Friday, July 31, 2009

The Art of Revising - Micro Revision

Micro revision is all about the scene. Is the scene—the building block of my novel—working? Is it carrying its weight? Has it earned its place in the story? This is also where I check for dropped plot threads or un-fleshed out characters.

However, you only do this once you've hammered out the story, otherwise the focus of the scene might shift.

The first thing to check is that you have indeed written in scenes and not in one long, every minute accounted for stretch from beginning to end. You only need to show the parts that impact the story. It is okay to have some stuff (the boring stuff) happen off the page and either recap it or relay it in a quick transition or conversation.



Every scene should move the plot forward in some way. However, moving the plot forward can be subtle. But there needs to be some reason for the scene to be there. Note: The reason it’s there can often be very, very hidden.

Ideally, each scene should perform a variety of functions. Shoot for three:
Move plot forward
develop characters
reveal backstory (in tiny bits and pieces)
foreshadow upcoming events,
raise dramatic questions the reader wants answer to

Does the scene have some source of conflict or dramatic tension? This doesn’t have to be head to head conflict. It can be in the form of a dramatic question that is raised. Or a ticking clock. Or things left unsaid, swirling about the room. Foreshadowing can also work.

Look for a way to add tension on every single page.

If you can’t heighten the tension, ask yourself if the character is fully reacting to the events around him. Is he fully engaged by the events of the story?

Do I start the scene as late as possible and still make sense? In first books especially there can be a lot of deadwood. Writers feel they must account for every minute of their hero’s time, not realizing they get to pick and choose the dramatic moments they show, and simply account for the rest in transitions.

Consider eliminating the character getting from one place to another unless it has a dramatic rather than logistical reason for being there. For example, in Beastologist, I had to find ways to imbue some of the travel with tension, because it was Nate’s first trip—an exciting milestone in his life and something he should experience “on screen,” yet not necessarily a huge thing in and of itself.

For weak scenes, try listing all the reasons the scene is there. If the list is mostly because the character needs to know something, can you find a way to incorporate that same information in another scene?

Are there any places you start to skim as you’re re-reading the mss? Better look at those closely.

Have you dropped any subplots or plot threads along the way? This is where my handy-dandy spreadsheets come in. (Which I will be talking about next week, as per Laurel’s request.) Sometimes when I juggle as many plot threads as I do it is easy to lose someone.

Check for smooth transitions. If you start a scene with a chunk of action that isn’t dramatic action, or a few days have gone by, you can easily fill that part in with an effective transition.


Does the scene address the internal character arc as well as the external action of the story?

Have you gone deep enough into the character’s POV? Are you really living, breathing, feeling things through his filters?

Do the varying POV characters thoughts and actions flow smoothly? Is there a sense of continuity from one scene of theirs to the next?

Have I lost anyone? Dropped any secondary characters or forgotten about them?

Building On Theme

By now you should have a good idea as to what your theme is. Do your scenes explore this theme? Do your scenes wrestle with both sides of the question you raised? If your theme is about gaining forgiveness, do some of your scenes show the promise of forgiveness while others show the threat of eternal penance or punishment? Perhaps you can pull a little of this into your weaker scenes.

Is there an opportunity to build subtext into the scenes in some way, create a layer of something unspoken between the characters, or even something the character is hiding from himself?

Look for physical items that might make good concrete objects.


Keep an eye out for backstory or info dump; they can slow down your story. Flashbacks, too, can bring a story to a screeching halt.

Have you established a sense of time and place that the scene is occurring in. Would a change of location make the scene more fraught with meaning?

Look at your descriptions; do they illuminate something about the character as well as what they’re describing? The best descriptions are so deep in the character’s viewpoint that they tell us a lot about their worldview or current emotional state.

Have you pulled the senses into the scene?

What is it you want the reader to know by the end of this scene? What questions do you want her to be asking?

Do you give the same information more than once? If so, be sure to add something each time, some new revelation, some new nuance, otherwise say it only once.

If the book builds on clues or research or revelations, do those happen in an ordered sequence that actually lead to the proper revelation? Often I will cut and paste all the “clue” scenes into a single document and be sure they actually build on each other and don’t leave anything important out.

If you’re using more than one POV character, this can also be a handy trick for being sure the character’s thought build on each other—cutting and pasting all their POV scenes and reading them all at once to check for logistical flow and consistency.

Are there any vestigial tails in your scenes? Bits and pieces left over from something you had originally then removed?

Check for continuity of time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Revising - Macro Revision

As I mentioned yesterday, the single most important thing you can do to help the revision process is give yourself the gift of distance. A month is ideal. Two, even better. In a pinch, a week can suffice.

Once you have a completed draft, it’s time to look at what you actually managed to get out of your head onto the paper. Or if the idea holds up under daylight. Or if there’s really as much there there as you’d hoped. Distance helps you obtain a higher level of objectivity with which to do that.

Revision, or Macro Revision, as I think of it, is all about the story. Does the manuscript contain all the vital elements needed to create a gripping story. Does it realize its potential? News flash: Most people’s don’t at the first draft stage. Seriously. Or if they revise as they go, you can bet their first pass at a scene isn’t perfect.

So here then, are the things to look at when sitting down to revise a story.

(I changed my mind. This isn't really a checklist, it's more of a list of questions to ask yourself as you try to analyze your manuscript. If you use it as a checklist of things you must have, you will go mad. So don't.)

Have you chosen the right person to tell this story?
90% of the time you will have, but sometimes there are times when the story is better told through someone else, less removed from the action. Think Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes.

Have your selected the right POV?
Is your first person narrative flat? If you can easily substitute third person pronouns and have the whole thing make sense and flow, chances are you haven’t taken full advantage of the first person form. Conversely, have you at least tried first person? What happens when you get totally inside your character's head? Does he come even more alive?

If you are working with a familiar scenario (dreaded move, new school, losing a best friend) what fresh, new, unique twist do you bring to it?

Have you selected the best setting for this story? Is there a different setting that would add more inherent conflict? Create more tension? Echo your thematic elements?


Does your character want something? Or not want something? Is that desire driving the story or at least some of his actions?

Is your character an active participant in the story? If not, is he taking baby steps toward becoming one?

Is there something that keeps getting between the main character and his goal? Would the story be stronger if there was?

Is there a source of tension?

Is your story building toward something?

If not, what provides the dramatic push or narrative drive toward the end?

Do the obstacles the protagonist faces increase in difficulty?

Does he ever fail? (Remember, we learn more from our mistakes than our successes!)

Are their times when he makes things worse by his own actions?

Is there cause and effect in your story, or is it more of a string of unconnected events. (This happened and then this happened and then this happened, but nothing caused any of the other things to happen.)

Is your character a different person at the end of the book than they were at the beginning?

Could he have solved this problem or puzzle or dealt with the core issues at the beginning of the book? If so, have you given him a big enough growth arc?

Will people be emotionally invested in his journey? Will they care if he fail? What is at risk if he fails?

Are there measurable baby steps he makes on his journey? Or does he just wake up one day, able to tackle the problem? Do we see his growth on the page?

Are the ideas and issues fully developed? Is there a true beginning, middle, and end? Or do you go straight from the beginning to the end without fully developing the issues in the middle?

Do the actions and events in the book impact different parts of the protagonist’s life? School, home, other relationships?

Do your secondary characters have arcs, too? They will be smaller and more subtle, but they should be there.


Why are you writing this story? What piece of You is in there? Why are you the most perfect person to tell this story?

Are the themes universal? Is there room for Everyman in your story?

Do the actions and events of your story support the theme you’re working with?

Now that you know your theme, is there a way you can make it even more powerful?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Art of Revising

I so wanted to add In The Rain to that blog title, but since it isn't raining anywhere near here, it didn't really work. That's a writer's lot in life, isn't it? Having to sacrifice cleverness for clarity. Anywhoo...

My Lovely Agent and I were talking on the phone the other day about revising, and how difficult it can be for newer writers to understand the different between truly revising a manuscript and merely polishing it. Since I’m up to my elbows in revisions this week and it’s a subject that is currently near and dear to my heart, I thought I’d talk about it here.

I totally cringe now at some of the earlier projects I submitted to publishers. Looking back, I can so clearly see how NOT ready they were. They were first drafts that I’d polished, then submitted. And I think this is very common early on in our apprenticeship. We don’t know what don’t know, yet, if that makes any sense. We can’t know what knowledge we’re lacking, because we most likely haven’t been exposed to it yet.

Now some people are very, very good at polishing as they go. But this isn’t initially the case for most of us. For most of us, our first drafts are most definitely the $hi!!y first drafts Anne Lamott talks about in Bird by Bird. I think that’s one of the first things we need to recognize; that first drafts are simply everything we think we know about the story so far. That’s why I prefer the term discovery draft, because so often we learn so much in the writing of that draft, that it changes the story in the writing of it.

And that’s where revision or rewriting comes in. That’s when we step back and pull out our analytical tools and try to see objectively what is working in the story and should be kept, and what is lacking in the story. That’s when we check to see if we’re using the wrong voice, or if the structure is flawed or we need an antagonist of some sort. It’s where we can see that there isn’t enough conflict, or that the character isn’t solving his own problems or we’ve built to a huge climax, then undercut it in some way.

Only when all those issues have been ironed out, then we can work on polishing, which is smoothing out language, line editing, etc.

Now I’m going to put a disclaimer in here because I know a couple of my blog readers (Hi Katy!) do indeed work all this stuff out as they go. And the more I write under contract, the better I get at doing that myself. But for the purpose of this discussion, we’re going to talk in drafts because I think that’s a more universal place for most writers to start.

So tomorrow I’m going to talk about Macro Revising—the big picture things we need to look at in our first draft, then after that I’ll talk about Micro Revising—the small picture things. But today I'll leave you with the single most important revising tip I know:


The best (perhaps only?) way to gain any objectivity about your own work is through distance. If you put can put your manuscript aside for a month, you will be shocked, shocked I tell you, at how many of the macro flaws are now visible. Yes, finishing a manuscript is the best feeling in the world. So celebrate. Call all your friends and family. Break out the champagne. Go out to dinner. But do not send the mss off to an agent or editor yet. Don't do it. Wait at least a month. You will be SO glad you did. Pinkie swear.

And I apologize that I got this post up a little later in the morning than usual, but after yesterday’s typo disaster, I thought it prudent…

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Randomness

I was a bit of a slacker about blogging last week. Sorry about that. I promise to do better this week. One of the reasons was life got a tad busy. Number One Son came home from school, accompanied by about ten boxes of stuff. Thank gawd I de-cluttered about fifteen boxed worth of stuff a few weeks ago or there wouldn’t have been any room.

And speaking of de-cluttering, I did a little more last week, cleaning out all my old writing notebooks, mostly for stories I’ve given up on or books I’ve finished and won't ever need notes on again. I finally allowed myself to throw a ton of them away. Wheeee! It felt so good to admit that they were lost causes; I wasn’t ever going to get back to them or fix them or resuscitate them. They had served their purpose—I learned to write with those stories—but now I'm done with them, so out they went. That giant whooshing sound you heard was space opening up in my life for all sorts of new ideas.

I’m also now officially on deadline for Nathaniel Fludd, Book Three, which is due on Aug 3. There’s no problem making it, but the last week is always all hands on deck time.

I finally got around to reading The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo last week. Wow, terrific book. I am so blown away by the narrative risks she takes. Not to mention pulls off brilliantly.

I also went and saw HP6. I was hugely proud of myself that I saw it its first week out. It was a brilliant movie and reminded me of why J K Rowling was so successful. In the midst of all the drama and the tension and the conflict from every side, and the amazing world she’s built, she’s got her characters dealing with the most human of emotions. The teenage crush thing was so right on. All the teen stuff was so universal and well done. I loved Ron drunk on his love potion and Harry pumped up on his luck elixir. Very well done and a great artist's date.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lost Words

I have lost my words. It's making me insane. They used to come so quickly, I couldn't type fast enough to keep up with them. Now, I have to sit and think and fumble and grope. Argh! It's torture!

I'm not sure if I've used them all up (Just how many is one's lifetime allotment of words, anyway?) or need to fill the well or what, but it's making me insane.

(Just to be clear, this isn't writer's block, it's can't-find-the-right-word syndrome.)

If you find my words, will you let me know?? Because I kind of need them for this here book that I'm writing....

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dear Struggling Writer

From Friday's Comments:

Dear robin,
A few years a go I began writing. I wrote because my sister was a writer and people always fawned that "wow, a writer?" while my dad bragged proudly.
I...I guess I was jealous. That I wanted praise.
So I started a book, purely out of envy.
The book failed. I moved on to another idea.
Now I believe myself to be a writer, I'm no longer jealous.
I enjoy writing but the reason I started to write haunts me.(Is 'haunts' too dramatic?)
Because of that I can't fully give myself over to my 'muse'. I feel I can't truthfully say that I love writing and, while my sister has finished three books, I've yet to write one full rough draft.
Your the only person I could think of asking, um, do?

Dear Struggling Writer,

Here’s what I think. And be forewarned—it’s long.

I think pretty much whatever means brings creativity into your life is perfectly okay.

Some people are born believing in their talent and their “right” to spend their time and energy and resources pursuing and honoring that talent. Those lucky devils. For the rest of us, we sometimes need to trick ourselves into finding permission to pursue creativity. In today’s culture, creativity for its own sake isn’t particularly valued or treasured. It’s not practical enough, doesn’t reap great enough financial rewards, and causes people to spend long periods of time alone. It’s often only valued if it leads to a specific end, usually in the form of prestige or lots of money. And yet . . .

I think it is one of the single most important things we can invite into our life—whatever form it might take and by any means it might show up. Mostly because I think the act of creating is one of the single most spiritual activities we mere humans can experience, whatever your definition of spirituality may be.

There is only a small portion of us who will initially feel confident enough or brave enough or worthy enough to devote the time and energy to something creative. The rest of us will need excuses.

Some people will tell themselves they are writing so they can produce the kinds of stories their own kid hunger after.

Others will tell themselves they are writing because they (mistakenly!) think it is a way to make a little money on the side.

Others think it is a way to fame or recognition, validation or a way to impress people.

For others still, perhaps it was the only thing they were ever good at.

Or maybe they write to learn about something or come to some understanding of themselves.

But here’s the thing: Whatever wild and crazy reason you can name for first beginning to write—I can almost guarantee you that there is a wildly successful author out there who started for that exact reason.

Permission takes many forms.

If you love writing, no matter what caused you to pick up that pen initially, you love writing. Nothing--nothing--can take that away from you. Not even the reason you first started to write in the first place. It was simply a trick the Universe played on you to give you that little nudge you needed.

Is writing to gain your father’s regard any less noble than writing to become rich and famous? Is writing to keep up with your sister any more onerous than writing so you can be on Oprah?

I don’t think so.

Besides, I don’t think envy is all that bad an emotion. It’s not like jealousy, for example, which is much stronger and more toxic. Envy means you want it, too. Jealousy means you don’t want the other person to have it. Jealousy also includes suspicion and mistrust and anger. From what I hear you saying, you’re not trying to take away your sister’s love of writing; you’ve just found it’s your calling as well.

And the Universe has a wild sense of humor when it comes to handing out callings to us unsuspecting mortals.

Elizabeth Gilbert is an amazing writer and she’d written a number of terrific books before her sister, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch picked up a pen and wrote the equally amazing Dairy Queen. There is no rule that says only one writer allowed per family.

So in answer to "What should I do?" (Finally! poor Struggling Writers gasps.)

Embrace it.

At school visits I constantly tell kids that one of their most powerful tools in being a great writer is their Secret Crazy Self. That very part of them that gets them in the most amount of trouble or causes them a great deal of embarrassment.

That part of you that was compelled to pick up a pen to earn your father’s admiration and compete with your sister may very well be part of your Secret Crazy Self. Maybe it will make you more competitive and you will never give up, which brings you just that much closer to success. Or perhaps the ability to admit such things to yourself will give your writing a raw emotional honesty. Either way, I think you need to recognize it as having the potential to be a strength, and not just let it be something that haunts you.

Or you could just consider this as good as a confessional and let it go.

Either way, check back in with us when you’ve finished that first draft. We’ll want to celebrate with you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

J. K. Rowling Interview

I watched the ABC special on J. K. Rowling last night. I enjoyed it, but then I'm a pretty easy sell when it comes to shows on authors.

One thing that really struck me about J.K. (she totally doesn't mind if I call her that) was when she said of the last Harry Potter book: "Some people will hate it. Because in order for some people to love it, others will have to hate it. That's the nature of the plot."

And I thought, wow, I wish I could embrace that as well as she does. Because it's undeniably true; if you write something strong enough that will cause some people to love it, that same depth of feeling will allow others to hate it.

But man, I am so jealous of her total ability to accept that. She must have a very open root chakra is what I'm thinking.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Why of It All

So I’m working on Nathaniel Fludd III, and in this book the antagonist comes on screen in a major way for the first time. In the past, he’s merely been an off screen threat or catalyst. And since he’s now fully on stage, I have to spend some time with him and get a handle on his motivation, the why of it all. Why is he doing this? Pursuing this goal?

I started out by brainstorming a list of what the end goal he was pursing was. I ended up with a list of six things, only of couple of which felt like they worked. And then I realized I needed to understand the why of it all.
Why was he acting now?
Why was he compelled to act at all?
What grudge was he nursing, and why was he nursing it as opposed to letting it go? What resentment was he reveling in?
What angers and frustrations had been fermenting deep within him, and why?

Lots of questions. Or maybe, lots of repeating of the same question. I was beginning to feel a lot like a three year old...

However, each why peels back a layer, forces me to drill down to the core of the antagonist. It is only there that I will find the answers.

The thing is, probably only about 20% of this will actually show up on the page, so why do all this? Because I need to know it and understand it all in order to make that 20% ring true. That’s why.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Embarrassment of Riches

Okay, I admit it. I have way too many books. I have four floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stuffed full, with some of the shelves double-stacked. And if all my books would fit into those shelves, I'd be very, very happy. But alas, they do not. (Even after I've carried four enormous bags full of books to the library in the past month!)

I have at least enough books scattered around the house to fill another shelf unit. There are tons stuffed down in the utility cupboard in the laundry room. And my active TBR pile has formed a serious urban sprawl along my side of the bed, a veritable fortress of words which I must breach each night just to get some sleep. I like to think there is some benefit from sleeping surrounded by all those words and stories, but who knows...

About a third of these books are research books, the lifeblood of my work. But the others? ::shakes head slightly::

My nightmare is that we have to move someday and I have to decide what to do with all these books. I really need to begin deciding if they are all truly keepers, and if not, why on earth am I saving them?

Even so, all my books make me very happy. When I gaze fondly at those shelves, I can't help but feel like a very rich woman, indeed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Muse Works In Mysterious Ways

I know just how odd a duck my muse is, but I am still surprised by it sometimes. Take this weekend, for example. I had basically 20 days to finish Beastologist III and turn it in, yet my muse was OBSESSED with cleaning out every closet in the house. Now normally, one could look at this as an avoidance strategy, except my muse doesn't normally operate that way. Plus, trust me, there are a lot of things I would pick over de-cluttering as a means of procrastinating.

I did try to write. I got a measly few hundred words done and gave up because my mind was totally focused on all the junk sitting in our collective closets. It was calling to me. So I gave in and spent three days de-cluttering, muttering the entire time, "My muse better know what she is doing."

And of course she did. I woke up Monday and began writing and pretty much haven't stopped since, knowing exactly what has to happen and dribbling little additional bursts of inspiration in the margins as I go. Very cool.

The thing is, sometimes I think what our muse needs is exactly a good house cleaning or closet thinning or gardening binge. Some activity our active mind can focus on and give the subconscious some privacy to work out stuff. It can also act as a mental feng shui kind of thing, cleaning out the corners to let all sorts of new energy in. Either way, it worked for me as a most excellent mental pump priming. And I got clean closets out of it, to boot!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jump Starting

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. However, I am a big believer in the fact that sometimes we just don’t know enough about our stories to write the next part yet. And sometimes, we don’t even have a clue of what should happen next. For me, stewing and fermenting in my subconscious is a big part of my process, and when writing on contract I don’t always have the luxury of time enough for that. For me, not know what comes next happens most frequently in the third quarter of the book. This is the section that always takes the most left-brain work for me to make it right.

I think the reason is that in the first half of the book, I’ve spun out all the story threads, laid down the first steps of the arcs, and raised all sorts of dramatic questions. I’m now standing at the midpoint, staring up that long steep slope to the climax. By virtue of what I have written in the first half, I am somewhat committed to certain paths and choices. But I also want for the events to happen in the most cause-and-effect, increase-the-tension sort of way. AND, as if that’s not enough, I need to continue getting the character’s internal arc, incremental baby steps on the page. That’s where the left brain stuff comes in. When I’m not writing on contract, I usually do a discovery draft first, but when I’m short of time, I have to jumpstart things.

Now let me just say, if you don’t have to do this stuff, my hat’s totally off to you. I envy all you instinctive writers out there! But I also think it can be seductively easy to kid ourselves as to how gripping or well constructed our own writing is, so in addition to helping me actually get words on the page in the first place, this process also comes the closest to letting me look at my own work objectively.

So for the last couple of days, I’ve been brainstorming and playing what happens next. I don’t really even try to make a daily word count at this point because it’s the underlying stuff that I’m working on; the bones and sinew rather than the muscle and skin. (Sorry about that analogy—I’ve been immersed in dragons lately, and that’s pretty much how they see people…)

The other thing is, while I might not know what happens next, I do have this vision in my head of what I want the story to be like when it’s finished; this great glorious vision; one that the story will never ever look like, but even so, I use that blueprint, that mental impression, as a touch stone. Which of all these options before me will most closely recreate on the page that ethereal impression I have in my head?

So in my wip, Phil and Nate Fludd have entered the wyverns cave in search of an intruder. I know they face dangers in the cave as they search for this intruder, but I have only the vaguest impression of what those dangers are. So I make a list of what’s in the cave; infant wyverns, yearlings, and two year old wyverns, and the dangers and risks each present. I also need to design the cavern system so I can see in my minds eye the actual terrain they are traversing and what physical complications and difficulties they might run into.

Then I look at this list and sort of poke at it, wondering which is scarier, a wyvern yearling or a two year old, because during this section of the book (from the midpoint to the climax) I think it is critical to keep winding that tension up, to create a true build to the climax. For myself as a reader, this is most often where some books fall short and it is too easy to put them down.

As I poke at each kernel of a scene, I look for ways to up the tension. For example, let’s have the feeding pit scattered with old bones and carcasses to incorporate some of the conflict in the actual setting and description. When they enter the cave, there is lots of atmosphere, and the apprehension of coming face to face with wyverns for the first time, but is there something else I can do to up the stakes? Hm, yes. Let’s have Nate break the ladder by accident so that they now have no way back out should things get too rough.

That’s the sort of thing I take a couple of days to do. So I’ve basically spent my time designing wyvern caverns and recording the wyvern maturing process from infancy, as recorded in the Fludd family Book of Beasts. As someone who was consistently dinged for daydreaming and making stuff up as a kid, can I just say, I LOVE MY JOB!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dinner in Twenty: Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

I don't know about you, but grilled chicken is my best friend. It's quick, easy, and since I grill it outside, it doesn't heat up the kitchen on hot summer evenings. However, since I do rely on it a lot, the others in the family sometimes get a wee bit tired of it. In an effort to try something new, yet equally easy, we came up with these grilled chicken sandwiches. The secret here is to buy the thin sliced chicken breasts. They have been sliced thin so cook in 10-15 minutes and are perfect sized portions.

Basic Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

1 package thin sliced, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Italian dressing for marinade (I use Bernstein's Italian)
Santa Maria Seasoning (I swear by this stuff, and I use it for everything!)
1 package hamburger rolls, lightly toasted or warmed
lettuce, mayonnaise

Put chicken breasts in marinade for 5-10 minutes while the grill heats up. Sprinkle with Santa Maria Seasoning, then grill for 10-12 minutes until cooked through.
Spread heated hamburger rolls with mayo, then add chicken breasts and lettuce. Makes five sandwiches. (If the chicken is on sale, I grill two packages of chicken breasts and have the sandwiches two nights in a row. VERY easy.)

Slightly Fancier Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

1 package thin sliced, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Italian dressing for marinade
Santa Maria Seasoning
5 slices cheese (swiss, muenster, havarti)
Instead of hamburger rolls, use ciabatta bread or rolls
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp dried basil
cucumber slices
thinly sliced red pepper strips

Prepare chicken as above.
Heat rolls.
Place slice of cheese on top half of rolls, then return to toaster oven to melt.
Mix 1/4 c mayo with 1/4 tsp dried basil and spread on bottom half of ciabatta rolls.
Place grilled chicken on top of mayo, add slices of cucumber and red pepper. Place top half of roll with melted cheese on top.
Makes five sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Okay, I'm going to get all math-ish on you here, but bear with me a moment. And I say this as a person who hated geometry. (I liked algebra because it mimics life--in life we are always trying to solve for the unknown--but that's the subject of a different post...)

In geometry, an arc is the path between two points. It is exactly the same with a character arc. A character arc marks the path between your character at the beginning of the story and your character at the end of the story. The change in the character does not happen all at once, it happens gradually over time, a series of small steps before the final climax when the character is remade into his new and improved self.

Think of a baby chick or a butterfly. It pokes and wriggles, attempting to free itself from the egg or the cocoon, until the very end where it makes a heroic final burst and breaks free. And as any naturalist will tell you, it is hugely detrimental to help the creature break free too early because it is in the actual struggle itself that the chick or butterfly will gain the strength to make that final valiant effort that frees it from it’s old trappings. That pretty much sums up a character's internal journey and arc.

This is actually a good picture of a character arc:

You can see the small, incremental steps, moving things forward and upward as well. Small points on the graph eventually build to a whole new place.

By plotting out your character’s growth toward change (either consciously or instinctively) you create a forward momentum in your story, a sense of true movement. Those small steps build on each other. As a writer, knowing and understanding those changes that have to occur help us to design or shape our scenes so they pack the most punch.

Sometime the small steps will be incredibly subtle, as subtle as a shift in perception by the character, a recognition that there is a problem, or that the best friend doesn't have her best interests at heart, or the first time she ever, even tentatively, told someone no.

The good news? You should have a ton of material now for these baby steps if you've been following along in the plotting discussion.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box(es)

I have a confession to make. I have a thing--yes, that sort of thing--for graph paper. In fact, I’m a bit of a graph paper trollop. I love the basic 8x11 size and have about three pads of it on hand at all times, but I also have little flings on the side with 11 x 17 size graph paper and the enormous 17 x 22 size as well, although I admit to indulging in that last size only a couple of times a year.

You can get a pretty clear indication on how overwhelmed I’m feeling by the size of the graph paper I’m using. When I pull out the 17 x 22, you know I’m sinking fast and frantically trying to grasp all the elements of the plot that I’m struggling with.

So how on earth did a writer develop such a whopping crush on graph paper, of all things?

It began small at first, as most addictions do, with an occasional pad of 8 x 12. There was something very special about those little squares, all neatly lined up. There is something freeing about not being constricted by lines on a page. It makes the writing itself more visual, and it allows for more clearly designated groupings.

Sometimes I draw actual diagrams.

Other times, I lay out more sequential time lines.

Sometimes I just scribble things down madly and randomly and then play with the connections. This is usually in the most early stages of the drafting process.

Other times I’ll measure out careful sections of the sheet and list scene log lines so I can “see” the plot at a glance.

Or create a master character graph so I can get a handle on all the character arcs, beats of internal growth for each by act number, so I can be sure I’m making a logical progression and get a sense of the different growth arcs intersect.

Or plot arcs:

Colored pens are a must, too, but that’s the subject of a whole ‘nother post.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

And The Winner Is...

...Barbara Bietz!!

She has won an elegant journal in which to confess all of her secret writing desires, and journal her way to her personal, unique artistic vision!

Barbara, email me with your address and I'll get it right out to you!

And thanks to everyone who entered. It was nice to know I wasn't alone...

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Many Faces of Discipline

A lot of attention is paid to the need for discipline in pursuing writing, specifically, the discipline to put one’s butt in the chair and simply write.

But it’s occurred to me lately that discipline issues come in many shapes and sizes. We need discipline not just for B-I-C, but also:

~ for learning the craft
~ for finding the fortitude to do One. More. Stinking. Draft. To get it right.
~ to block out creative distractions—new ideas that beckon seductively or the temptation of learning what certain publishers or agents think is “hot” and therefore selling
~ The discipline to cleave to our own unique creative vision, no matter how much we doubt it or it scares us or that annoying internal editor whispers we’ll be damned if we write that. (Can you tell I struggle with this one a lot?)
~ not coveting thy neighbors publishing deal or marketing plan. This one is also hard, especially with so much information available on the web as to who got how much for what deal and the cyber evidence of how much certain publishers are promoting certain titles.

All of those are death to our writing. And it occurred to me this week that while I’ve been smugly chortling over NOT needing discipline in keeping my butt in the chair, I very much DO lack discipline in some of those areas. So how about you? What areas do you struggle with?

And because this is kind of a brave, public admission, we’ll have a special drawing for everyone who leaves a comment on this post!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dinner in Twenty

Since I am in harrowing danger of becoming a one note blogger, I’ve been trying to decide what else I could blog about in addition to craft. Because lets face it, I will run out of craft stuff to talk about sooner or later. (Although my bff claims that simply is not so; time will tell.)

So I’ve been thinking about what else I do besides write and read. Other than that, I hang out with my family and cook. A lot. Especially now that they’re home for the summer. And then I got to thinking about other writers and how they might be like me, always feeling faintly guilty about time taken away from their families in order to write and how, like me, they might often find themselves struggling with ways to meet their familial obligations and take care of their family.

So I thought I’d try out a new weekly feature here on the blog, Dinner in Twenty. These are my tried and true, crowd-pleasing, approved for picky eater dinners that can be put together in twenty minutes. A few of the recipes I’ll feature take longer than that, BUT they give you enough for two nights, so you get one freebie cooking night (just that much longer to stay at the computer.)

So with no further ado, here is this week’s Dinner In Twenty.

Grilled Teriyaki Steak and Rice
Quick, easy, summery. Doesn't heat up the kitchen. Especially if you can get the husband to do the grilling part. Best of all, my kids always liked it, even when they were at their most picky!

1 flank steak, 1- 1 ½ pounds
Teriyaki marinade (store bought or using below recipe*)
White Rice

Place flank steak in a dish with marinade. Let sit at room temperature for at least a half an hour and up to an hour and a half. (Can also be put in fridge and marinate overnight or all day while you’re at work.)

Fire up grill. (If you are good at broiling stuff, this can also be broiled, but living in Southern California, we always grill. I don't think I've ever used my broiler, come to think of it.) While grill is preheating, start rice. The great thing here is the steak takes about the same amount of time to cook as the rice.

Grill flank steak on medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until medium to med rare, depending on preference. Remove from heat. On cutting board, slice in thin strips against the grain.

Serve over steamed rice, along with either a salad or steamed green beans or zucchini. (And for the record, I am a BIG believer in bagged salad.) Serves four with possible lunch leftovers, depending on how big the eaters are are in your family. If there are only two of you, it's definitely enough for two dinners.

*Homemade Teriyaki sauce:
Mix together:
¼ c soy sauce
2 tb rice vinegar
1 tb honey
1 glove garlic, sliced or minced
pinch of ginger
2 Tb dry sherry or red wine
When mixed, pour over meat to marinade.

Steamed Rice (Just in case someone out there doesn't have much cooking experience.)
1 ½ cup long grain white rice
3 cups water

Combine in 2 qt saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to low, cover, and steam for 20 minutes.

And that's it! Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Research Geekiness

Okay, one of the things I adore about research is how I always find these great serendipitous connections, and I had to share this latest one.

I’m currently working on the third Nathaniel Fludd book, The Wyvern’s Treasure, which takes place in Wales. And one of the fun, geeky things I’m doing in each book is weaving Fludd ancestors into the history and culture of this different geographic areas. So, I was researching Wales, where Nate and Phil Fludd go to deal with rampaging wyverns, working on creating my fictional history of how Fludds came to have a covenant with these wyverns. And what do I find? In one of the earliest myths about a Welshmen taming a dragon, the Welshman’s name is . . . Lludd. Which is EXACTLY how I was going to Welshify Fludd (that double L thing just screams Welsh). And the name already exists historically, exactly where I need it to!

God, I love my job!

Edited to Add: And the winner of this months drawing is ASPIRING WRITER. The random number was generated in a most scientific fashion, one that involved me calling out to my husband, Pick a number between 1 and 59, and he said 17, which was AA. Email me with your snail mail address AA, and I will get a copy of Character and Viewpoint out to you ASAP.