequently say in this blog – self-publishing isn’t for everybody.  I read an interesting article in the book section of the Huffington Post, called Unpublished? You Don’t Actually Suck.

The gist of the article was that despite more options, it is still difficult to get published. Not because you haven’t written a publishable book, but because the opportunity is so tiny. She quotes some interesting statistics.

Each year, a publishing house can expect to receive about 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts. Out of every 10,000 manuscripts submitted, about 3 are published.

My husband has always maintained it is just as easy to win the lottery if you don’t play. That’s what these figures tell us.

She justifies publishing houses decisions with: Publishing houses can’t take a risk on everyone. They can only print the people who come with an advantage, the ones who have a guarantee to sell. That means taking on books by pets and memoirs by reality stars and sex scandal anecdotes by famous athletes. Quality isn’t always compromised but there’s no shortage of compromising decisions. It’s the catch-22 of a brand that has two conflicting goals: reputation and profit.

I don’t know that her statistics on self-publishing are right, but she claims: Unfortunately, on average, a self-published book sells about 10 copies in its lifetime.

These figures may reflect the numbers of more mainstream books, but I do agree with her evaluation of why self-publishing is difficult.

Many writers simply shy away from self-publication because it seems too cold, too distant. There’s no one to edit the text and shape the writing and assure you it’s finally ready for the world to judge. There’s no guaranteed reader. There’s no one to spread the word. There’s no one at all.

In the end she suggests a solution may be Writer’s Blog, which she urges writers who wish to have a public forum join. I love this idea.

RWA (Romance Writers of America) has been tremendously successful in promoting romance, connecting writers with editors and agents and providing craft courses. Many things have been said and written about how the genre has changed and why we are no longer bodice rippers. RWA has had a big hand in changing the industry for both the writer and the reader. It is why the romance genre makes more money than baseball and is the most successful of all the genre categories. The money from our genre allows other genres to continue.

As my friends know I have decided not to continue my membership in RWA (Romance Writers of America) this year. I feel they are moving in a different direction than I am. As a result I have become disenfranchised. This is not a terrible thing nor am I sad to part ways. It is what it is in 2012.

Romance writers are unique and need a blog like the Writer’s Blog, but solely for romance. If anyone would like to take on this project I would love to help. And I know lots of other writers who would also. Think about it. Investigate. Make it work.

Writing As A Career…. by Nancy Brophy

This week I met with my writing friends. There is a small group of us whose numbers expand and contract with the seasons. We call ourselves The Hooligans. The great thing about these meetings that is every woman brings something different to the party. On Thursday the group was small, but the one thing we’ve learned – it is not the number of people, but the impact.

Put another way, it is not the size of the wand but the magic in it. Oh, wait. That’s on something else.

Questions that cause the general public to snicker or at least scratch their heads are seriously debated by your writing friends.

Which is darker – indigo or navy?

Would a man on life support be located in the same hospital ward as mobile functioning patients?

Would a woman whose child was rushed to the hospital abandon her cell phone?

If you are stuck in a story, plotting help is available. Need a quick read? You’ve got it. These are good friends who give you what you need not what you want. You’re having a pity party? One or more will take the time out of her busy schedule to slap you around. “Act like a man!” (Godfather reference). And they know you would do the same for them.

Linda Mercury (see Tuesday’s guest post) made an interesting observation. Everybody truly believes they harbor a novel inside themselves. She paraphrased Robert McGee’s book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, when she stated, “Just because you listen to music doesn’t mean you can write an opera, so why do people think because they read, you can write a novel without going nuts?”

But words are different than music, aren’t they? Words are our life force. Everyday we express our thoughts, run businesses, campaign for office and convey emotions – all with words. Showing, not telling, because this is our real lives. The most common misconception I’ve heard is this: “If I can get the words on paper, someone else will edit them.”

No, they won’t.

Editors and agents don’t have time. The competition has studied craft and polished their manuscripts. If it is a choice between yours, which needs work and one than doesn’t. You will lose.

Learning to write a business letter or a newspaper article is not the same thing as structuring and completing a novel. Genre writing is unique in and of itself. Men, such as Larry Brooks and Michael Hague, who teach story structure find the rules of romance writing baffling.

There are those who believe good writing involves plotting and those who believe plotting ruins the story for the author. If she already knows what is going to happen, the excitement of writing is diminished. Instead of writing that story they will search for another idea.

Personally, I start with an inciting incident (sometimes known as a cute meet). If the characters interest me (and this is a big IF) I can continue to write by plotting from turning point to turning point. For every author, the path is different.

If you’ve got a story struggling to get out, I hope you find the way to get it on paper and I hope you find the time to study craft. But remember this, who would know the name of Mozart if he had only written Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major?

One story does not a career make. But it is the best way to start.

Hunky Heroes …. by Nancy Brophy

Hunky men. We all love them. At dinner at a few nights ago I confessed I was not a big fan of The Notebook. My friend, Stephanie was appalled. Nathaniel wisely moved his chair further away from the table to protect himself if anything was going to be thrown.

Ryan Gosling

“What about Ryan Gosling?”

Which made me ask? Are we attracted to men for the roles they’ve played or their physical appearance? To me, Ryan Gosling looks young and he plays men who lack words. As a writer this worries me more than I can say. In Drive, he played a man who had maybe five-to ten lines of staccato dialogue. I understand the silent, brooding alpha hero. Ryan Gosling isn’t it. Sorry, dude.

Ryan Reynolds - Bradley Cooper

What does your hero look like?

Since I write for women, I balance a thin line when my hero takes center stage of describing a man who steps up to the place as hero material. We all have a certain look we prefer. Everybody has a type.

I like the superhero movies that are out now. But Green Lantern was my least favorite because Ryan Reynolds was miscast.

To me, Justin Beiber is just a kid. Thousands of women would tell me I’m wrong.

People magazine posted the sexiest man of the year, Bradley Cooper and there was an outcry that it wasn’t Ryan Gosling. Interesting….

Which is why I think the headless torso is such a big hit as a cover.  Now comes the real test. Do you write a different hero than you read? I know we use movie stars as physical types, but I find it poor writing when an author describes her hero in terms of a movie star. The heroine gulped. The man standing before her looked just like (Oh, let’s go for it) … Ryan Gosling.

I prefer an earthier type – Sean Bean or Clive Owen. But I once heard Rodrigo Santoro described as the sexiest man alive. Could be….

Rodrigo Santoro

Sean Bean

Then there is the romance hero. Who played the best Mr. Darcy?

Who best said the lines, “You have bewitched me body and soul…”

I guess it all gets down to who would you want to say the words to you.

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