Finishing

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Do you have a few unfinished projects lying around? I don’t mean an unfinished sweater you started knitting years ago or clothes to wash. I mean writing projects. For a writer, life is complex. Traveling and going off on a hike with friends are important. Experience is the basis of good writing, but writers must take the time to write. Prioritizing is part of getting things done.

Last year, I set a goal to finish four novels I had written over the past two decades. While writing the novels, I felt compelled to complete three nonfiction books first and published them on Amazon. I edited the novels numerous times and received helpful edits from my critique partners. Then, hired a professional editor. Once she returned them, it meant more editing. So, for the past year I focused on finalizing the novels.

Writing The End of a first draft was a great achievement but then the real work began. If you consider a novel in the 80,000-word range, writing 350 words a day for 228 days would bring you to The End of the first draft. If you are aiming for 100,000 for your genre, you’d finish in a year. That is less than one page of single-spaced manuscript per day.

Some days are more productive than others. I am often up before dawn writing because mornings are my most productive time of day. Find your best time. Most writers can’t write every day, but on days they don’t put words on paper, the stories evolve and solidify in their thoughts.

Rewriting and editing are tedious but must be done to perfection before you query an agent or indie-publish on Amazon or one of many other platforms. After all your personal focus and hours, you may be blinded to serious problems in the storyline or unclear word choices. It is still essential to enlist beta-readers who are voracious readers in the genre and not family members. The hope is to identify problem areas you have not recognized before you proceed to publication.

Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, your job is to never bore the reader. Information in a nonfiction work or the story in your novel must be engaging and keep the reader reading. Attending writer conferences, taking classes and participating in online writing skills webinars can be valuable. Many are free, but usually, in the end, will try to sell you something.

Each year, November is National Novel Writing Month; NaNoWriMo for short. If you need a push to finish a project or start a new one, this may be for you. Locally, at Flathead Valley Community College, Kathy Dunnehoff is presenting Novel Challenge. Beginning October 30 for five sessions. She will discuss the craft of writing and how to keep words flowing for the month of November. With concentrated effort you can finish a first draft during the class.

Dennis Foley is teaching Writing the First Novel during fall semester. Check out the online brochure at FVCC, Creative Writing. Authors

The annual Flathead River Writers Conference is September 22 and 23 at FVCC where you can learn from both Kathy and Dennis along with other publishing industry professionals. The brochure and online registration are available: https://www.authorsoftheflathead.org.

Happy writing and reading. Hope to see you at the conference.

Betty Kuffel

Rewriting at Sunrise

The End

Completing the first draft of a novel and writing The End is really the beginning. Most writers feel relief when they write those final words. It’s a joyous time, so open that bottle of champagne. Savor the moment but compare the achievement to graduating from high school on your way to a doctorate.

Fiction and nonfiction both require the framework of storytelling, a beginning, middle and end. You might conceptualize an ending before you ever formulate a story line to reach that unique end. Once you sprout an idea, the next step is to decide the premise for the book.  What is the big picture? Why are you telling this story?

The plot is a construct of details and creation of characters to effectively tell your story. They will take the reader through twists and turns in a cohesive framework to reach the ending you’ve designed. Whether it be a short story, novel, memoir or a technical manual, your goal is to grab the reader and compel them to read on.

Along the way, your process includes reassessment of the plot and subplots to tell the story without extraneous words. Avoid excessive descriptors and adverbs. Make every word count; concise, clear, and compelling.

Best-selling authors use four plotting steps:

  • Identify the protagonist. Who will tell your story?
  • Show the incident that drives the protagonist to act.
  • Reveal the overarching story goal and universal stakes that appeal to reader emotions. What are the rewards for the protagonist’s success and the cost of failure?
  • Build a complex antagonist who isn’t all bad, whose motivation to oppose the protagonist’s efforts is clear and believable. What is the antagonist’s reward for success and the cost of failure?

I attended a recent online thriller workshop that included a lecture by Gary Provost, a master storyteller.  The above four points are compressed by Gary into two sentences: Once upon a time, something happened to someone and he decided he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. It sounds funny but includes the basics.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks provides the architecture of beats, plot points and pivot points that drive a story forward. His award-winning blog www.storyfix.com contains many writing tips. He also deconstructs best sellers and movies by analyzing their story lines to identify how they all follow the plot format.

As writers, our focus is putting words on a page. We all have quirks, different processes and variable efficiency depending on the time of day. I have friends who write best in the bustling atmosphere of a coffee shop. Others write late at night. When the day is done for most people, they are wide awake and creative. For me, early morning is perfect, before sunrise when the world is quiet but for chirping birds. By noon, I’ve put in a full day’s work. But that doesn’t mean I stop writing. When life doesn’t get in the way, writers write.

When I began writing a medical thriller about two decades ago, I had a good ending and began writing without a developed story line. I just wrote. After completing that book and many rewrites, I went on to different projects, all of them using an outline. In 2013, I finally published a book, the true crime, Eyes of a Pedophile, followed by two more nonfiction books. Then, I returned to the early novel. It was awful.

I divided the original manuscript into two books and then wrote a romance. This year, I set out to finish all three. After excruciating months of editing, I accomplished my goal and published them on Amazon. I have two more in the final editing stages, so I’m ahead of schedule.

Learning new skills sped up my progress. We live in a world of technological advances that make writing easier and more efficient. Scrivener is a software writing and organizational product writers around the world are using. This powerful tool has a free trial available for both Mac and Windows from www.literatureandlatte.com. Tools in the program include a research library, name generator, easy portability of product out of the program along with formatting processes for fiction, nonfiction and script writing. There is a high learning curve, but those who have learned the process use it for all their writing. Classes are available at Flathead Valley Community College.

Many writing classes are available at the community college and online. If you are stumbling toward completion because you lack computer skills, consider checking out local classes, and those from www.Lynda.com where you will find tutorials and training. The first month on Lynda is free.

YouTube can be helpful for trouble-shooting computer issues. I love YouTube for home repairs, too. Skilled repair and construction guys helped me repair my dishwasher and tile my laundry room last year. But, beware of watching TED talk writer presentations, it will sidetrack you from writing for hours.

Dennis Foley, local writing guru and former television series writer, provides creative writing lectures the first Thursday of each month for Authors of the Flathead at FVCC. Check out www.authorsoftheflathead.org for times and room locations. Consider attending their annual Flathead River Writers Conference September 22 and 23. You can register and pay online at the link.

If you are a serious writer, Dennis tells us, read a lot, write a lot, and hang out with writers. I add, take classes and join a critique group.

Here is a very helpful editing blog posted on TKZ by local writer Deb Burke. https://killzoneblog.com/2015/10/whats-your-self-editing-score.html

Thanks for stopping by

Montana Sunrise Books

Author Betty Kuffel

 

 

Time Travel

By Janice McCaffrey

I’ve been captivated with the idea of time travel as far back as I can remember. According to Wikipedia, stories of time travel date back as early as 3rd century Greece. In our day the idea was popularized by H. G. Wells’ novel Time Machine. Since then there have been many versions using a multitude of techniques to transport characters between places and times.

Following Wells’ lead Bill and Ted used a phone booth to travel through their                excellent adventure. Marty used a De Lorean sports car with its flux capacitor driven engine to get Back to the Future. The TV show Quantum Leap used a quantum accelerator that emitted blue lights and smoke. It shuffled a scientist to and from places and times where he could prevent incidents that would have catastrophic repercussions on the future.

Some authors use objects or talismans to transport their characters. Somewhere in Time tells the story of a young reporter who is to interview an eighty-plus year old actress in an historic hotel. While awaiting her arrival, he sees her photograph from sixty-years earlier and falls in love with her. He longs to go back in time. Then with an old coin in his hand and in the room she stayed in on her first visit, he falls asleep. When he wakes it’s the day, sixty-years earlier, the young actress arrived at the hotel. And the romance begins!

Other fictional characters have used portals found in a wardrobe, mirrors, bridges, water, walls, children’s bedroom closets, and video games. Think Chronicles of Narnia, Monsters, Inc., and The Matrix.

Vortices (plural for Vortex) are areas known to either draw energy out or pull energy into the earth. Sedona Arizona is famous for the strong vortices in the surrounding area. Resorts advertise the health benefits of the energy exchanges that take place there. And I’ll bet folks with strong imaginations attempt journeys to the past or future. I know I would.

How does one find a vortex? You could visit one of the many roadside Houses of Mystery. Or, websites explain that a person can use their inner-sensitivities to feel the energy pulsing through their bodies. However, there is scientific equipment that can help. It seems that a strong radio-active field is at the center of a vortex. The military has electromagnetic field meters to locate vortex energy. Then a Geiger counter’s response gives a weak or strong reading. So using an EMF with a Geiger counter a person can locate the precise center of a vortex; and just maybe a portal to another place and time.

Characters travel willingly or accidently finding themselves in an unfamiliar place and/or time. Depending on the plot, some characters could experience both. And that leads to the question of how to return a person or animal to their original location and date. Again it’s up to the writer; talismans, machines, portals, vortices, anything a person can think up.

Are there any rules for time travel? Can or should a traveler change events in the past to affect the future? Can a person travel at will or do they need an exact place or time to aim for? Can the passenger of a time machine control where and when they arrive at a destination – in either direction? Can a person land in parallel universes of the same time period? Can a time traveler choose to stay in the past or future or is their return mandatory? Can a person feel physical and/or emotional reactions as they pass through centuries? The protagonist in Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays (2015) has these decisions to consider.

Based on scientific facts and past experiments, traveling through time is not possible. But based on creative authors it can be done with or without rules and through whichever method they choose. The unknown adventure of time travel is a wonderful gift to writers. We can create situations, methods, choices, and consequences for our characters without parameters.

I still haven’t figured out how Marty got back to the future, but I am having a fun adventure creating time travel experiences for my characters.

 

Natural Observers: Susan Fenimore Cooper, Mary Hunter Austin, and Nan Shepherd

By Karen Wills

Nature writing reaches my heart. It does that through poetic, detailed description of an outdoor setting. In the last months I’ve read three wonderful books by women nature writers. Let’s consider them from earliest to most recent.

Susan Fenimore Cooper,cooper James Fenimore Cooper’s daughter, founded an orphanage in Cooperstown, New York, a town established by her grandfather. She made a success of the enterprise in every way. In 1887 she also wrote Rural Hours, nature writing that covered a year in Cooperstown season by season. Much of it appeared as journal entries recorded after walks that ranged over the countryside. Both writer and artist, she also made watercolors of birds, coopers birdflowers, animals, and the lake near the town that drew her to its shores over and over. Her writing was accurate and poetic.  “Spring has a delicate pencil; no single tree, shrub, plant, or weed, is left untouched by her, but Autumn delights rather in the breadth and grandeur of her labors, she is careless of details. Spring works lovingly-Autumn, proudly, magnificently.”

Already sorry for the damage caused by the post Civil War increase in America’s population, she also conveyed a warning familiar to modern conservationists. “The rapid consumption of the large pine timber among us should be enough to teach a lesson of prudence and economy on the subject.”

Mary Hunter Austin wrote a collection of nature essays, The Land of Little Rain, in 1903. mary austinShe focused on the Mojave Desert including Death Valley. She considered Nature as an entity with a beneficial connection to Native peoples and recent arrivals alike. She mixed small matters of opinion in with the big themes.  “This is the gilia the children call ‘evening snow’ and it is no use trying to improve on children’s names for wildflowers.” She is poetic. “The origin of mountain streams is like the origin of tears, patent to the understanding but mysterious to the sense.”

Finally, there’s Nan Shepherd who wrote her best-known work, The Living Mountain, with a mountaineer’s authenticity. nan shephardHer setting is the Cairngorm Mountains of Northern Scotland. Writing in 1944, she shared her belief in nature’s grand unity. “The disintegrating rock, the nurturing rain, the quickening sun, the seed, the root, the bird—all are one.”

Each of these writers had a poetic respect and thorough knowledge of her most favored area of the natural world. We are the richer that each shared her love of nature with us.

https://karenwills.com

Face Book: Karen Wills Author

Writing Historical Novels

historical fiction

By Janice McCaffrey

February’s Montana Women Writer’s meeting featured a discussion on Writing Historical Novels led by Karen Wills and me. Karen read the following quote  by Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter from M.K. Tod’s blog Inside Historical Fiction:

I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. 

An excellent segue into my favorite topic, research. Below is a handout listing some, I’m sure not all and in no apparent order, details historical novelists use to fill in Ms. Smith’s circles.

Facts of people’s lives – names, birth, marriage, death dates and places
Food – what, how produced, hunted, gathered, prepared, served, preserved
Water – supply, how does it get to people/animals
Other drinks – coffee, tea, alcohol, juices
Living quarters – structure, furniture, room set up

Lighting – inside and out
Social structure – social classes, details in each level, reactions, impact on society and individuals
Education – schools, apprenticeships, home learning
Manufacturing – for local use, exports
Imported/exported goods – what, from/to where, how transported

Purchasing goods – where, how often, from who, display or set up of goods, barter or currency
Money – coins, paper, denominations, country’s currency
Occupations and their how-to
Heating and cooling – homes, people, animals
Clothing – fabrics, colors, patterns, how are they made, by whom
Public Health – clean water, sewage, diseases, medical practices

Personal Hygiene – cleanliness, teeth, hair, clothing
Socials – what, where, with who
Games & Sports, pleasurable past times
Story telling – oral, books, legend, lore
Neighborhoods – city, town, rural

Patriarchal or Matriarchal – societies, families, governments, values
Rules spoken and unspoken – within family, community, groups, government
History of place – country, state, county, town
Civil laws – who writes them, how they’re upheld, justice system, consequences
Geography – terrain of land

Maps
Governments – leaders, issues, controversies – past & present
Politics – local, national, global
Military – preparedness, uniforms/armor, weapons, strongholds (fort, bunker, cave, etc)
Weather/Climate – seasons, temperatures, precipitation

Communication – (usually before phones at least before cell phones)
Travel – local and distant/international, land, sea, air, walk, ride, vehicles,
Ethnic & religious customs – national, local, family, personal
Religion – beliefs, ceremonies, conversion, spreading the Word
Stereotypes – common of the time and place

Language – written, oral, dialects
Death, burial, cremation – traditions, rites

            If you think of any that aren’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll add them.