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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Using Your Resources Wisely To Get Started

Okay, I had a Girl Scout meeting yesterday, and the Using Resources Wisely is part of the GS Law (Girl Guides for my friends outside the US). Today I'll be talking about the resources for getting your story started, but at the end of the blog entry...a little something about using all those resources wisely. By the way, I'll give away a book from my backlist - details at the bottom of the post.

I was asked the other day how I began a new story. Since the first time my fingers hit the keyboard to now (some 10 books later) my stories have always started in my head as a scene with dialogue. From there, I write the first chapter or so, then move onto a loose synopsis.

I do not fill out character sheets, do hero and heroine interviews or do long plot diagrams timelines and such. Does this sometimes get me in trouble - yes. But I find out who my characters are as I write, and so I keep a word doc at all times next to my wip at all times where I jot down notes such as - Ian's eyes are brown. Ava never spent any time in the US...that kind of stuff.

Do I think the character sheets/interviews/plot diagrams are important? Yes. When I first began writing, I used absolutely every one of those kinds of things that I could find. I'd buy them, go to RWA meetings and get them as handouts and attend workshops. As someone who could very easily be a professional student...these things were like gold to me. I don't use them now...but for the most part, I think that is because I took what worked for me, made it my own and internalized it.

That is your challenge now. Find out what works for you and make it your own (you don't have to internalize it - that's my right brain thinking telling me I don't NOT to use all those worksheets and things to keep me saner). If you missed the right-brain/left-brain discussion - you can click here.

So, there are a lot of resources out there. I'm going to list some of the ones I found invaluable, and please join me by listing your resources in the comment section - I'd love to see what everyone uses!

It's been mentioned before, but I think this book is so very, very good, I can't NOT mention it again - Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Deb Dixon. Hang around a bunch of romance writers long enough, and you'll hear GMC mentioned a dozen times. I find it in contest judging sheets and I've even found myself wondering what a person's GMC was when they go off and do something completely bizarre!

Two more books that I think really complete a writer's how-to bookshelf are both written by Jack Bickham. Scene and Sequel and 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes: (And How To Avoid Them). Honestly, if you could make a check-list of the 38 and review your manuscript next to each one - that's half the battle right there.

To get your ideas generated try The Writer's Brainstorming Kit by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite. Pam also has a lot of free writing tips on her website which you can access here.

The last book I'd like to recommend is on characterization and specifically - archetypes. The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines 16 Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders has all you'll ever need on the subject.

Okay, so on to worksheets. For plotting, the first system I used was by romance author Carolyn Green (some call her the Plot Doctor). There's also Discovering Story Magic by two romance authors Laura Baker and Robin Perini - they give a great workshop you can usually catch at conferences. Another intensive workshop you might want to look into is Break Into Fiction with Mary Buckham and our own Noodler Dianna Love Snell (there are a lot of great, free articles on that website, too!).

Speaking of free - there are tons of free resources out there. A quick google search is all you need, but some favorites of mine are Leigh Michaels' Characterization Worksheets, which you can find here. Leigh also has extensive worksheets on plotting.

Many, many authors have articles on their websites. (Often they're asked to write articles for their local chapter newsletters.) Look up a favorite author's website and see what they have. Two favorites of mine are Virginia Kantra and Stephanie Bond. Plus, if you're already a member of Romance Writers of America you have at the click of a mouse a whole host of articles in the Member Only section. Check out the Pro Career Booklets and Keys to Success.

Okay, so now I'm back to using your resources wisely. There is too much help. There is too much information. There is no magic bullet out there. There is not one tip, one piece of advice one anything that will automatically get you published. Sometimes we spend all our time (and when I say we I mean a great big I as in Jill) looking for the next great bit of information that will suddenly make writing easy.

There won't be. Easier, but not easy. Okay, when they have the device that takes the ideas directly out of my head and puts them on paper in an understandable fashion - then it will be easy. But until then...use your resources wisely.

Don't let your resource gathering take time away from your actual writing.

1. Think about your own weaknesses as a writer. Is it plotting? Is it characterization? Match the resources out there with what you'd like to focus on.

2. Determine how much money you want to spend on books. If your budget is tighter, ask for these books as gifts, or look at Stephanie Bond's list of quick 49 cent downloads - her articles on Self-Editing are particularly fantastic!

3. Don't use not having a particular book/worksheet/tip as a crutch for not writing. Not writing is the surest way of not selling.

4. Find out what works best for you, and do it. Don't feel you have to use someone else's system to a t or even at all. My way of writing probably only works best for me. Also, be aware that as your skills and experiences change, so will your writing. You may want a characterization worksheet for Book # 5 and never used one before and might not again.

Okay, so share a favorite resource. Or just say how you work on getting started. I'll be giving away a book from my backlist chosen from the commenters (drawing at 8am CST Thursday morning - look for the winner in the comment section).  

You can also read all about Ian's brown eyes in Primal Instincts, which should be hitting the shelves in just a few days as a February 2008 release!

Primal Instincts has received a 4 1/2 star Top Pick from Romantic Times - I couldn't be more excited! "Sizzling-hot sex, compelling characters, humor and a dual plot make Primal Instincts (4.5), by Jill Monroe, a book you can't put down."

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At 10:28 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Jill -

Great article. I love how you were open to trying different reference material to begin with then kept what worked for you as your writing developed.

I think it's important for newer writers in particular to be open about ingesting as much craft knowledge as possible with the understanding that at some point a lot of this will become second nature.

Dianna :)

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Wow! I feel like I've just been to a top-notch workshop!

GMC was an important book for me, too, Jill. Such a fundamental concept, but somehow it's easy to approximate conflict without having the real thing.

The most useful book I ever read was "The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery." It has those exercises you mentioned: interviews, mapping connections between characters, describing items belonging to people. I also have the more generic "The Weekend Novelist," but I can't recommend it. The mystery one is much better -- more concrete. Of course, it's most helpful if you have at least some suspense in your book.

I wrote my quickest manuscript after doing all those prep exercises. It was a little more fun, too, in the same way that writing fan fiction is fun -- you already know the characters, and it's a hoot to see how they'll react in certain situations.

Humongous congrats on your 4.5 RT review!

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Congratulations on the Top Pick rating for Primal Instincts! Way to go, Jill :-)!

I bought a lot of recommended craft books during the first year or so I was writing, but I never read more than a few pages of any of them. I found all that advice daunting--I was supposed to accomplish all those goals on every page? In every scene? I wondered if I was doomed for having fallen short of all those marks.

Sometimes I still get that suffocating, panicky feeling when I listen to advice (great advice!) in workshops. How did I ever get published? Will I stay published?

You're right about the internalization of the craft--it does happen :-). With knowledge, with practice, I'm able to judge my own work by higher and higher standards.

Now I know exactly how short of the mark I'm falling ;-).

Great post, Jill :-)!

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Fantastic blog, Jill. Filled to the brim with information.

I call my first book, Writing a Book 101. I researched for two years, then I wrote an extensive chapter by chapter outline. That book took me years to write and I made all of the beginning mistakes with POV and, of course, polishing and polishing and polishing until I polished the life out of it.

Now when I get an idea, I flesh out the characters internal and external conflict in my head and I start writing. I do get "stuck" at about page 100 and that's when I start writing lists of possible scenes that could be used and/or lists of twists and turns my book could take. This is also when I pull out the research books to get the ideas flowing. For instance, if my hero is a football player I start reading pro football biographies or Football for Dummies...anything to get the ideas flowing again. Although I haven't sold yet, I have finished seven books and so the system works for me. I also have a file on my computer loaded with the first 100 pages of many more books I started but then lost interest in. When I do finally make a sale, I won't have the luxury of leaving one story for another...but until that happens, I can do whatever I want. :)

I, too, bought most of these resource books and I did skim them all and tried them all and I am sure I learned something new from each of them, but my favorites are GMC and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I read all of the Writer's Digest books when I first started out and I used to use Word Menu by Stephen Glazier, but I agree with Dianna that if you consistently write (and read a lot), sooner or later most of it is going to become second nature.

As resources, I still love attending workshops at National because I think there are always new things to learn, tidbits to help you move on to the next level no matter how many books you have under your belt.

Jill, I can't wait to read Primal Instincts! 4 1/2 stars!!! Yahoo!

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...


First off, congratulations! 4 and 1/2 stars, I hope you've planned a party (or a hot fudge sundae).

I've heard of Debra Dixon but not a lot of the others you mention. I'll be reading for a week, at least.

I found the articles on Karen Harbaugh's site really helpful, I've read Elizabeth Sinclair's The Dreaded Synopsis, and I thought Randy Ingermason's articles on scene and sequence were good. I also think what I've listed ties in closely with Dixon and Swan.

I am still so very new to all of this, I just try to ask myself "Is this scene moving the story forward?" And my really brilliant crit partners advised me to read my work aloud, which helps. And I found that listening to romance books on CD helped me to recognize pacing.

I'm with Terry on that suffocating, panicky feeling. The first advice article I read sent me running from the keyboards for at least a month. I've gotten better, but it's still so easy to be overwhelmed by it all.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Gillian: As a recovering perfectionist, I remember that feeling very well. Writing my first full-length book, I was so in love with the process. As I learned more, it was terrifying to realize how much I didn't know, and how much room for improvement I had. But every writer has room for improvement. There's no such thing as a perfect book. What seems flawless to one reader will drive another crazy. What's important is that there are readers out there who will love your voice. They will love it right now, as is, and they'll love it as you get better. No one else can write your books. Your readers are already out there, and they're not looking for perfection. They're looking for you.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Aww, Esri--that is so nice! Now I feel all motivated and inspired...I'm going to tape that by my computer :)

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog entry, Jill. I agree with the other comments. You should send this to RWR.
I love using Discovering Story Magic and Kathy Lloyd's Conflict Grid. If I can fill those out, I'm ready to write.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Wow. What a treasure of links and resources. I'm going to get those $.49 downloads, I know I am.

I still look for stuff that helps the writing. I collect How to Write books as well as research books.

I used to listen to RWA conference tapes driving to and from work and I think I got a graduate degree in writing that way.

I did learn that I cannot plot scene by scene, not to save my life. And I hate those workshops that make you write-on-demand..Can't do it.

I don't fill in character interviews but I do start my process with characters. I'll talk more about that next month when we focus on characters.

Thanks, Jill, this was a 4 1/2 star blog (to go with the stars for your book!)

At 8:52 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I have to agree! That was definitely a five star blog! Chock full of info and inspiration. Gillian, I am stealing Esri's quote to stick to me computer as well. That is so affirming, Esri.

I was fortunate enough to attend a day long workshop by Debra Dixon on GMC. It was fabulous.

I was so excited to hear that you start with a scene with dialogue as that is how my book Lost in Love started. Of course it started because I was asked to write a story using the words " glitter - soldier - cave - and journal. For months we called it my "Glittering Cave Soldier Journal" When I decided to enter it in the first contest I landed on the title LOST IN LOVE.

I realize now I went about this kind of backwards. I wrote most of the book and then said, "Crap, I need to get this info organized!" Now, I know I need to start with getting the crap together and then write!

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

I agree about the internalization of all those plotting/characterization methods. If you hear it enough and utilize it, it becomes second nature. It's kind of the same way with inherent story structure.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Virginia said...

Hello Jill, I enjoyed your post. I will have to say I am not a writer and never will be.

I think what ever resourses works for you, use it. Also I believe there are writers that don't need these resources, but have a natural talent for writing.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

Gillian - you are my winner. Please contact me at jillmonroe @ (no spaces) with your address, and I'll get the book sent out!

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Two other resources that folks might find helpful: Plotting and Structure by James Scott Bell and Telling The Tale: An African-American Fiction Writer's Guide by Angela Benson. I hate the title on that last because any mention of race always puts folks off, and the content is not race-oriented.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Oh, Thank YOU, Jill!! At the end of a very long, cold day this is such a great surprise! :)


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