Lower your expectations and allow yourself to write badly. It’s better to write crap than to write nothing at all.

15 quick and dirty writing tips

Lower your expe…

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Fiction writing workshop: story structure

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The three-act-structure uses the idea that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are simple but effective building blocks for planning your novel.

When planning a novel, the most helpful tool I’ve found is a thousands-year-old recipe called the three-act structure. It’s helped me plan out my novels more effectively than any fiction writing software.

What is the three-act structure?
Greek philosopher, Aristotle, came up with this structure. He said a good story has three acts: a beginning, middle and end. Simple, right?

Act I: In the beginning, otherwise known as the setup, the writer introduces the characters and sets the tone for the story. This is also the time for the writer to tell the reader about the setting, at least for the beginning of the story. In Act I, a situation happens, an inciting incident, kicks off the story. This incident usually hints at the conflict that permeates the entire novel. Act I is roughly the first quarter of your novel and at the end of it is the first plot point. This plot point shows the reader a situation thrusting the main characters away from their normal lives into the conflict that changes their destiny.

Act II: This is the middle part of your novel and it takes up roughly fifty percent of your novel. Act II is where all the main confrontation occurs. Your characters find themselves facing a series of obstacles in which they keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble. They are prevented from reaching their goal. Roughly around the middle of Act II–the middle of the novel–everything changes. Your protagonist’s goals are shattered. Or they realize they can obtain the goal, but at a great cost. It might be a reversal of fortune. Whatever, the middle of the novel is where your protagonist and other characters start to change, really change because of the situation. By the end of Act II is your second plot point: everything is at stake. It’s do or die.

Act III: In the last quarter of your novel, the protagonist fights the battle that wins or loses everything. This scene, be it a literal or figurative battle, is the climax. A surprise or twist can make the ending of your novel a satisfying experience for your reader. The sub-plots involving all your minor characters are also resolved in the third act after the climax. In this resolution part of your story, you may hint at the future of your characters. What possibly happens to them after the last page is read? Here’s the main thing to pay attention to as your plan your novel: how are your characters, especially your protagonist, different than they were from the beginning of the story?

Project
Plot a novel using the three act structure. You probably should have several characters already developed. It also helps if you know how the story is going to end, but you may want to discover that for yourself if you plot from scratch. Write one sentence for each of the main scenes in each act. Use the descriptions of the acts above to guide you.

If you already have a first draft of a novel or have already plotted a novel, try and break it down using the the three act structure. Does it work?

Read more on the three act structure:

Another fiction writing workshop from this blog:

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Writing blog roundup: make trouble, right choices, wrong words, when writing, writer’s block

Articles on writing I’ve read lately:

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Writing at the cafe

110110_2321I’ve had some of my best writing sessions at a coffee shop, but I’ll be honest: sometimes I just hang out and surf the web. I’m procrastinating. I’m telling myself I’m waiting for inspiration but I confess I’ve gotten no writing done at some so-called writing sessions. Here’s an article that describes it from the viewpoint of a cafe’s employee:

On daily writing routines: or, What to switch on and what to switch off

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When I Used to Go Bookcrossing

SignLogoTen years ago this month, I joined a website club called Book Crossing. The idea behind this website: release books into the wild. Here’s how it’s done.

  • Register a book on the website.
  • Write the registration number and “http://www.bookcrossing.com” on the inside cover of the book.
  • Leave it someone where someone can pick it up.
  • Someone finds it and goes to the website and adds a note that he or she found it.
  • That person reads and releases it, making a note on the website.
  • Follow where the books end up over time.

Only about 20% end up getting notes. Over the years some of the books I’ve released have ended up all over the United States. Several have ended all over the world–United Kingdom, Portugal, The Netherlands and others. Several books have been passed around several times. My copy of The Great Gatsby has been through seven people before the notes stopped a few years ago.

Since I purchased a Kindle in 2008, I stopped “releasing books into the wild” and focused on e-books. Recently, I decided to check on my Book Crossing account, and it’s fascinating to see where some of my books have been traveling over the last few years. I’ve decided to start releasing books again. I just finished a printed copy of The Book Thief and I’m going to release it at a coffee shop.

Kind of an ironic title for this project, don’t you think?

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Writing Blog Roundup: brain function, life tips, first page, three stages, writing sequence

1254880_72709589Some blog articles on writing I’ve read recently:

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What I Read in 2013

1219898_75483334In 2003, I started keeping lists of the books I read. I compiled these lists on Amazon.com, but that wasn’t enough. I discovered Goodreads and listed every book I have ever read, including before 2003. Whenever I remember a book I read that hasn’t been listed, say a book I read back in high school or middle school, I add it to the list. As if that wasn’t obsessive compulsive enough, I exported all my books from Goodreads as an Excel spreadsheet and uploaded it to LibraryThing.com. The great thing about LibraryThing.com is all the free book give-aways you can get–as if I needed more books.

Why do I do this? Because I’m weird.

Actually, I’ve discovered that when I look at one of my booklists, I can remember what was happening in my life when I was reading a certain. It’s sort of a diary by way of literature.

So, on this tenth anniversary of keeping obsessive lists of the books I read, I present what I read in 2013. Who knows? You may find something that piques your reading taste buds.

Contemporary Fiction
Publishing companies marketed these books as main stream fiction, event though some of them could fall into other genres.

  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Laarson
    This is the third and concluding volume of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. I would not recommend reading this unless you have read the others first. Laarson was a master at weaving a thousand details into a story that led to a final conclusion, but to be honest this third volume has so many characters, sometimes I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Overall, a suspenseful series. Unfortunately, the author died at a young age right after completing this series, so, unfortunately, we won’t be seeing any more novels by him.
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    I wanted to read something by this author because a co-worker said her grandson was named after him. Hmm. Although marketed as mainline fiction, it has an post-apocalypse setting, so it kind of also falls under science fiction. A father and son travel on foot through the west coast of the charred remains of  the United States. Along the way, they face dangerous obstacles that threaten their relationship of the past, present and future.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
    Charlie, the wallflower, goes way beyond typical teen angst as he deals with some serious issues in his early years of high school. Set in 1991, this novel is roughly based on some personal experiences of the author who also directed the movie by the same name. A side note: Charlie reads through his high school book list and fans of the book and movie have compiled it: Charlie’s Reading List. I started reading the books on the list–some of which are mentioned elsewhere in this blog entry.
  • The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta
    High expectations were set by the author of this book who received high accolades for his previous novel, Little Children. Well, I haven’t read Little Children but judging from the Amazon reviews of The Abstinence Teacher, the latter was a let down. I can see why. I was hoping for an intelligent story about the controversy of teaching sex education in high school, but instead I got cliches of how this author thinks conservative Christians act. He also had a few cliches about Liberals as well and that’s why I just couldn’t take this book seriously.
  • Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk
    If you’ve heard of or seen the movie Fight Club, then you should know that it was based on a novel by Palahniuk. This is the third book I’ve read by him, and he has definitely got some demons he his dealing with. I would have to say that this is a story of dark satire. It’s wicked and violent, but I found it entertaining. Palahniuk is not for everyone.

Non-fiction
I know, I know. I need to read more non-fiction.

  • Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
    This author discusses ten things nobody told us about being creative. It’s one of those books I wish more people would read, because even though the title implies Steal Like an Artist is for creative types–like painters, musicians and such–the principles in this book are for everyone. A quick read.
  • I Used to Know That, Caroline Taggart
    In my continual attempt to be a renaissance man, I read this book to brush up on the basics of high school education . . . you know, literature, science, math and all that. I’d like to reread this every few years.
  • When Love Has Gone, Coping With Obsession, Paul Thorn
    I had been dealing with some obsessive thoughts so I found this book. It kind of helped. Strange thing: when I tried to find more about the author to see if he had written anything else, I found nothing. This book and its author are hidden away in the web pages of Amazon.com.

Poetry
Even though I enjoy it, I read little poetry. It requires a deliberate sit-down-and-relax attitude which has become a victim of our fast-paced world.

Spirituality

  • Help! I’m the Leader of a Small Group, Laurie Polich
    I started helping with a small group of high school boys at my church, so I checked out this book. I read it through and found it helpful. It’s also handy as a reference tool for ideas.
  • Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton
    I read this for work. If you enjoyed reading When Helping Hurts by Stephen Corbett, then you’d probably be interested in this book. Lupton examines new models for churches to follow for charity and mission trips. I found the book eye-opening and insightful, but some may argue that the author focuses too much on economic suggestions and doesn’t address other ways on which mission needs to focus such as in education and advocacy. Nevertheless, I recommend this book to the head of any mission committee of a church, but be warned: it may say some things today’s churches don’t want to acknowledge.
  • Accidental Pharisee: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and Other Dangers of an Overzealous Faith, Larry Osborne
    My church did a sermon series based on this book. This book brings to light how some Christians may be acting like the Pharisees from the time of Jesus, and not even realize it.
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennon Manning
    Manning died this year and several of my friends on Facebook mentioned how this book spoke to them. While Manning had a difficult life and struggled with addiction, he reminds us in this book of how God does not expect us to be perfect and can use us to minister to others even with our messy existence.

Classics
Must read more classics as well, but hey I got some in for this year’s reading.

  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Yes, I read this book once again because of the much hyped film that came out this year . . . you know, the millionth time The Great Gatsby has been turned into a movie, this time starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. I like this story. It’s a quick read and my hometown, Louisville, plays a part in it. Part of Charlie’s reading list.
  • This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    I had read The Great Gatsby several times over the years and I really wanted to read something else by Fitzgerald. This novel is about Amory Blaine, a somewhat narcisstic, spoiled young man who lived in the years following the first world war and learns some lessons the hard way. Part of Charlie’s reading list.

Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction & Fantasy)
Okay, as you can see, I spend most of my time reading science fiction and fantasy. I always say it’s my guilty pleasure.

  • Proven Guilty, Jim Butcher
    This is book eight of The Dresden Files, a series I’ve been reading for the past few years. This time, succubus-type creatures attack a horror film convention and Harry Dresden, modern day wizard, must stop the madness. Butcher continues to define and set the standard of the sub-genre called urban fantasy.
  • White Knight, Jim Butcher
    Book number nine in Butcher’s Harry Dresdon series. Dresden’s half-brother, a vampire, is accused of some horrendous deeds.
  • Falstaff’s Big Gamble, Hank Quense
    Quense took characters from classic mythology and Shakespearian drama to create a brand new story with much hilarity thrown in. Lots of fun to read.
  • Bearer of the Black Staff, Terry Brooks
    In 1977, Brook’s The Sword of Shanarra was published which placed the fantasy genre on the map. Since that year, Brooks has written about a dozen prequals to TSOS and I started reading them in the story’s chronological order. I started about four or five years ago. I have to admit, I always end up liking this authors books as I get into them. For a list to read the books in the correct order, go here.
  • The Measure of Magic, Terry Brooks
    This one finishes the story that Bearer of the Black Staff started.
  • First King of Shannara, Terry Brooks
    The last prequal before Brook’s The Sword of Shannara. With this book, I’ve finished all the prequals after five year
  • Chasm City, Alastair Reynolds
    This is the second book in Reynold’s Revelation Space series, but this book stands alone. It’s part detective novel, part space opera. While it’s heavily plot driven, it’s still fun to read because the author is great at world-building.
  • Dilemma, Hank Quense
    In this retelling of the Rhinegold myth, Quense mixes Norse mythology with science fiction elements. Another fun read.
  • Regarding Mikhail, Tom Robson
    Can’t remember how I came across this story, but it’s available only as an ebook. The story has similar elements to the movie Total Recall in which a member of the navy of the near future fights rebels on Mars and ends up realizing his memories have been altered by the government.
  • The Spirit Thief, Rachel Aaron
    The first book in the series called The Legend of Eli Monpress in which a young thief with wizard-like powers tries to up the bounty on himself for his own mysterious purposes.
  • The Spirit Rebellion, Rachel Aaron
    The second book in Aaron’s series. I really like these characters. Definitely going to continue reading through her Eli Monpress stories.
  • The Spirit Eater, Rachel Aaron
    Aaron continues her series about Eli Monpress, wizard theif,  and reveals a big secret in this story. The author has at least two more books published in this series and I plan to read them in 2014.
  • Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey
    Earth has colonized the solar system and, as with typical of the human race, divided into factions of people-groups who don’t like each other. The delicate relationship is aggrivated when a mysterious virus from a distant galaxy is harvested by a for-profit company that doesn’t care who is affected by its horrendous mutations. The character of Jim Holden and his ragtag crew of the spacecraft Rocinante are introduced in this trilogy of unabashed space opera.
  • Calaban’s War, James S.A. Corey
    The middle of Corey’s Expanse trilogy.
  • Abaddon’s Gate, James S.A. Corey
    The final part of the Expanse trilogy. I recommend this series if you are a space opera fan.
  • Forbidden, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee
    First in Dekker’s Mortal trilogy, Forbidden sets everything up for the following two book. This is Christian speculative fiction.
  • Mortal, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee
    Second in the trilogy, Mortal is a step up from the first book. The story really takes off in this book.
  • Sovereign, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee
    The story wraps up with a few surprises. Highly recommended if you are a fan of books like This Present Darkness.

Additional Comments:

  • Least Favorite Book of 2013: I would have to say I least enjoyed The Abstinence Teacher. I actually finished the book, and just because I have labeled it my least favorite of the year doesn’t mean it’s not worth a reader’s consideration. I guess I was disappointed because I was expecting something else. I also could not take the characters seriously.
  • Favorite Series of 2013: I read a lot of novels that are part of a series this past year. I would have to say I most enjoyed The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. Ted Dekker’s Mortal series and Rachel Aaron’s Legend of Eli Monpress series receive honorable mentions.
  • Favorite Book of 2013: This surprised myself, but I would have to say my favorite stand alone book I read in 2013 was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I feel Chbosky captured teen angst in a realistic way, and I didn’t feel like I was reading a book marketed to young adults. Great read for anyone of any age.
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Fiction Writing Workshop: Voice

738760_99599951What is voice?

Everyone pretends to understand what he means when he mentions voice in writing. I call terradiddle on that. When it comes to prose, I think people have a hard time telling the difference between voice and other elements like style and tone. I do.

For now, let’s see how some writers define voice:

  • Larry Brooks in Story Engineering–Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing: “Voice is your particular way of putting words together. It’s your attitude. It’s your personality, turned into words.”
  • Ginny Wiehardt in an article about voice on About.com: “Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character . . . Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.” See her complete article here.

The word that keeps popping up is personality. It is also known as a writer’s persona.

How do you find your voice?

One way to find your voice is to ask who you are. Meg Rosoff, in her interesting blog entry on voice, defines it as: “What You Have To Say That’s Different From Anyone Else.” She talks about writers seeking voice as “not what their sentences look like” but who they are.

Another way to develop our voice is to listen, especially to the prose of other writers. TL Costa says in this blog entry that “if we really wish to master the voice of prose, first we may have to open our ears.” But how is this done? Costa says, “Through the manipulation of words, of dialect, and of punctuation used to appropriately reflect your character(s), their thoughts and their emotions . . . The Catcher in the Rye, for instance, has a very distinct voice, and it’s the word order, the rhythm behind the thoughts, that so clearly demonstrates Holden’s state of mind, that grabs the reader and takes them along.”

How do you develop voice?

Once you begin to find your voice–finding your voice is a gradual process–you can incorporate ways to develop it in your writing. Here are some things to keep in mind for this:

Voice in writing is not something you can force. Let it happen naturally. Read the articles I’ve linked to in this blog entry and try some of the suggestions given.

Another fiction writing workshop from this blog:

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Writing Blog Roundup: avoid clichés, sabotaging gift, forget theme, booklover sterotypes, setting scene

1431044_64230198Some recent articles on writing that I have read:

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