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Monday, August 30, 2010

Preparing to Write a Novel?

For those of you who want to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) this year - I posted an article about this a few weeks ago (read it at What is NaNoWriMo?) - I found a great method to help you with the preparation phase of your novel.

It is called The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson, and you can find it at The Snowflake Method.

I actually came across this method about two years ago, and being more of a wing-it kind of person, I put it to the side and forgot about it. Three partially completed novels later, I've come across it again in my writing program and now I'm going to have to use it. But I've also learned that a result of the lack of novel preparation or novel design (all that stuff you do before you actually start writing your rough draft) is an unfinished novel or a novel that doesn't go deep enough to fully connect a reader to your story. If the writer doesn't go deep enough, how can the reader? That's not to say, all writers write poorly if they don't pre-plan, but I have realized in my case, I'm just no good at winging it.

So, for NaNoWriMo this year, I'm not winging it. Using The Snowflake Method, I'm going to create a thorough novel design and know exactly where my novel is going when opening bell rings come November 1. As you read through the process on the Snowflake Web site (above) you will discover many of the techniques we have learned during our lesson times in our Living Writers' Collective Creative Writing Sessions - writing hooks, characterization, and synopses, for example (in other words - you all can do this). Here is a brief overview of the ten-step process of The Snowflake Method:

Step 1: Write a one-sentence summary of your novel (use your writing hooks lessons for this one)
Step 2: Expand the one-sentence summary into a full paragraph
Step 3: Create a one-page summary sheet for each character
Step 4: Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph (from step 2) into a full paragraph (this creates a synopsis)
Step 5: Write character synopses for each character (major and important characters)
Step 6: Expand the one-page synopsis (from step 4) to a four-page synopsis
Step 7: Create character charts for each character (you could use our characterization lesson to do this)
Step 8: Outline each novel scene (this is where you really start to create your story)
Step 9: Expand each line of your outline into a multi-line paragraph description of the scene.
Step 10: Write your first draft (this will go fast because you already have all of your scenes done - this will also be where you will start on Nov. 1 for NaNoWriMo)

The idea is that with each step your novel grows and expands in detail like a snowflake.

I have completed through step 3, and it has been painless and a lot of fun. And it has been an extremely creative process - my storyline is already expanding in amazing ways. If anyone would like to join me and start preparing for your next or first novel, let me know (e-mail me, LWC members) and we'll work through the process together - maybe meeting before or after LWC meetings to provide advice and support to each other.

If you are a screenwriting person ( I know we have at least a couple in LWC), check out and link to ScriptFrenzy. This is NaNoWriMo for screenwriters, and I believe it takes place in April.

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Online Writing Tools

I just can't keep these great online writing tools to myself any longer. These are two of my favorites, so check them out.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - I do not think there is a grammar question I have asked that I haven't been able to find through Grammar Girl. This site is amazing - the grammar advice is sound, and it is right at your fingertips, so hop over there and do some exploring. Make sure you have lots of time because you might become addicted, and you could probably spend hours browsing this site.

Grammar Girl has a blog on which she regularly posts issues related to grammar (234 posts to date). If you have a specific topic you are looking for, she has a search box - type in your topic and click "SEARCH" and all of her posts which address that topic will be listed. She also has a daily tip that you can subscribe to through e-mail or read on her Web site. The top-five tips she currently has listed are:
  • affect versus effect
  • who versus whom
  • lay versus lie
  • ending a sentence with a preposition
  • "all right" versus "alright" - one is a word, one is not (do you know which isn't? Check Grammar Girl to find out)
I've added Grammar Girl to "WRITING LINKS" on the left sidebar, so you can access it from our LWC blog with just a click.

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die is an awesome tool to help keep your fingers moving. The idea is to use your own negative reinforcement to achieve your writing goal. You set your own time parameters (for example, 500 words in ten minutes), you select a consequence (gentle, normal, kamikaze, or electric shock), and you select a grace period (forgiving, strict, or evil). Then you click on "Write" and you start writing. If you don't write fast enough to achieve your goal in the time period you selected, your consequence will be enforced.

This is so darn cool - you have to give it a try. You don't have to sign up, just click over, put in your parameters, and start writing. You can link directly to the parameters input screen by clicking the picture below or on the right sidebar of this blog:

Write or Die

To learn more about what Write or Die is all about, click this link: About Write or Die

Here are the consequences pasted directly from Dr. Wicked's Write or Die Web site:

Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself

I like the normal mode (I'm not brave enough to try kamikaze). If you stop writing, after a certain amount of grace time (whatever you selected) the screen will turn to pink, then darken until it turns bright red. Once it turns bright red, if you are in normal mode, obnoxious music will force your brain into action - if for no other reason but to stop the horrid music. If you want to save your material, be sure to C & P it into Word - Write or Die does not save your writing beyond your current activity.

Oh, and if you're asking why would I want to write under such stringent circumstances, review this blog post for the answer.

If you have an online writing tool you love to use, share it with me, and you may see it posted on the Living Writers Collective blog in the future.

Post by: LWC Director, Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

Does Your Story Bore Your Reader?

"If your scene makes you [the writer] cry, your reader will sob. If your scene makes you laugh, your reader will howl. If your scene bores you, your reader will stop reading." - Jerry B. Jenkins (stated during 8/10/10 Thick-skinned Critique Webinar)

Your story should be a series of active scenes. Readers read to disappear from mundane, every-day life. Give them drama and action and a reason to keep turning the page. Scour every paragraph for boring details that mimic routine life and kill them.

Don't tell readers your character parked the car, walked across the street, and climbed the steep stairs to the courthouse - just get to the action in the courthouse. Jenkins calls this "on-the-nose" writing, or stating the obvious (mirroring real life without adding to the story). These humdrum, life-mimicking details would be understood by the reader - the reader would know the character had to get to the courthouse somehow, but the how wouldn't be important and stating it would only serve to bore your reader.

Of course, if your character hit a pedestrian parking his car, or got into a fist fight with a cab driver while crossing the street, or fell on the steps and sprained his ankle and was helped up by a beautiful woman who later turns out to be the judge in his trial - those things would certainly further your story, so let them live.

Jenkins says whatever emotion your scene evokes in you, it will evoke that emotion in your reader times ten. If a scene you have written bores you, it will bore your reader times ten. At best, they will skip passages to try to get to the meat of the story. At worst, they will put your book down and never pick it up again.

Post by: LWC Director, Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Characterization - July 2010 Creative Writing Session

“To even begin to accurately bring a character to life on the page you must do your homework, quiz yourself fastidiously about every last detail of your character’s inner and outer life.” - Noah Lukeman from The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life

The first two chapters in Lukeman's book are dedicated to creating full characters. Both chapters almost completely consist of questions you need to ask yourself about your character. The first chapter lists questions you need to know about the character's outer life (appearance, employment, education, finances, location, medical background, possessions, etc...). The second chapter focuses on the inner life (inherent abilities, spirituality, sex, values, vices, etc...)


It was Lukeman's thorough list of character questions that inspired our July Creative Writing session. First, I handed out a list of character traits for popular movie characters and asked members to guess who the traits applied to. Examples of characters I used are Clarice Starling, Don Corleone, and Forrest Gump. Then, I handed out a sample list of the questions Lukeman addresses in his book (LWC members: e-mail me if you want the lesson, and I will send it to you).

I emphasized that character descriptions do not need to be directly entered into the story. The reader does not have to have every last detail placed neatly on the page; however the writer needs to know every last detail in order to fully bring their character to life on the page. Some of these details will naturally work their way into the story – if they do not naturally work their way in, they should not be there and should simply remain in the writer’s head as he creates his story.

Pages 39-41 in Lukeman's book contains a personality test consisting of positive and negative trait measurements. Using a sampling, we each completed a personality test on the person we are closest to. The point was to show writers that we need to know our character at least as well as the person we know best in life.


1. Each member wrote a sex (male or female) on a scrap of paper and placed it in container one.
2. Each member wrote an age (no younger than 18) on a scrap of paper and placed it in container two.
3. Each member wrote a profession (being creative) on a scrap of paper and placed it in container three. Professions included pet sitter, choo-choo train conductor, singer, charter sailboat cook, exotic dancer, anthropologist, and alchemist.
4. Each member wrote an inner life characteristic on a scrap of paper and placed it in container four. Those included bug collector, chocolate doughnut addiction, cocaine addiction, and problem with authority.
5. The containers were passed around, and each member drew a piece of paper from each container, creating a basic character out of randomly drawn traits.
6. Each member (about 10 of us) wrote a sketch of their basic character.


In our Creative Writing sessions, we have twenty minutes to brainstorm and write. The focus is on opening our minds to other types of writing or other writing ideas we might not explore on our own. Our focus is not on grammar, style, or technique as it would slow our creative process. So keep in mind, when you see Creative Writing session stories on this blog, they have not been proofread and drafted in multiple - these are speedy, one-shot brain dumps. Here are some of the stories created from our prompt above:

By Alan R. Hooper

Prompt References – 23 years old, Male, Conductor on a Choo-Choo Train, collect insects.

Hannibal Gump, was a young, 23 year old who acts like he was 16. He is 6ft 3ins tall, lanky, with hair that would be more suitable on a younger member of the Jackson Five, an Afro, beyond words, multi colored like a rainbow.

His job, as a Choo-Choo train conductor in the Kiddy Park at Six Flags gives him all the attention he needs, when the kids see his hair; he loves to see their glances of appreciation. His big problem is that no girl will look at him twice, his gawky frame and his fuzzy Afro, usually with a large comb stuck in it, puts them right off.

The other thing is if they do get to know him, his pet collection of assorted insects, mostly cockroaches he catches under his sink, turns them off completely, forever.Of course, his close set eyes, each looking in a different direction makes it difficult for anyone to look him in the eye. Do you look into the right eye or the left, take your pick?


By Sheryl Griffin

Prompt References - 74 years old, Male, Singer, Addicted to cocaine

I am a seventy four year old man who has been singing in Honky Tonks for sixty years. I started singing on my own when I was sixteen years old. My father and mother sang in the church choir and I naturally joined them as soon as I could talk. Singing is who I am.

Once I got a taste of the Honky Tonk life I felt I was in Heaven. The free drinks! The women! Everywhere I went people clapped and sang along with me. I loved the excitement of my life.

I don't recall when or how but at some point in my mid thirties one of the regulars who followed me from town to town, introduced me to something he called "magic powder". He said it would help me be more creative in song writing, give me energy, that my now (even in my thirties) worn out body needed. The Honkey Tonk life is a hard life!

Before I knew it, every penny I made was going to that 'magic powder. As I sit here and look back now at age seventy four, I can't say that cocaine really improved my songs or my career. It has in fact, caused a lot of pain and loss. I lost family and friends. I lost my home. I have spent time in jail.

I now have a second chance at life to live, to write songs, and sing like never before. As I sit here in Rippavilla Rehab, I thank God for this second chance at life!


By Karen Aldridge

Prompt References - 40 years old, Female, Pet sitter, Forgives but doesn't forget
Some people might call me unambitious or lazy. I've just never been a nine-to-five kind of girl. Money doesn't thrill me and school bores me. I do love pets, so becoming a pet sitter just came natural to me. I'm thirty-two years old and still live at home with my parents, which makes it easy for me to do my job. I don't like living with my parents - my mom and I don't get along.

Mom spanked me when I was ten for throwing milk in my brother's face. She didn't see him step on my toes, but even if she had, I probably would have still gotten spanked - she always loved him more than me.


More coming soon.

Post by: LWC Director, Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

What Is NaNoWriMo?

November is National Novel Writing Month, but in the writing world, it is simply known as NaNoWriMo or "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!". The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel (or part of a novel) in thirty days, starting on November 1 and ending on November 30. The purpose is to surrender yourself to literary abandon and find out what your brain can come up with if you release the reins and cut it loose?

Why would you want to do this? Allowing yourself to write your first draft without stopping to analyze and correct your material is a very powerful writing technique, and the lesson you learn from it can open your mind to grander, more imaginative stories. And the biggest bonus and motivator is, at the end of thirty days, you’re 50,000 words closer to a completed first draft.

Anne Lamott is the author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, an excellent book on writing. This book contains the best chapter on writing a first draft I have ever read. Lamott recommends you allow yourself to write a terrible first draft. I have to warn you that her language can be a bit colorful, but her messages are poignant and worth the read.

Excerpt from Lamott’s book:

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

“The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, 'Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,' you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

Lamott shares that she was always afraid to leave her house after writing a first draft. She feared she’d be killed in a terrible accident. Then someone would find her first draft and think she’d committed suicide because she’d lost her ability to write. Of course, she’d always come back and clean it all up in subsequent drafts. But her point was to get it all out as fast and effortlessly as possible, then go back and make it all work. NaNoWriMo is about getting it all out as fast and effortlessly as possible - in December, you can go back and make it all work.

Last year, over 120,000 NaNoWriMo participants wrote 2.5 billion words during the month of November. When you register (participation is free), you will set up an account on the Web site. This account allows you to access writer forums and connect with other NaNoWriMo participants you may know. Through these connections you can keep up with your friends’ word counts or have some friendly competition. Regions also compete against other regions for the highest group word counts.

If you have a blog or Web address, you can also download NaNoWriMo participant tags and word-count widgets. You will also be assigned to a regional NaNoWriMo coordinator in your area (for us locals, our coordinator is in Nashville). The coordinator sends out e-mails to inspire and motivate us and manages facilitators who schedule write-ins so we can meet with other participants and write (most of last year’s meetings were in the Franklin area – the library, coffee shops – if we have enough NaNoWriMo participants from our area, I can be a facilitator and we will meet in Spring Hill).

If you plan to participate, now is the time to start thinking about what you plan to write. You are not allowed to start your novel until Nov. 1, but you can start preplanning now (plotting, characterization, outlines), because on Nov. 1, you want to be ready to hit chapter one running.

Go to the NaNoWriMo Web site at Click on the “About” tab and the “FAQs” tab to get a good understanding of what it’s all about, then spend some time exploring. You do not win anything except the success of your own hard work and the accomplishment of having 50,000 words on paper. However, learning to yield yourself to the creative processes of your mind and dedicating yourself daily to the craft of writing will be invaluable tools as you journey on the road to publication.

Tip: In order to complete 50,000 words in thirty days, you will have to write 1,667 words per day.

I did not finish last year, so I am extra determined to complete my 50,000 words this year. Is anyone else up for the challenge… a little friendly LWC novel-writing competition maybe?

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fiction Writing Blunders

Each Wednesday, Jerry B. Jenkins posts writing tips on his blog. Currently he is doing a series called "8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders", and I think you will enjoy reading these. I will try to remember to link them here each Wednesday.

Jerry B. Jenkins is the author of over 150 books. He is also the owner and director of the Christian Writers Guild which strives to train high-quality writers. Jenkins is best known for authoring the best-selling Left Behind book series.

His Wednesday blog series is NOT written to Christian writers - it is written to ALL writers. So, no matter what fiction genre you write in, you will learn a lot from these posts. In fact, the first two Wednesday writing posts have dealt with cliché writing and on-the-nose (stating the obvious) writing. Those could apply to writing outside of fiction as well. Check them out:

Week 1: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Morning-routine cliché) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 2: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Answering-the-phone cliché) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 3: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (The clutter of detail) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 4: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Skip the recitals of ordinary life) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 5: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Don't spell it out) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 6: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Pass on the Preachiness) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 7: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Setting the Scene) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Week 8: 8 Basic Fiction Writing Blunders (Coincidences) by Jerry B. Jenkins

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inserting the Copyright Symbol

There are a number of ways to insert the copyright symbol, but this is probably the fastest:

ALT + 0169 (you have to do this on the number pad - it won't work using the top numbers)

If you are on a laptop and your laptop doesn't have a number pad or if you have a MAC, click the link below for other options. You can also find the copyright symbol in the symbols (insert, symbols) area of Microsoft Word.

Check your laptop closely. On first glance it may not seem to have a number pad, but I can use the function key (if you have one it should be near your space bar or Ctrl key) on my laptop and use part of my letter keyboard as my number pad (the numbers are highlighted in blue on the keys). So for my laptop I use ALT+Fn+0169 (MJO9 on my keyboard).

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

Is Copyright Necessary?

There is a great Web site you can use to answer any copyright question you may have. I'm including the link and linking you directly to an article that addresses the issue of whether registering your copyright is necessary or not -

I am not a copyright expert, but my layperson understanding of copyright protection of written material is that in the years before computers, it was more important - there were no electronic trails to lead you back to the actual writer. In our day and age, our electronic stamp is on our material establishing and proving our copyright at the moment we save it. Even material written and posted on Web sites and blogs is protected.

I am involved in some professional forums and Web sites where writers post stories they have written. An example is Writers post stories they would like to sell or give to publications, and anyone is welcome to view them - no membership needed. They also offer monthly contests, and contest entries are available for all members to view. We have a similar forum through the Christian Writers Guild where we post stories for contests. We also post our stories when we want a general critique from other Guild members and students. There are also many online writers' groups that function by e-mailing their writing material to each other. Even in our LWC group, many of us often give our hard-copy material to other members and let them take it home and read it or critique it.

Does any of this guarantee that someone isn't going to steal something you write and try to sell it? No. But you can be assured that if they do, your electronic stamp is proof that the material is yours. And you can include the copyright symbol for added emphasis if you wish (we automatically own the copyright the moment we write it, without having to register for it - so you can add the copyright symbol to your material). Click here to find out how to add this symbol.

Of course there are larger works, screenplays and novels for example, that may be an exception(though copyright at that point would normally be handled by your agent).

If you still want the added protection and benefits of registering your copyright with the government's US Copyright Office, I am including the link to this as well -

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.