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#CostumeDrama Thursday: Sons of Liberty (2015)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Costume Drama Thursday3For the last year, I’ve been living without cable TV (about to remedy that TODAY!), so I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of made-for-TV movies, miniseries, and specials over that span (like the AMC show Turn, which had just been announced when I made the decision to cut the cord). So I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do and reruns to find over the next few months!

#CostumeDrama Thursday: Sons of Liberty (2015) | KayeDacus.comFortunately, a couple of friends of mine mentioned the History Channel’s “based loosely on history” miniseries Sons of Liberty which aired for three nights in January. I know there were probably a lot of Revolutionary War buffs who were grossly offended by the liberties the “History” Channel took with the actual history surrounding our founding fathers (whether founding our country or a beer brand), but as that’s not one of my areas of historical expertise, I was able to watch it with an eye toward sheer enjoyment of the pretty, pretty actors in historical costumes in vaguely familiar historical settings.

Title: Sons of Liberty
Historical Setting: Massachusetts/Pennsylvania, 1760s–1770s
Starring: Ben Barnes, Marton Csokas, Ryan Eggold, Michael Raymond-James, Rafe Spall, Dean Norris, Jason O’Mara, Henry Thomas
Original Release Year: 2015

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At first, I wasn’t buying Once Upon a Time‘s Neal/Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) as Paul Revere, and in the first episode, I just couldn’t see it. But as the series moved on, and especially after the “event at the barn,” I not only believed him as Paul Revere, I actually started falling for him just a bit. Now I have a hard time remembering him as Neal/Bae!

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Get Set: Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset #ReadySetWrite

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset | KayeDacus.comOne thing that can make writers, whether trying for a first manuscript or a fiftieth, want to give up is the failure to realize the difference between regular writing and draft writing.

Regular Writing

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset | KayeDacus.com

What Regular Writing looks like.

In your normal, everyday writing life, when your main goal is to get something written every day, be it a paragraph, a page, or a scene, you are typically practicing what we’re going to call “regular” writing.

  • In the process of regular writing, you may take the time to re-read what you’ve already written, maybe do a little tweaking or editing on that, before you start writing for the day.
  • If you can’t think of the correct word or phrase you want to use, you’ll pause, go to thesaurus.com or some other resource and search until you find just the right term for your prose, then go back to writing.
  • You may run across something that needs to be researched. Maybe it’s how to change the oil in a 1957 Ford Mustang. Maybe it’s the correct title for the crew member on the ship who serves the captain’s dinner. So you pause, pull out your reference book or start searching online until you know exactly what you need to know. You incorporate that information, and then you go back to writing.
  • A minor character comes on the scene. You think this person may show up again—may even become a secondary character—but you need to know a little more about him. You need to know his name, a bit about his background, what he does, and what role he has in the story. So you pause, go to your Story Bible and start an entry for this character. Then, once you know exactly what you need to know, you go back to writing.
  • You get to the end of a piece of dialogue, and you’re not sure exactly how you want to tag it. So you pause and sit back. Do you want to use a “said” or “asked” tag? But those are so passe. Perhaps something with an adverb? No. Adverb tags are of the devil, you heard at a conference once, so better not do that. Maybe an action tag? Okay. Where are the characters in the space and in relation to each other? How would the character move? What’s the facial expression? Maybe you should act it out. Once you have the perfect tag, you get it down in words and continue writing.

Are you getting a picture here of what “regular” writing is?

Draft Writing

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset | KayeDacus.com

What Draft Writing looks like.

When you have both daily word-count goals and a deadline for completing a first draft that must be met, you must set aside the idea of “getting it right” and focus on “getting it written” instead. This is draft writing. Let’s look that the scenarios above in relation to this style of writing.

  • In drafting, you may take the time to re-read the last few paragraphs of what you wrote the day before to remind yourself where you left off, but you don’t make any changes and you immediately start writing as soon as you finish reading.
  • If you can’t think of the correct word or phrase you want to use, you type ____________ and then may even use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to look it up later and then resume writing.
  • You may run across something that needs to be researched. Maybe it’s how to change the oil in a 1957 Ford Mustang. Maybe it’s the correct title for the crew member on the ship who serves the captain’s dinner. So you type ___________ and use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to look it in the revision process after the first draft is finished and then resume writing.
  • A minor character comes on the scene. You think this person may show up again—may even become a secondary character—but you need to know a little more about him. You need to know his name, a bit about his background, what he does, and what role he has in the story. So you type ___________ and then may even use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to make it up later and resume writing.
  • You get to the end of a piece of dialogue, and you’re not sure exactly how you want to tag it. So you write “he said” or “she asked” and then type ___________ and use the comments feature to highlight it and type a reminder to yourself to write something better later and then resume writing.

Are you catching the difference between regular writing and drafting?

In drafting, the most important thing to do is get the bones of the story down in writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good. That’s what the second, third, fifth, tenth draft process is for.

Forget about “getting it right.” Just get it written!

Get Set: Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps | KayeDacus.comIf you’ve followed the other steps in this series so far (links at the bottom in case you missed some/all), you may feel ready to start writing. But just in case you aren’t, this week and next week, we’ll explore a few additional exercises to get set you up to be as ready as possible to write your story.

Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps
The easiest way to not only make sure you have enough story to reach your desired word count—as well as to have something that keeps you on track when you feel lost or derailed somewhere after about chapter 3—is to use some kind of outline structure. If you’re writing genre fiction, this is a little easier, because there are certain markers, certain landmarks your story needs to hit in order to meet reader (and publisher) expectations.

ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps | KayeDacus.comThe structure I’ve found that works best for me is the Seven Story Beat structure from Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit. Don’t let the title fool you—as you’ll see below, this structure applies well to just about any story.

1. The Setup/Hook
“A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or antagonist’s) current status quo” (Mernit 110).

This is the introductory scene of your story and your synopsis—the opening hook and introduction of your main characters. As with all opening scenes, this is the establishment of that character’s story goal, as well as hinting at the main conflict for the entire novel. In a synopsis, you should focus on the one or two main characters (possibly as many as three if they’re closely tied together) who are involved in the main plot of the story.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

After the death of her husband in Lancaster County in 1984, young Amish woman RACHEL LAPP decides to take her eight-year-old son, SAMUEL, into the outside world for the first time on a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, to visit her sister. Traveling by train, Samuel is amazed to see people different from him and sights such as a hot air balloon.

2. The Inciting Incident
“The Inciting Incident brings the main characters together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come” (Mernit 111).

Beat 2 should follow Beat 1 in close succession—after all, it’s the Inciting Incident that gets the story rolling. It’s the story hook that keeps us reading. These two may even happen at the same time—giving you a six-beat structure, rather than seven.

You’re probably more aware of Inciting Incidents than you think. Whenever you start talking with your friends about any type of storyline—a book, a movie, or even an episode of your favorite television show—inevitably someone will start analyzing what led up to it. What was it that put everything in motion? What’s the first important thing that really pulls you into the story? In other words, what was the Inciting Incident?

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

When waiting to change trains at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Samuel uses the men’s room. As he does so, he accidentally witnesses the brutal murder of a police officer.

3. The First Turning Point
“Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, this is a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; it is most successful when it sets characters at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal” (Mernit 112).

The First Turning Point of your story is the event that happens to set your characters at cross-purposes with each other, to complicate things, to start building to the ultimate conflict yet to come.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

CAPTAIN JOHN BOOK takes Samuel and his mother to the police station and has Samuel study pictures of convicts and a police line-up to identify the murderer, but Samuel does not see a match. However, after wandering around the police station, Samuel sees a newspaper clipping with a picture of Lieutenant James McFee and identifies him as the man he saw at the train station.

4. The Midpoint/Raising the Stakes
“A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship” (Mernit 113).

This is taking the conflict you’ve just raised at the turning point and continuing to raise the stakes: throwing as many twists and turns and conflicts as you can at the characters to keep them from resolving the plot question as long as possible. (In the example, conflicts that raise the stakes are bold/red—obviously, you wouldn’t do that in a formal synopsis.)

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

Book reports to his superior officer, Chief Paul Schaeffer, saying that McFee was responsible for a drug raid where expensive chemicals used to make amphetamines were discovered, but never reported to the police department. The police officer who was murdered was investigating the disappearance of these chemicals which, if sold, would make McFee a very wealthy man, hence he was murdered to ensure silence. Schaeffer advises Book to keep the case secret so they can work out how to move forward with it.

Later, when Book returns home, he encounters McFee in a parking garage. McFee tries to shoot him but Book draws his own gun and, after a fierce shoot-out, McFee flees the scene—but not before Book is wounded. Book realizes that since he only told Chief Schaeffer about McFee’s corruption, then Schaeffer must be corrupt, too. Book then phones his partner and tells him to remove all the police files that include the Lapps’ details, and that he is going into hiding. Schaeffer, McFee, and Fergie (the second murderer) start their hunt of Book.

Book returns Rachel and Samuel to their farm in Lancaster County, but as he is about to leave, he passes out from loss of blood as a result of McFee’s gunshot. He cannot go to any mainstream doctors or hospitals, as they will make reports, and McFee will find and kill him and the Lapps. Rachel’s father-in-law, who also lives at the farm, reluctantly agrees to shelter Book in their home for the sake of his grandson and daughter-in-law’s safety. Eli recruits an Amish apothecary to treat Book’s gunshot wound using traditional Amish methods.

Book stays with the Amish for some time, learning their ways, helping out around the farm, and becoming part of Rachel’s and Samuel’s lives—and begins to fall in love with Rachel along the way, which creates friction between Book and Daniel, the Amish man who wants to marry Rachel.

5. Swivel: Second Turning Point
“Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the story goal’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts” (Mernit 115)

The Second Turning Point is basically the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s almost “Inciting Incident Part II”—an event that leads the characters to make a turning-point decision that will lead to the climax of the story.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

After he’s been with the Amish for a while, Book goes into town to telephone his partner; but he is informed that his partner has been killed [incident]. Enraged, Book calls Chief Schaeffer’s private residence (where he cannot be traced), openly calling out Schaeffer on his corruption and stating that he is through with hiding and is going to hunt down Schaeffer and McFee instead. While returning to Eli’s farm, Daniel is harassed by local punks who defile Amish culture and pacifism. Book then confronts the tormentors, and when one of them harasses him, he strikes back and breaks the nose of one of the punks [turning-point decision]. The fight becomes the talk of the town, and makes its way to the local sheriff.

6. The Dark Moment/Crisis
“Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever” (Mernit 115).

This is when the conflict rises to such a crescendo that it seems insurmountable.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)

Book tells Rachel he is leaving the next day. However, before Book gets a chance to leave the farm, Fergie, McFee, and Schaeffer arrive and threaten Rachel and her father-in-law. Book, who is in the barn with Samuel, orders Samuel to run to the neighbors’ for safety. Using Samuel’s lessons about the grain silo, Book tricks Fergie into entering the silo, then releases a cascade of corn which suffocates Fergie. Book grabs Fergie’s shotgun, then uses it to shoot McFee dead. Meanwhile, Samuel rings the bell on his farm, alerting their Amish neighbors that help is needed. When a crazed Schaeffer threatens to kill Rachel, Book surrenders to him.

7. Resolution
“A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the story goal; an ending that provides satisfaction to the reader” (Mernit 116)

The Resolution, as the name of this beat implies, is the denouement and ending of the story—“the marryin’ and the buryin’” as Mark Twain called it. It is the resolution of the Dark Moment/Crisis and the resolution of the relationship between your characters. In your book, this can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages to a chapter. So in your synopsis, it can be anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph or two. Note: It is very important to include the entirety of the resolution in a formal synopsis.

Example from the movie Witness: (adapted from Wikipedia)
However, at that moment, a large number of Amish arrive at the Lapp farm in response to the bell. Schaeffer, realizing he cannot murder everyone, knows he has lost and allows Book to disarm him. The local police arrive, and Schaeffer is taken away.

Afterwards, as Book prepares to leave, he shares a quiet moment with Samuel, then exchanges a silent, loving gaze with Rachel. Eli bids Book goodbye on his return to Philadelphia by saying, “You take care out there among them English,” showing his acceptance of Book as one of the community. As Book drives away from the Lapp farm, he passes Daniel, who has presumably come to resume his courtship of Rachel.

When I put all of these examples together in a separate document, it comes out to more than one single-spaced page, so it’s a good starting point to make sure your story is set and ready to write. At any step along the way, if you know specific scenes or conflicts you’re planning to use, go ahead and add notes about them. The idea here isn’t to keep it to a certain word count or page length. It’s to help you think through the structure of your story before you’re so wrapped up in the middle of it you forget where you were going.

No, you don’t have to work with an outline like this—but when you get stuck around the 30,000-word mark, having even just one or two scene ideas for each of these seven points can help in regaining momentum and continuing to write.

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Work Cited:

Mernit, Billy. Writing the Romantic Comedy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000.

“Witness (1985 film).” (2013, October 22). Wikipedia. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witness_(1985_film)

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Ready, Set, Write! Planning, Preparing, and Writing Your Novel This Year | KayeDacus.comPrevious Posts in the #ReadySetWrite series:

Get Set: Figuring Out Your Characters’ Desires, Goals, and Motivations #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comThere are a couple of things lurking in the work you’ve already done up to this point which will be important to dig out and define at this point: your main characters’ goals and motivations.

Your Characters’ Desires

You can’t read a craft-of-writing book without reading about making sure that your characters want something, right from the first page—even if that desire is simply to get a glass of water, according to Kurt Vonnegut.

As you look back through your story premise and the work you did in determining who your viewpoint characters would be, your main characters’ desires—what they want in the story—should start becoming clear.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comIt’s not interesting to read about someone who doesn’t want anything, who has no desires. The greater the desire, the more opportunities for that desire to be thwarted (conflict); therefore, the more interesting the story. Think about The Wizard of Oz. In the opening (B&W) part of the movie, Dorothy’s desire is to leave the drudgery of life in a Kansas farmhouse and go “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Almost immediately, the fulfillment of this desire is thrust upon her in a somewhat violent and traumatic manner. Desire met. Story over, right?

Of course not! Once Dorothy arrives in Oz, the driving force of the story is her desire to go home to Kansas. If she attained that desire as quickly as her initial desire was fulfilled, if she followed the yellow-brick road all the way to the Emerald City with no one to stop her—even if she did meet the same quirky folks along the way—it would not be a very interesting story (nor take very long to tell!).

Sol Stein describes plotting at its most basic as “putting the protagonist’s desire and the antagonist’s desire into sharp conflict. . . . think of what would most thwart your protagonist’s want, then give the power to thwart that want to the antagonist” (83).

Along her journey, in Dorothy’s quest to fulfill her desire, she meets with one conflict after another brought upon her by the main antagonist of the story, the Wicked Witch of the West. But the witch wasn’t thwarting her just to thwart her. She had a desire as well: to retrieve the magical ruby slippers which were on Dorothy’s feet and held the key for Dorothy’s return home.

Dorothy’s desire (home) is one that everyone can understand; it’s what Stein calls universal: “The wants that interest a majority of readers include gaining or losing a love, achieving a lifetime ambition, seeing that justice is done, saving a life, seeking revenge, and accomplishing a task that at first seemed impossible” (84).

In my genre, this universal desire is built in: gaining a love. Love, money, and power, according to Stein, are the three themes which create the greatest conflict, which is perhaps why the romance genre makes up more than half of all popular fiction sold. However, “falling in love” is not usually the main desire of the main characters of a romance novel.

In my contemporary romance, Stand-In Groom, Anne’s desire is to run a successful business, remain independent, and perhaps, after ten years of living with the regrets and bitterness of a broken engagement, “create her own happy ending.” So what antagonist comes up against this desire to create conflict? Why, that would be the hero, George Laurence, who comes to town desiring nothing more than to fulfill his contractual agreement to his employer to (a) plan his famous employer’s wedding and (b) keep the media from learning that his employer is getting married. Why do these two desires come into conflict? Because Anne and George are attracted to each other, and Anne believes that falling in love with the “groom” of the biggest wedding she’s ever planned will ruin her business.

Now, as we discussed in the Goals vs. Dreams series, it’s all well and good to have desires (dreams), but in order to fulfill those desires, one must set and achieve goals.

Your Characters’ Goals

Just like with writing, once we know our characters’ desires (dreams), we must set actionable, personally achievable goals to set the characters on their paths as the story moves along.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comLet’s go back to The Wizard of Oz for a moment. While getting home to Kansas is Dorothy’s driving desire, her specific, personally attainable goal for the purpose of the active plot is to make it from Munchkinland to Emerald City to seek help from the Wizard of Oz. Because there are multiple other characters with their own desires and, thus, goals, Dorothy’s road to fulfilling her desire by working toward a specific goal is filled with conflicts. These conflicts seem like they might keep her from achieving her goal; but she finally reaches Emerald City and meets the wizard. But rather than fulfilling her desire, the wizard gives her a new goal: to get the Wicked Witch’s broom stick and return it to the Wizard. She accomplishes this goal (“I’m melting. . . .”) and just when it seems like she’ll get to go home, after teary goodbyes, her desire is once again thwarted by the balloon taking off without her in it—she has achieved her goals, big and small, but not her overall desire. Enter Glenda the Good Witch who explains that the means to gain her desire was always within Dorothy’s reach—the ruby slippers. #ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.comOnce Dorothy learns that “there’s no place like home,” the story comes to its (somewhat) satisfying conclusion. (Am I the only one who ships Dorothy and the Scarecrow?)

Your character’s main desire shapes his or her goals for your story.

In Stand-In Groom, Anne’s primary goal for the first part of the novel is to plan a wedding with a limitless budget, thus ensuring the future of her business, while her secondary goal is to fight her attraction to the man she thinks is the groom. When she discovers he isn’t the groom, her secondary goal changes to trying to trust him again (while continuing with the main goal of planning the wedding); after all, George has been dishonest with her about his identity for several weeks. Then, when she discovers the true identity of the groom, her secondary goal changes again. And, along the way, her desire changes to focus on putting happiness in her personal life first and her business second. While the hero and the man he works for (the groom) aren’t necessarily antagonists, it is through their actions—the hidden identities and goals of their own—that Anne’s desires and goals seem to be thwarted.

Your characters’ desires and goals are all well and good, but if they have no motivation to follow-through and overcome the conflicts that arise, you have no story.

Your Characters’ Motivations

Go back through all of your prep work that you did in developing your characters, as well as your work on your characters’ backstories. Up to this point, you’ve identified your main characters desires and goals. But now is the time to ask why. Why does your character want what she wants? Why does she set the goals she sets, and not other goals, in order to reach those desires?

There are several aspects of your characters you need to work on and identify in order to determine what their motivations are (and this is the time to release your inner four-year-old and constantly ask “why?”).

    ##ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.com
  • What is your character’s spirituality? This isn’t about religion. This is something important for all writers to know about all of your main characters, because the characters’ morals and values, and thus their actions, reactions, and decision making, will hinge on what they believe about life and the afterlife and the value of both.
  • What is your character’s heart? What is your character passionate about? Beyond the scope of the story, what are his desires? Her goals? What does she want to do with her life? What does he want to accomplish by the time he’s 30, 50, 70?
  • What are your character’s abilities? This goes beyond their physical abilities (walk, run, talk, etc.). What have they learned to do? Is she a Victorian girl who’s learned to use a typewriter in hopes of getting a job to support herself instead of marrying someone she doesn’t love? Has he learned to train guard dogs and police canines? But then, what are their inborn talents? Those things with which we would say he or she is “gifted”?
  • What is your character’s personality type? While not everyone believes in personality typing, when developing characters, going through a personality-type questionnaire and answering the questions as your character can give you great insight into how your character’s mind works. Introverts and Extroverts “recharge” differently and react differently in public and private settings. Thinkers and Feelers come to decisions in totally different ways. And so on. Make your character more dimensional by giving him or her a complete personality.
  • What are your character’s life experiences? What has your character been through in her life to make her who she is when she steps onto Page 1 of your story? This is the bulk of the backstory, which everything else plays off of and is affected by. This can include:
      - Family makeup/background. What size family does he come from? How many siblings? Were both parents present? Did she have a good relationship with them? What was his relationship with his siblings like? Did she love her family or could she not wait to escape? And so on.

      – Education. Whether formal or self-taught, one’s education is crucial to who they are as a person. Did they have all the benefits of an upper-class private/Ivy League education? The scrappier, American-dream public school education? Or maybe she had to drop out in eighth grade and go to work to support the family. And even if someone went to school and got a college degree, that doesn’t make them “intelligent” or “learned.” That just means that they have a couple of pieces of paper. How intellectual is your character? How smart? How street-smart? How wise? How knowledgeable? How does this compare to the people around him/her?

      – Favorites. Color, food, music, entertainment, etc. What are the things that give your character a good quality of life? (Or would if they had access to them.) Get creative and have fun with these.

Once you have all of this down you should have a good understanding of who your character is. The reason I try to figure as much of this out before writing is that it saves me time in revision after finishing the first draft if I don’t have to go back and edit out long stream-of-consciousness scenes in which I’m inside the character’s head digging into backstory I didn’t know before I started writing. But no matter how detailed I get with this, I always have a few revelations about my characters—things I never would have known about them until they were faced with a crisis and forced to own up to something from the past they kept deeply hidden, even from me—whether it’s a desire the character kept hidden from me, or the character telling me there’s a better way to structure his goals in order to achieve his desires because of something in his personality type or an ability or experience I don’t learn about until halfway through the draft.

##ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Figuring Out Your Characters' Desires, Goals, and Motivations | KayeDacus.com

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Works Cited:

Stein, Sol. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.

Get Set: Setting Writing Goals and Timelines #ReadySetWrite

Monday, February 16, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Writing Goals and Timelines | KayeDacus.comIn addition to getting all of the creative aspects of your story ready and set for writing, it’s important to make sure you have goals and timelines when it comes to how you’re going to write your story—and how long it will take you to write your story.

It’s all well and good to be ambitious and say you’re going to have the rough draft of your manuscript finished in three months—or even less time. And, if you’re an experienced writer and you know your own production ability, then you know whether or not that’s a reasonable goal.

Setting Writing Goals

As we discussed in the Goals vs. Dreams series, it’s all well and good to dream of writing a novel, but unless you give your dreams marching orders—unless you set actionable, personally achievable goals—you’ll likely never see those dreams fulfilled.

Remember, when it comes to setting goals for your writing:

  • Don’t be vague—set a goal with a specific, detailed end product as your result.
  • Make a checklist of actionable, personally achievable steps.
  • Set long-term and short-term goals.
  • Set a timeline for every step it will take to achieve your ultimate goal—a completed manuscript.
  • You can read more about these steps here.

Setting Your Timeline for your First Draft

Once you’ve laid out your goals and actionable items—and you know what your overall timeline is, you know how much time you need to get your first draft written. When you know you have a certain total word-count you want to reach by a certain date, you need to break it down into smaller, more easily achievable goals.

But before you even start looking at numbers, you need to look at your calendar.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Writing Goals and Timelines | KayeDacus.com

As you can see, my schedule stays pretty busy, between blogging daily, working full time, personal training, going to the gym, and meeting up with a friend once a week to write. Then there are the weekly tasks, like laundry, house cleaning, and meal planning and cooking ahead for those busy weeks. And don’t forget special events/occasions. Since my friends and I go to the movies regularly, and since it usually involves a meal before or after, I make sure to block out that time on my calendar, too.

Once you know on what days you will and won’t be able to write, then you’ll be able to better calculate a regular (daily/weekly) word-count goal. So, for example, if you want to write an 85,000-word first-draft in 90 days, you’d set a daily word-count goal of 945 words per day, or a weekly goal of 7,085 words per week for twelve weeks.

For someone just starting out on your first manuscript, you will want to give yourself more time than that. Because writing every day is a habit that, like any habit, needs time to become a normal part of your everyday life, you may want to start with a smaller goal of, say, 500 words per day or 1,500 words per week.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Writing Goals and Timelines | KayeDacus.com .. #ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Writing Goals and Timelines | KayeDacus.com

In addition to setting a total word-count goal and daily goals, in the past, I’ve used a planner to create and track a daily running total of what my total word-count should be if I’m keeping up with my daily goals.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Writing Goals and Timelines | KayeDacus.comThe best way to figure out your writing timeline is to figure out what your manuscript word-count goal is. Then, once you do that, you might want a planner of some sort you can use as a daily accountability tool to track your writing. Or, if an online tracker like the one I’m using to track my reading goal or my word count for my current story over on the right-hand side, works better for you, visit Story Toolz.

TL;dr version:

  • Set a total word-count goal for your first draft.
  • Set a date by which you want to have your first draft finished.
  • Look at your calendar to see when you will and won’t be able to write.
  • Set daily/weekly word-count goals to be able to meet your deadline goal.
  • Track your word count in a planner or online widget to make sure you’re on track to meet your deadline goal.

What are some other tips and advice you can share about setting goals and timelines?

Costume Drama Thursday: Comanche Moon #TBT

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Costume Drama Thursday | KayeDacus.com

Karl Urban as Woodrow Call

Karl Urban as Woodrow Call

If it’s not obvious why I was originally excited to watch this TV miniseries, and why I continue to go back to it time after time, even though I don’t enjoy the storyline of it all that much, you haven’t been around here for very long!

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Title: Comanche Moon
Historical Setting: Texas, 1850s–1860s
Starring: Karl Urban, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Zahn, Linda Cardellini, Val Kilmer, Rachel Griffiths
Original Release Year: 2008

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Get Set: Determining Your Story’s Tone #ReadySetWrite

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Determining Your Story's Tone and Voice | KayeDacus.com

My name is Tobey Heydon and I am practically seventeen years old, since my sixteenth birthday was five whole months ago. Actually, Tobey is my midle name and my first is Henrietta. My mother got sort of desperate when her third child turned out to be another girl, so she named me for my father. But, thank Heaven, my grandmother’s maiden name was Tobey. Otherwise it would have been too ghastly. People might have called me Henny for short and I would have simply died.

(du Jardin, p. 3)

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

(Green, p. 3)

I like to save things. Not important things like whales or people or the environment. Silly things. Porcelain bells, the kind you get at sourvenir shops. Cookie cutters you’ll never use, because who needs a cookie in the shape of a foot? Ribbons for my hair. Love letters. Of all the things I save, I guess you could say my love letters are my most prized possession.

(Han, p. 1)

Hello, World!

I’ve decided to start a blog.

This blog.

Why, you might ask?

You know when you shake a Coke can and then you open it and it explodes everywhere? Well, that’s how I feel right now. I have so many things I want to say fizzing up inside of me, but I don’t have the confidence to say them out loud.

(Sugg, p. 1)

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

(Collins, p. 3)

Aside from point of view, what’s one thing all of these opening paragraphs have in common?

Yes, they’re all YA books. That’s not it.

No, not all of them have been made into movies.

Give up?

All of them do a pretty good job of establishing the tone of the book right from the beginning.

Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t read a few of these (Green, Han, and Sugg). But through my extensive research (reading a few reviews on Goodreads) and what I’ve heard about them through word of mouth, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the way each of these books is written follows in the same tone that’s established in these opening lines.

Let’s look a couple of other examples quickly:

Mr. and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

(Rowling, HPSS, p. 1)

As you’ve likely recognized (or guessed) these are the opening lines of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s [Philosopher’s] Stone. Right from the beginning, the tone is set—Rowling doesn’t open with the murder of Harry’s parents or with Sirius “killing” Peter Pettigrew and being hauled off to Azkaban. She doesn’t open with the revelation that Harry has been made to live in the broom cupboard under the stairs for almost his whole life. She doesn’t even open with wizards, but with muggles—the most muggliest muggles ever to live! She throws in a “thank you very much” and “they just didn’t hold with such nonsense” which immediately set the tone of the story—even though this will deal with things that are not “perfectly normal” but “strange or mysterious,” it’s going to be lighthearted.

The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed at each other’s chests; then, recognizing each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction.

(Rowling, HPDH, p. 1)

In the opening lines of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we get no “thank you very much” no “nonsense.” It’s brisk. It’s “moonlit.” It’s immediately tense and full of suspicion. Who are these unnamed men? Why are they meeting in a “narrow, moonlit lane”? Why do they immediately pull their weapons on each other? How do they know each other? We get a sense of impending doom rather than a lighthearted introduction to a new and magical world that we see in the first book.

That’s what it means to set a tone.

Will your story be lighthearted? serious?

Will it be dark and moody or bright and cheery?

Soulful and somber? Or fun and witty?

Cynical and sarcastic? Or witty and irreverent?

Will your viewpoint characters’ POV scenes be different from each other in tone? Do you have a character who is an optimist while the other’s a pessimist? Show this in the tone—in the words you choose and how you string them together. In the length and complexity/simplicity of your sentence structures. How do you want readers to feel as they’re reading your story?

Sometimes, you may think that you know the tone of your story, only to get a few thousand words into the first draft and realize that it isn’t working at all. I tried writing a story in which the heroine had social anxiety disorder but which was still in keeping with the lighthearted tone I use in my contemporary novels. But that character’s viewpoint scenes started getting more and more angsty and insular, taking the tone of the story into a much darker place than I wanted—one that didn’t really work for the lighthearted, hopeful romance novels I write.

So I ended up going back to the “get my characters ready” part of preparing my story and changed her character quite a bit. And she became the Meredith Guidry who now appears in Menu for Romance.

If you aren’t really sure what tone your story needs, let your characters help you decide. Freewrite in your main characters’ viewpoints and then go back and see what their moods are, and what mood you’re in when reading it. From that, you should be able to get a better grasp on, and figure out how to capitalize on, the tone of your story.

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Works Cited:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1949. Print.

du Jardin, Rosamond. Practically Seventeen. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008. Print.

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton Books/Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2012. Print.

Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. New York: Simon & Schuster/BFYR, 2014. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., 1997. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., 2007. Print.

Sugg, Zoe. Girl Online. New York: Atria Books/Keywords Press, 2014. Print.

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