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#FirstDraft60 Day 53 – THERE’S ONLY ONE WEEK LEFT?!?! Where did the time go?

Friday, October 23, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comFridays are our days to check in with our progress, by breaking it down into the following categories:

  • Self-Evaluation (how do you think you did? what can/do you want to do differently next week? what did you learn about yourself as a person or as a writer? what didn’t you do or finish that you wanted to? etc.)
  • Word count (total for the week, Saturday through today)
  • Awesome Accomplishments (breakthroughs, discoveries, highest daily word-count ever, etc.)
  • Tidbits too good not to share

Here’s mine:

  • Self-Evaluation
    As I’ve already shared this week, I had a bit of an epiphany moment at the beginning of this week, and have turned that into motivation to write every single day, whether I feel like it or not. I was tested on that yesterday—I was SO exhausted and just ready to crawl into the bed and pass out. But instead, I set a timer for 30 minutes and sat in bed with my Surface (tablet computer—this was also part of my compromise with myself: that I didn’t have to do it on the “real” a.k.a., laptop, computer). And I ended up writing almost 900 words. So while it was nowhere near what I did the three nights before that, I still wrote.
  • Word count
    With my effort to write every day, which started on Monday, after a gap of a week in which I had no significant word-count increase (but I did completely chart out the map of my fictional university and all of the departments/majors therein), in four days, I wrote 10,424 words.
  • Awesome Accomplishments
    Up until last night, I was writing a chapter per night. Yes, most of it will either be cut or completely rewritten when I get to that point after completing the first draft. But it doesn’t matter. Not only did I write every day (and averaged 2,606 words per day—or, basically, exactly what I needed to be doing this entire month), I find myself thinking more and more about the story and the characters, which is one of the major advantages to writing every day. It keeps it much more top of mind, and for me, that means I’m much more likely to have “breakthrough” moments throughout the day when I have an idea or inspiration for something that I just can’t wait to write.
  • Tidbits too good not to share
    I don’t know that this is “too good not to share,” but I really liked the way this dialogue between Stone (my hero) and his sister went. Stone’s sister, LauraAnn, has arrived in Nashville from Philadelphia unannounced. As a former FBI profiler, he can easily tell something’s wrong; as a big brother, he wants desperately to know how to fix it—or who to go after on her behalf. But he knows his sister too well to just come right out and ask.

    LauraAnn padded out of the guest room, her feet bare, her legs encased to mid-calf in exercise leggings. Her US Air Force T-shirt had seen a few too many washes, if the frayed hems and tiny holes making an irregular pattern were any indication.

    She dropped onto the sofa beside him, tucked her feet up beside her, wrapped her arms around his, and rested her head on his shoulder. She hadn’t done that in a long, long time.


    “Yeah. Stone?”


    “Is it okay if I stay with you indefinitely?”

    “It is. Of course, if you stay long enough, you may have to help me move again.”

    “That’s okay.”

    Neither of them moved. The TV flickered at them from across the room.



    “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

    “Okay.” He raised the remote and pulled up the on-screen guide. “Say when.”

    After clicking through about a dozen screens, each one showing five or six channels, he stopped when LauraAnn said, “When.”

How’s your writing going?

#FirstDraft60 Day 52 — Thursday Craft Day: Consequences and Rewards (a.k.a., Scene and Sequel)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comPicture this scenario: You’re watching your absolutely favorite show. Things are getting dicey for the heroes. All of a sudden, there’s an explosion! Your heroes’ lives are in danger! What’s going to happen to them? Are they okay? Will they survive? Then, the screen goes black. And then you see: TO BE CONTINUED. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” you scream. “I have to know what happens next!”

What Does Happen Next?
Well, you tune in when the next episode airs or the new season starts. Why? Because you’re HOOKED. Because you need to know the sequel: what happens next.

In another example of fiction imitating life and vice versa, “what happens next” is all about consequences. It’s our job as authors to make our characters fail to reach their goals often enough to generate more conflict for the story. But why? Because failure creates consequences that generate conflicts that necessitate setting new goals—in addition to the story goals that must still be met. These consequences now become your scene goals.

For each conflict generated, there are multiple outcomes depending on which decision is made by the character, which action is taken. This is the driving force behind the pacing and tension of your scenes—but also what drives the plot of the story forward. For example, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam’s main story goal is to take the One Ring to Mordor to destroy it. Yet all along the way, they encounter roadblocks, interruptions, setbacks, and other characters with different goals that keep setting them along paths they don’t necessarily want to be on. They must work their way through each of those conflicts—they must resolve those consequences—before they can resolve their story goal.

To reward, or not to reward—that is the question
Along with consequences come rewards. Sol Stein, in How to Grow a Novel, states that in a discussion with playwrights once, he jotted down the phrase, “You must reward your audience” (p. 18). As we discussed in the Plot or Plod series, you cannot just pile up the conflicts one on top of another in an ever increasing intensity, or else the reader is going to be overwhelmed. Once you’ve finished your first draft and are ready to start revisions, you will want to take the time to write out a scene-by-scene outline (or use scene cards) and pinpoint scenes where you’re rewarding the reader for sticking with you by revealing something important, resolving a conflict, or allowing a breather-scene where your reader can fall in love with your characters a little bit more. This will also help you in tracing the conflicts and consequences and making sure that each scene ties in with the scenes that follow in some way, and that each ends with some kind of a hook. But this is something to think about as you’re writing your first draft—have you rewarded your characters (and, therefore, audience) recently?

Two weeks ago, we discussed how you need to have both simple conflict (simple narrative interest) and compounding conflicts (compound narrative interest) in your story. Simple conflicts are resolved within a scene or two. A lost dog is found, the contract on the new house comes through, a long-anticipated event goes well. But you also need compounding conflicts—conflicts or questions that linger, with complications compiling until you have to have a payoff or risk losing your reader.

Science fiction likes to toy with the idea of consequences—for each decision made, there a number of possible outcomes, each happening in an infinite, and exponentially growing, number of alternate universes. In one universe, you went right; in the other, you went left. In fiction, we need to be aware of “what happens next”—what consequences do the decisions and actions (or inaction/indecisiveness) of our characters create? Sure, we’ve resolved one conflict, but what are the results of that—where are the ripples in the pond going? Will they dissipate or will they trigger a tsunami?

Release the power of your inner three-year-old!
When writing each scene, you want to get back in touch with your inner toddler and constantly be asking “why?” Why would she make that decision? Why would she go there? Why would she think she would be able to get away from the bad guy by running UPstairs? Why is the bad guy a bad guy? Why is the hero going to the place where he is going to have a humorous run-in with the heroine?

Crafting scenes is about chain reactions. If your character makes a decision, there must be consequences—for good or bad. Things can’t “just happen” in your story. Unlike in real life, the events that your characters experience must have meaning, must connect with something else going on in the story. Otherwise, you’re leading your reader down a bunch of rabbit trails, but actually going nowhere.

Keep asking: Does this dialogue / introspection / action / description / scene have an important role in the plot? As you write, watch for ways to make sure that everything your characters do connects somehow with the forward progress of the story.

And don’t forget to ask WHY!

Works cited:

Bickham, Jack M. Scene and Structure. Cincinnati, OH: Writerʼs Digest, 1993.

Stein, Sol. How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

#FirstDraft60 Day 51 — A Writing Confession (and our Weekly Story Bible Check-Up)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comAs usual, because it’s Wednesday, it’s time to check up on and update your Story Bible. But I’ve written about that at length the last two Wednesdays, so you already know how to do that. So, instead, today’s post is going to be my “confession” about my experience so far with this challenge.

On Monday, I posted this in the comments:

I have been so lazy and procrastinating so much, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m not going to complete this first draft in the next less-than-two weeks. But I really needed that reminder that Neil Gaiman gave in the video about writing even when we’re not feeling motivated or inspired to write. I’m not a poet; I’m a novelist. That means I need to write every day no matter what.

It’s not that I’ve run out of ideas for the story. Yesterday, I emailed myself an idea from my phone while sitting in my recliner in the living room binge watching the 4th season of Grimm rather than pause it, get up and go into the office, and actually write something down in my Story Bible or, heaven forbid, actually start writing the scene. And my main computer is a laptop! I could have easily gone in, picked it up, and started exploring that idea while sitting in my recliner binge watching Grimm. But I didn’t. Because I’m lazy.

And then—AND THEN—even after I went in and got the laptop, instead of writing, I found online a campus map from some school around the same size as my fictional university (James Robertson University) and spent HOURS adapting it and then naming all the buildings—AND THEN figuring out what was in each building—AND THEN figuring out not only what the major college in the university are, but what their major degree programs are, both undergrad and graduate. Hours in which I could have been writing.

And let’s not mention the SEVEN HOURS I spent re-reading the last half of Love Remains and the first half of The Art of Romance on Friday because, so I told myself, I was searching for the names of the few buildings I’d actually mentioned by name in those books. The ones I needed were all within a few pages of each other near the beginning of Art. But did I quickly jot them down and then start writing? NO. Why? BECAUSE I’M LAZY AND PROCRASTINATING.

And now here I am, writing a long comment on my own blog post because I’M PROCRASTINATING AGAIN!!!

After writing this, I knew I had a choice I needed to make. Because I’m not currently writing under any kind of external deadlines (school requirements, contracts, agent expectations, crit partners, etc.), I don’t really have to write. There’s nothing or no one making me do this. I could very easily just pay lip service to this project, keep posting the scheduled blog posts for each day, keep trying to encourage others to do what I’m not doing.

But then there’s also the part of me, of my identity, that’s been lost for the past few years. The part of me that, more than ten years ago, prompted me to complete three full manuscripts during my last two years of undergraduate work—while I was working full time and taking nine hours of senior-level coursework per semester in a traditional, on-campus program. That was the part of me that wanted to write every night when I got home from a stressful day. That was the part of me that carried around a small notebook with me everywhere so in any lull of five or more minutes, I could pull it out and get a little writing done. That was the part of me that used writing, more than twenty years ago, to pull myself out of one of the worst depressions I’ve experienced in my life. (It didn’t work four years ago because the pressure and stress of writing on contract was part of what triggered the depression in the first place.) That was the part of me who could write three to four thousand words a night by sitting in the bed with a laptop and no light but a 40-watt bulb in my bedside lamp and being able to completely lose myself in the flow of words because there were no other distractions (and no WiFi back then to enable any online procrastination).

So Monday night, I made a decision. When it came time to go to bed, I took my laptop into my bedroom with me and made myself sit in bed and start writing. Ugh. It was like trying to suck a banana up through a straw. But I kept at it. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. I was writing stuff I’m pretty sure isn’t going to make it through the first round of revisions. But, I reminded myself, that was okay. Because I was writing. And I can only fix what I put down on paper. If it all stays in my head, it doesn’t do any good to think about how it needs to be fixed.

Within two hours, I’d written more than 2,800 words—words that created the scene I’d emailed myself the idea for on Sunday.

Last night, when it was time to go to bed, I was already thinking about how I’d ended that chapter and what needed to come next. It was late, so I figured I’d just add a few hundred words to the end of Chapter 8 and then call it a night. After all, even if it was just fifteen or twenty minutes of work, I would have still written.

After a couple of paragraphs and another character walking into the scene, I knew I had more than just a padded ending to the existing chapter. So I cut and pasted the new stuff into a new document. And, less than two hours later, I’d written just over 3,400 words—and that didn’t include the 300–400 words I wrote to begin the next chapter, too. (So I didn’t lose my train of thought.)

And as I was setting the now-sleeping laptop on the bedside table and turning off the lamp, the only thought running through my head was: Why couldn’t I have decided to do this three weeks ago? If I could have knocked out that many words every night of this challenge, I’d not only have kept up with where I was supposed to be to hit that word-count goal, I’d be well ahead of it. Possibly even finished, or close to it, by now.

But there’s no point in indulging in why didn’t I regrets at this point. All I need to do is move forward and keep reminding myself how I wrote my first four or five completed manuscripts (including at least one that went on to be published) by sitting in the bed at night with my laptop and banging out word-count. I did it by being in love with the characters and the stories. I did it because I didn’t feel obligated to write; I did it because I had a passion to write.

So even though I won’t complete this manuscript by next Friday, this challenge is starting to do what I really needed it to do: reignite the passion for writing in me. And I can’t ask for more than that.

#FirstDraft60 Day 50 — Timer Tuesday! (#1k1h Sprint Day)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comOnly TEN days left in the challenge!! And if you’re anything like me, you have a loooooooong way to go when it comes to word count. As I confessed in the comments yesterday, I’ve been lazy and allowing myself to procrastinate and cannot really see a way that I’m going to be able to complete the entire 75,000-word challenge by next Friday. So I am revising my goal to challenge myself to write every day that’s left in the challenge, and to try to write at least 1,000 words each of those days. Sure, it won’t lead me to a finished manuscript on 10/30, but it will be more words than I have now, and hopefully get me into the habit of daily writing. And what better way to write daily than to do a daily 1k1h, right?

If you haven’t yet participated in a 1k1h writing sprint during this challenge, you may not have had the chance yet to discover just how much you can do when you push yourself to focus solely on writing for a solid hour. These one-hour sprints can help build word count and our story’s momentum when doing a marathon writing challenge like this. On Tuesdays, the challenge will be scheduling and completing at least one 1k1h writing sprint some time during the day.

Today, I will be doing one 1k1h sprint tonight at 7:00 p.m. (Central).

I’d love to make these writing sprints (or at least one a week) a “team” effort with as many of you participating as possible. The more support (and accountability) there is, the more successful we’ll all be! But if those times don’t work for you, go ahead and pick the times that work best for you.

1k1h Tips for Success

  1. Let anyone within your household know that you need one uninterrupted hour to try to head off at the pass any interruptions.
  2. Set a timer. This is most important. Don’t do this by just watching the clock. You’ll find yourself only watching the clock and not getting anything written. Setting a timer allows you to forget about the time and concentrate fully on writing.
  3. Prepare yourself before starting your timer. Re-read the last few pages you wrote (without editing/revising!) to get your head back into the story and figure out where you need to pick up. Review your outline and/or character pages in your Story Bible. And then put all of that away so you don’t use those to procrastinate during the hour.
  4. If you listen to music while writing (I recommend instrumental so that you don’t get distracted by the lyrics), have it set up and playing before starting your timer. Use earphones, even if you’re working at home, to block out any sounds that might pull you out of your story.
  5. If you can’t listen to music while writing, I recommend wearing the earphones anyway. People are less likely to interrupt you (at home or working somewhere like a coffee shop) if you have them in/on—and they help block out those distracting sounds.
  6. Make sure your writing space (both physical and mental) is set up and ready to go before you start your timer.
  7. In other words, make sure that about five to ten minutes before you start the 1k1h sprint, you’re in the process of getting ready to write.
  8. Silence or turn off your cell phone (unless you’re using it as your timer—then don’t turn it off). Close your Internet browser. Close Facebook and Twitter (as soon as I give the “start” signal, of course). Close your email program if you use something like Outlook that isn’t web-based. Eliminate all distractions!

Don’t Know How to Start Writing?
If you aren’t sure how to start writing when the hour starts, even after re-reading what you’ve previously written, here are a few suggestions.

  • Which character had the viewpoint in the last scene you wrote? Start with a different character in this scene.
  • Still not sure what to write? Try this prompt:
    Character walked into the room. Character saw a piece of paper tacked to the wall on the other side of the room. Character walked across the room and took the piece of paper down. Character read the piece of paper. The piece of paper said . . .
  • If that prompt doesn’t work, try the exercise of taking your character to the market to buy food.
  • If you can’t think of what the “next” scene is that comes after the one you just left off with in your previous writing session, start writing something you know comes later in the story that you already have a good idea for. Though I recommend writing your story in linear fashion (from beginning to end) instead of jumping around, sometimes you need to write stuff that comes later if you already have a clear idea of the scene in your head, just to make sure you don’t lose it. And that can also help you figure out what comes between what you’ve written so far and that future scene and help you to fill in the gap next time.

Hopefully, I’ll “see” you at 7:00 (Central) this evening. If not, don’t forget to check in with your progress and how you do with your own 1k1h sprint(s) today!

For a 75,000-word manuscript, today’s cumulative word-count should be at least 50,000 words.

#FirstDraft60 Day 49 — Monday Motivation from Neil Gaiman

Monday, October 19, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comOn Mondays, I’m going to share some writing advice/motivation from authors who may be well known to you, or whom you may never have heard of. Hopefully, you’ll find inspiration or a new way of looking at or thinking about writing from these little clips.

Today, our Monday Motivation is a piece of a Nerdist podcast interview with prolific writer Neil Gaiman on writing your first draft, writing without waiting for motivation, and more:

Hope you’re doing well with your writing. Don’t forget to check in with your progress!

For a 75,000-word manuscript, today’s cumulative word-count should be at least 47,500 words.

#FirstDraft60 Day 46 — Self-Evaluation, Awesome Accomplishments, Word Count, and Terrific Tidbits. It’s SWAT Day!

Friday, October 16, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comIt’s Friday! That means it’s time to check in with your progress in the challenge.

On Fridays, I want to know about your full writing week. What were your greatest successes during the week? What was your favorite line/bit that you wrote? What did you learn about yourself, your characters, and/or your story during the week’s work? What are you most proud of yourself for doing this week when it came to your writing? What are you proud of yourself for accomplishing?

That means it’s SWAT Day!

Check in with your progress on your story and share, if you feel like it, the following:

  • Self-Evaluation (how do you think you did? what can/do you want to do differently next week? what did you learn about yourself as a person or as a writer? what didn’t you do or finish that you wanted to? etc.)
  • Word count (total for the week, Saturday through today)
  • Awesome Accomplishments (breakthroughs, discoveries, highest daily word-count ever, etc.)
  • Tidbits too good not to share

If you don’t want to share this stuff publicly, that’s okay. You can add a section to your Story Bible or start a journal (or add this to your existing journal) to keep track of this. But don’t skip doing this—I think that in the future, when you look back either on what you accomplished during this challenge or (heaven forbid) why you gave up on it, the insights you’ll gather later with hindsight on your thoughts during the challenge will be invaluable.

Happy writing!

#FirstDraft60 Day 45: Thursday Craft Day–Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comSometimes, when we get about 20,000 to 30,000 words into our manuscript, we start losing sight of where the story is going, what we were originally planning to do, or how to get from where we are to the ending we envisioned in the planning process. When the words/ideas just won’t come, that’s when it’s time to step back and do something else for a little while—but something that’s related to our story so that we’re still thinking about it and generating ideas for it, even if just subconsciously. Here are some non-writing but still story-related ideas that can help get you writing again.

Character Casting
LL - Character CastingThe first is Character Casting and collecting images of the Real World Templates for my characters expressing as many different types of emotions as I can find images of or that speak to me and help me in building the character. Yes, we spent time casting characters in the thirty days of prep time, but sometimes, just going out and finding images of the characters with different expressions, in different settings, or (if they’re actors/actresses) in different roles.

So when I get into the middle of writing and I’m starting to lose steam or feel stuck, I’ll either spend some more time reviewing the images I’ve already found (saved in OneNote or PowerPoint or pinned to a dedicated board on Pinterest), or I’ll search out more images (or movies or TV shows featuring the templates I’ve chosen, since I almost solely use actors) in order to see if I can find inspiration for new scenes or new aspects of the characters that can infuse me with motivation to get back to writing the story. For example, here’s a video of my heroine, Meg, whose Real World Template is the model Valerie Lefkowitz):

(And, no, I’m not giving her ugly, yellow-framed, fake glasses or a French bulldog. But this really helps me out a lot in shaping Meg’s personality, how she moves, what her body-language is.)

While here’s a video of the template for my hero, Stone, which helps me, again, with personality, movement, body-language, etc.—plus, he’s just an absolute doll):

Scene Cards
If you followed all of the steps in the pre-writing parts of this series, you saw where I recommend not only writing out detailed backstories for the characters (and the world), you’ve worked out your overall premise, and you’ve worked out your story map/outline and have either a rough outline or a full synopsis.

All but two of my eleven published novels were sold based on synopses and proposals, and those synopses varied from detailed to somewhat vague. But once I started writing, I got caught up in the minutia of the characters and the dialogue and the setting and sometimes lost sight of where the story was supposed to be going—and forgetting some of the scenes I’d had ideas for when I first wrote the synopsis. Which usually brings my momentum to a screeching halt and means it can be days or even weeks on end without producing meaningful word count.

So that’s when I knew it was time to stop and break out the Post-it Notes:
Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle #ReadySetWrite |
Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle #ReadySetWrite |

Here are two examples from two different books (and two different rooms!) of how I did my scene cards. They’re color-coded by POV character. In the upper (light wall) image, which was when I was writing Ransome’s Crossing, the stickies in the top section represented the scenes/chapters I’d already written—I’d gone through and re-read my entire manuscript and wrote a one- or two-sentence summary of it. As I was doing that, I was sometimes reminded of follow-up/consequence scenes I needed to write spawned by what was already there. I also went through and re-read the synopsis and wrote out scene cards for the scenes I’d already plotted there. So those are the stickies in the bottom section of the top image.

In the lower (dark wall) image, I did the same first step once I got to my flummoxed point when writing The Art of Romance—going through and re-reading what I’d already written and writing out cards for each scene. The below that, you can see hanging (lowest) on the wall, a page from the Post-it Flip Chart that has my seven-beat outline written out on it, with synopses of what happens in each step. Then, on the page still attached to the flip chart, I was making notes of scenes that I wanted or needed to write. And, interspersed throughout on the smaller Post-its, both with the scene cards and with the character images, are notes on ideas or backstory or tidbits I was thinking about incorporating in the story.

With later books, when I was spending less time working at home and needed my storyboarding more portable, I went back to a previous (old, old) method using PowerPoint:
Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle #ReadySetWrite |

As if color-coding the “cards” by POV character weren’t enough, in PPT, I can include an image of the character, just in case I forget which color is which character. Each “card” includes the setting (red text) and a summary of what happens in that scene.

I haven’t done this yet with The Linguistics of Love, but I’m almost at a point where I need to.

How are you doing with your writing so far? Have you yet experienced a point at which you’ve felt stuck or unsure of what to write next? How did you get yourself out of it? If you’re feeling like that right now, what do you think you might do to try to get yourself out of it and back to writing?


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