Wednesday, February 29, 2012

3 Ways to Harness Dreams for Stories

I had an amazing dream the other night and thought when I woke up what a great story it would make. I even had a character profile all laid out for my protagonist. It might make a great short story and it might make a good full length, although it was sci-fi in nature and I'm not sure I could pull off sci-fi.

It struck me I've had loads of really sharp, great dreams that have become stories. In fact--about five years ago I had an amazing, lucid, clear dream that was so strong when I woke up that I had to write it down, and then I kept writing. And kept writing. And then I got excited--really excited. I told my cousin at the time, "Oh my God! I could publish this! Do you think I could publish this? I'm totally going to get this published!"

To which she replied, "Slow down a moment, hoss." (We call each other hoss.)

Eventually I slowed down, because the story I had written was utter crapola, but the bug had been caught and I've been writing ever since, practicing, developing plot, learning, and understanding what it really means to tell a story. But those dreams, man, they give that passionate first spark. The hard part is picking out the actual nugget of story in all that mental soup.

Another dream I had a few years ago did make it into a good short story that I still like today, and I have plans to develop that into a full length novel.

So, how do we harness the power of our dreams into stories? I'm going to assume this happens to you, too, because if there's anything I've learned it's that I am not unique. (I mean I am, and I wore socks with cool prints on them in high school to prove that, but in general I'm not, you know.)

1. Write dreams down the next morning. Duh! But I rarely do this. Instead I let the tendrils of the dream's feelings wrap around me like a cozy and wonderful coat until they begin to fade. Maybe a few days later I'll write notes about it, but by then I've lost the finer details. So write it down right away. If you can't, then jot out 5 or 6 bullet points.

2. Recognize that our dreams are metaphors for desires and fears. If you can sort through your dream to find what's at the heart of it, then you can find the beginning nugget of an actual plot--because all plots revolve around conflict and desires. Admittedly, this isn't easy because it means lots of self-reflection, but hey.

3. Keep a Dream Journal. I did this once. It's a fascinating look at what really goes on in your head when you let your day-time defenses rest. See if you can recognize patterns or themes in your dreams, and brainstorm off a few different ones if none stand out by themselves as a story start.

How about you? Have you worked dreams into real stories? Any tips to add?

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Past 15

Last week, I was listening to a morning radio show in the Bay Area that I've listened to for years, and they announced that it was their 15 year anniversary of being on the air. I couldn't believe it. I remember their very first show 15 years ago, and have been listening ever since. (They're pretty good.)

I started thinking about what else has remained with me over 15 years. Beloved books, songs, etc. Mr. Sierra and I were talking about the timeless quality of U2--especially their early stuff and Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. I thought of all the Maeve Binchy books I've read and re-read over the years. These kinds of things are what punctuate life, carrying us through good times and bad.

I hope I get to publish books that do this for people.

What has carried YOU through the past 15 years? Certainly certain bands, or books, or even TV shows qualify.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

Meghan Ward reports on the demise of Google Friend connect on non-Blogger blogs. Check it out to see what you should be replacing it with. I wonder why Blogger blogs are allowed to keep it, and I think it's a great idea to delete the follower count thingy--because none of us will without being made to.

Kristen Lippert-Martin ponders the done-ness, or not, of our manuscripts.

Roni Loren talks about the sticky factor of author website (the things that make you stay and read more) and then gives great tips.

Bookends answers questions about including pages in a query submission.

Jenny Bent's Intern Y talks about starting stories and gives wonderful tips gleaned from the slushpile.

Janice Hardy gives fantastic advice about when and how to end a scene.

Yay for Tawna Fenske, whose second book, Believe it or not, has just been published.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just one more wait! One more!

Over the past few years I've read many a blog post on how to know when you're done with a book-- like really really done, no more tinkering, no more changes. It's really tough. Most things I've read will have you believe you must cut yourself off at some point, even if you must shackle yourself to a post to stop touching that MS. I always thought I knew the point where it was time to stop.

It's that magical period where a new story begins brewing. I know, some of you have not had this experience. But I know I'm done with a story when I start thinking more about the new one that I do about the old one. If I'm not done editing the old one by then, then I sort of squelch the new one as best I can, while secretly thinking of it. But I don't allow myself free reign on the new one until the old one is done.

And by done, I mean edited.

I've written enough stories by now to have a sort of process down. Each time I finish something, I improve the process. Here's mine:

1. Do a big picture edit. This means plot. I spend the most time on this because I believe plot is what makes a good story. Of course many other things go into it, but it have a lousy plot or no plot at all, you don't have much. So I review my plot points. I re-read books on plot.

2. Do a character edit. Are my characters acting the way they're supposed to? Do they have motivation? Are they conflicted? Have I given them enough personality?

3. Do a language edit. This is where going through the list I posted last week helps. (Note to KLM: I totally hadn't finished doing that by the time I sent you mine. So when you come across a veritable sea of words ending in -ly, then you know I'm going through and getting them still.) In a language, edit, I do spot checks--randomly landing in parts of the document to see what horrible little gremlins of awful writing I find. (Quite a lot, as it turns out.)

4. Revise after critiques. At this point--or, as it happens--shortly before, I send the ms out for review with my beta readers. Then I wait for overall critiques to come in. Those can be a mixed bag, of course, because not everyone has the same critiques. But I take what I get, then revise.

5. Do a final edit. This is the tough one because it requires that I put the thing aside for awhile in order to be fresh. At this point, I usually let myself loose on a new story.

I haven't done this always, and it sounds a lot more structured than it is. But I like to think I'm using a system because it makes me feel like I'm doing a good job editing, and that my final product will be a saleable, publishable, and most of all, readable book.

What about you? I'd love to hear your editing approach--and when you feel you've gotten to the end of a story and are ready to stop tinkering.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lucky ducks

Happy President's Day! I totally couldn't even think of a post today, it's one on those Mondays where I'm extra sluggish, and I had a bad weekend of zero baby naps and night wakings. The little stinker is terribly inconsiderate of his mother's need for sleep.

But somewhere around 2:30 am last night as I stumbled groggily from bed to get him from his crib, where he stood screaming yet again, I realized that as much as I hate being ripped from a good sleep and as much as I really dislike being up at 2:30, I'm really glad that I can. Meaning, good thing I don't have to work a night shift in a factory and come home stinking of crab and covered in coal dust. That kind of thing.

Similarly, how lucky I am that I get to write stories. I have two or three more brewing in my mind right now as I morph from edits on my completed ms to time for a new story. Chances are, you have that luxury too if you're reading this. And how lucky we are. Take a moment to remember that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quick Edits (Redux Post)

I don't have a Friday Google Reader Roundup for you today, BUT! I am in the throes of finer editing of my ms and thought the following post from November 19, 2009, was a good one to revisit. It's about those little words when you get to the stage of editing when you're paying attention to actual words. Original post had some good comments and additional suggestions.

Quick Edits 
I always worry that writing succinctly comes easily for everyone else in the world, but I know it doesn't, or else there wouldn't be so many books and tips out there.

The fact is, no one is perfect. It takes years to be great, and even then it's hard to catch everything. Can you imagine what it must have been like for people who wrote on typewriters, or before that, long hand? Ugh! Painstaking! I read recently in Writer's Digest that an author whose debut book had just been released chose to write on a typewriter, and that when he made a mistake or had to rewrite a line, he would type the whole page over again because it forced him to....I don't know what. I don't get it. Thank God for word processing software and especially for the Find function.

Which brings me to what I do Finds for (Control + F for those who like shortcuts):
  • about (especially "about it"--found TONS of these)
  • actually
  • almost
  • like
  • appears
  • approximately
  • basically
  • being
  • even
  • eventually
  • exactly --astonishing amount of these. Ack!!
  • finally - one of the most disgusting ones since it's often a sign of redundancy
  • just
  • just then
  • kind of
  • nearly
  • only
  • practically
  • really
  • seems
  • simply
  • slightly
  • somehow
  • somewhat
  • sort of
  • strictly
  • suddenly
  • truly (it was just gross how many I found)
  • utterly
  • was (and was there, was it)
  • were
I deleted about 700 words by doing this (!!!), and I know the text was tightened as a result. Fair dos: I didn't make this list up. I found it, and I'm sorry but I can't remember who posted it but I suspect maybe Rachelle Gardner. Anyway, it's a superb list and you'd be amazed at how quickly and instantly text can be cleaned up by searching for these. Enjoy.

Do you guys have any easy tricks for cleaning up your writing?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The 5 Point Finale

I'm a bit of a plotter, and I really love thinking about plot. Problems with plot, to me, are what sink otherwise good novels. So zeroing in on areas of plot is one of my favorite things to do. I did this not long ago over on Roni Loren's now-dark Fiction Groupie blog when I talked about the All is Lost moment.

Today I'm going to talk about the Five Point Finale, a phenomenon discussed in Blake Snyder's fabulous Save the Cat books. The Five Point Finale, as you may have guessed, has to do with the big climactic finale of a story. Basically, it's a formula for getting them right. Most well-written stories have them.

Let's look at what it is. According to Snyder, it is:






Each of these points have further subpoints, but in general the hero of the story gathers people around him or her, then storms or defends the castle. A surprise waits for them, (the high tower surprise, thus named because the princess in the castle isn't there, or some other twist awaits), and then the hero must dig deep down inside him or herself to pull out his or her mettle, after which the execution of a new plan--and the ultimate win--can be achieved.

Because I use Star Wars for every thing (hey, it's well plotted), I'll use it for this. Let's look at Episode 4 (the original film):

1. Gathering the team: Luke gathers the rebels around him and they prepare to head off and infiltrate the Death Star, looking for the weak point.

2. Storming the castle: The rebels with all their red and yellow numbers "storm" the Death Star.

3. High tower surprise: All the rebels miss shooting the reactor, and either die or have to fly off. Darth Vadar appears on the scene and starts chasing Luke down.

4. Dig Deep Down: Luke must use the force and guide him to the hole in the Death Star that he'll shoot into. In this way, he has finally relinquished all his resistance to using or indeed even believing in the Force. He relies completely on it.

5. Execution of new plan: Luke pushes away his sight thingie, uses the Force, and successfully blows up the Death Star -- phew! Just in time, too!

Your story doesn't have to be action or sci fi to use this formula. It can be any genre and still contain this powerful emotional formula.

Have you used this for any of your stories? Is it too structured for the likes of you? Let's hear about it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Where and Who Are You?

When I began blogging and writing fiction about four years ago, I had a lot to learn. I still have a lot to learn. But four years of paying careful attention to how the publishing industry works and is changing, and how to put together a book, and writing lots of stories has put me in a good place. I'm not an expert. But I feel a little less clueless than I did four years ago.

In the writer blogosphere, much has changed in four years. I've watched many fellow bloggers--many of them friends--sign with agents and then get book deals.  Even better, I've seen their books come out. It's been so exciting. Everyone is in a different stage of their writing journey, and for a while when I started blogging it was a very specific set of other writers whose blogs I read and who commented on my blog.

Now, there are new people. Who may or may not have just started out writing. I largely have no idea! I'd love to know, though. Can you do me a favor? Tell me more about yourself. I want to know who and where you are. Leave a comment telling me:

1. Your name and your blog address.

2. What genre you write.

3. Whether you have written a novel, and whether you're published.

4. When you started writing.

5. What your ultimate plans are (traditional publishing, self publishing, just writing for fun, or wherever the wind takes you).

Hope to hear from you. Happy Monday.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

From An American Editor blog, the question of Amazon vs. publishing.

For you moms, a study of spanking kids causing harm. Well then maybe they shouldn't make kids with mouths, huh? Huh? Kidding. Kidding!

Tawna Fenske is anal. Hee hee hee.

Is Pinterest the next social traffic driver? Mashable wonders. For my part, I freaking LOVE Pinterest. Here's me on it. I use it mainly to collect designy things.

In case you were feeling good about yourself, take a look at what you could be doing with your ballpoint pen if you had any real talent.

Iff'n you missed it, please catch up: Travener published his novel and turned into the glorious superstar author Stephen (not Boris?) Wangsness. Go buy Tainted Souls. I insist.

Jody Hedlund talks about something I've wrestled with over the past year-- how to beat the blogging blahs. (Although I guess I'm doing something right since my page view count has shot up -- I'm officially a player now-- although how many of those hits are roving tinterweb bots, no one knows.)

Jody also talks about whether book covers are relevant anymore in the digital age. (They jolly well should be. How will we judge books without them?)

Update your linky-loos because Fiction Groupie has moved. And just so you check out Roni's new blog location, here's 5 muse abusers and how to protect your creative flow.

BookEnds has an updated Publishing Dictionary.

Shameless: Don't miss my post this week on whether or not you should employ Facebook as an author--and the great discussion in the comments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Embarrassing Things

A few weeks ago, I posted about finding the other me on You Tube, and I said that thank God I had never posted embarrassing videos of myself singing on You Tube. I mean, my God.

When I was writing up that post, I was trying to think of things I have done that were publicly embarrassing (on purpose, that is), and I couldn't. I guess I haven't done too many humiliating things, which seems strange--seems like there should be many incidents. Probably there are, but I've repressed them or else allowed my sleep deprived brain to delete those in favor of more important data--like  remembering brushing my teeth.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait long before I did something embarrassing.

One recent morning I was walking the whippersnapper to school and saw this guy sitting outside with his young son-- which he does every Thursday because his son loves watching the garbage truck. He's done this for a at least two years every Thursday, and we always see him (because we're watching the garbage truck too), except I never knew his name or where he lived. (We watched from our window, see.) But on this day, it was the first day I'd actually come out of the house while there were there.

He said hello and I said hello. He asked how I liked the whippersnapper's school. We chatted a bit about the school, and finally I asked, "Where do you live?" Because see, he must live close by to always come for the garbage truck. I had him pegged for the pink house three doors down.

He gave me a weird look. "Just over on Jones Street, Sierra."

I froze. How did he know my name? (And Jones Street is just the street above ours.) I smiled weakly and pretended I knew what he was talking about and then feigned hearing the school bell from blocks away.

As soon as he was out of sight, I remembered. He's the husband of my friend Tiffany, who is part of my mommy playgroup. The little boy is her older son, whom I see every Wednesday. I've been in their house several times.

This was a horrible, horrible gaffe. I hoped fervently he was still there by the time I had dropped the whippersnapper off and walked back. I even remembered his name by then! But no, he was gone. So I was left to text Tiffany and say how sorry I was, and how I couldn't believe the enormity of my brain fart.

No worries, she texted back. He understands Mommy Brain. He's totally laughing about it.

I deserved that. He probably had a good laugh when he got home. "Hey hon, guess how cr-aaaaazy that Sierra is!"

Ugh. This is the stuff that makes it into my fiction. It kind of has to. So, go on. Tell me your embarrassing story.

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Facebook or Not to Facebook--is there a question?

A few weeks ago, I read an article about people -- young ones-- who've chosen not to participate in Facebook. It doesn't say whether they take part in other social media like blogging or Twitter but my guess is not.

It got me thinking.

I'm a huge proponent of social media--but only the parts and the frequency that works for you. And, sorry if this sounds conceited, but I am one of the few who understood early on that social media is about conversations and sharing rather than blasting crap in other people's faces.

But of all the social media outlets I use, Facebook has been the most troubling.

Facebook's main problems, in my opinion, are two things: privacy and accounts. Facebook forces anyone who wants to have a public face (by public I mean published author, celebrity, or anyone else in the public, accessible domain) and still interact with people on a personal level to have Fan pages, which are clunky to use and administrate. Worse, if you want to interact with a certain set of people, like say colleagues and coworkers, and also keep a separate set of people like your drinking buddies, you can't.

Facebook will probably be the first to tell you that they aren't built for people with public and private lives--like authors--and yet authors and businesses use it. They have to. Well, MySpace certainly isn't doing anyone any favors! It's against Facebook's user policy to have two accounts, so you can't even try to keep separate circles through accounts. It's a huge failing in my opinion, and why I no longer use Facebook for my writing social media.

Recently I read this article by Andrew Keen about Facebook's "creepy" mode of revnue, which consists of sharing our personal data to advertiseres. Keen argues passionatley that "the impact of Facebook on our privacy is deeply worrying...Many other people are now worrying about Facebook's cult of radical transparency and its willful disregard for privacy." Keen reports that Mark Zuckerberg says how imp[ortant it that twh rold connect. But, Keen says, since "Facebook is a privately owned and for profit enterprise, existing for the benefit of its shareholders and employees, then connectivity benefits the company rather than us.

Openness, we need to always remember, is a self-serving Silicon Valley ideology rather than a self-evident public good."

This is certainly something to think about--and if I'm honest, it's been simmering at the back of my mind for some time. It's why I refuse to "allow" any apps to access my private information for any reason on Facebook, ever. It's why I no longer use  Facebook as part of my public online footprint--Sierra Godfrey the writer. It just doesn't afford me the kind of inner and outer sharing I'd prefer. For my private use of Facebook, I don't engage in any apps that access my info, and I have delisted myself from public view. But is Facebook ever really private?

Are there times when Facebook doesn't work for you? I can think of a few:
  • You don't want the artificial contact with friends--preferring the real deal to online
  • Your employer forbids it (my dad is a financial planner; his broker forbids all forms of social media unless he pays them to monitor it, lest he give free or incorrect advice I guess; it's one of the stupidest and most draconian let's-not-embrace-technology moves I've ever heard of)
  • You don't want to/are worried about connecting with old flames/friends/enemies.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

For all of you who've gnawed your fingers down to the nub wondering the true identity of the intrepid, often sourpuss, but always loyal and deep down sweet Travener, the wait is over. He's finally published his mystery, Tainted Souls, and I bought a copy on my Kindle. Go congratulate him on his tenacity over at his new, identity-revealed blog.

Aspriring Mama has a very funny recap of her traffic school experinece--with tips for those of us who are sassy smartasses.

Hialrious and artistic Mia Hayson shows us why real books are here to stay.

Which was funny because after I saw Mia's tweet about her awesome post, I then saw this Sierra Club* tweet: @Sierra_Magazine: Book Review: The Insatiable Bark Beetle: Horror story or warning sign? This bug eats forests.  Perhaps a case FOR ereaders? I think so!

*Obviously a club in celebration of moi.

AND THEN! Look at this: THIS post tals about why publishers are less optimistic about ereaders now!

Lucienne Driver on why your work doesn't get read as quickly as you want it to.

Kristen Lippert Martin has a book giveaway on her blog for Blythe Woolston’s latest book, Catch & Release! Go enter. NOW!