Friday, March 25, 2016

Best of the Archives:Find Your Writing Sweet Spot

How do you boil eggs?

I thought I knew. Then I did a Google search.

Some folks cover eggs with cold water, bring the water to a boil and then promptly turn off the heat. Others drop eggs into boiling water and cook for varying lengths of times. Some salt the water. Others add baking soda or vinegar.

Seems everyone has their own method. The same holds true for creating a story.

Browse through the Seekerville archives and you’ll find information on plotting, on creating detailed scene outlines, on using Scrivener or the Plot Doctor or any of the other tools available for purchase or online. Not interested in plotting or planning? Then write by the seat of your pants.

Some use a daily word count to create a manuscript. Others write a fast first draft that requires heavy revisions, while others rewrite as they go and end up with polished pages that are ready to submit.

My last few books have been difficult to piece together. Perhaps it’s because I’m searching for new and unique plots and creative ways to put my hero and heroine in danger. Perhaps it’s because I know more about crafting a story and am aware of holes and weaknesses at the onset.

Whatever the reason, my recent struggle has made me pause at times and question whether the well is dry and will ever fill again.

My frustration is compounded when I read comments from authors who giggle with glee as they create page after page of story seemingly without effort. They skip playfully through their pages like a child on the playground and eagerly anticipate their daily romp at the keyboard.

I, on the other hand, often pull out my hair coming up with fresh plots and red herrings and dangerous situations for my hero and heroine.  Having them fall in love while running for their lives is another hurdle to conquer, along with the need to keep them constantly in danger.

Are you still with me?

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I start with a detailed synopsis that outlines the story. The first three chapters are written methodically with lots of revising and tightening, adding and deleting until I’m satisfied that I’ve provided enough information but not too much. My goal is to give the reader a clear picture of where the story is headed so they can join me on the journey.

I use my AlphaSmart to get words on the page. That stream of consciousness writing, of sorts, moves me along quickly. I rely on my synopsis to direct my focus, but the actual telling of the tale comes in a rapid visual flow that I transcribe into text on my small word processor.

The middle section is a labor-intensive process of filling each 24-page AlphaSmart file with escalating danger. I end up with a first draft that requires extensive rewrites.

For the last two stories, I’ve reached a spot—usually as my deadline loomed—when I realized how much I love to write. Each time it came as a shock after my extended period of questioning whether I should or could ever craft another tale.

What I stumbled upon was my Writing Sweet Spot, the part of the process that brings joy to my heart and keeps me focused on writing.

My Sweet Spot is in the turn of phrase, the rewrites, the tightening and deleting. It includes adding emotion and action tags and subtle nuances that enhance the conflict and give meaning to the story.

I stumbled upon my Sweet Spot, but you can find yours by breaking down the writing process and evaluating each step in the journey from conception to submission.
Conception. Start with the initial spark of an idea and fan it into a story that lights your fire! This step can also include a general overview of the plot and characters.

First three chapters. Introduce your hero and heroine, and foreshadow the conflict, both internal and external. Give your reader an idea of the type of story you’ve written and what they can expect as the plot unfolds. 

Create the story outline or synopsis. Whether a detailed scene by scene outline or synopsis or a shorter overview, this phase provides the frame upon which you’ll build your story. Stars: 

The middle. Take the hero and heroine through a series of escalating problems, which entail danger in a suspense, attraction in a romance and/or self-realization in a character driven tale. 

Black Moment. All the forward progress seems for naught as the hero and heroine face a huge obstacle that appears insurmountable.  

Climax. Weave the threads together into a powerful fight to survive in a suspense or a last ditch effort for good to overcome evil or for love to conquer all so the story concludes with a satisfying ending and a happily ever after.

Rewrites. Tweak the pages to make them shine.  

Final Copy. The last look at the finished manuscript before you hit SEND.  

Some of the Seekers shared their Sweet Spots…

Mary Connealy: I love writing. I love everything about writing from the blank page to the start of a new book, to the revisions, to the catalog copy and covers and galley edits.
But picking a sweet spot....I'd have to say to me, it's having an action scene all written, then bringing it to life, making it move. I usually dread writing those scenes the first time because I just know I can't do it right the first time, but then reworking it, cutting out anything that stops forward motion, upping the tension, adding humor or sass or intensity, I can feel it as it gets better, stronger. And no matter how many passes I make on a scene like that I can almost always improve it, because they're very complex, so I don't mind going over and over it because that's what makes it shine.

My sweet spot, revisions on action scenes.

Pam Hillman: I'm not sure I've found my sweet spot yet, but the one place that I feel like I have a story "licked" is when I have all the major plot points ironed out...not just plotted in my head or in a synopsis, but actually written down in the manuscript. Because sometimes the cool idea doesn't translate well to the actual page. :)

A couple of weeks ago, while working on This Land is Our Land for Barbour, I was struggling with a couple of plot twists that were important for my own peace of mind and that would make the reader keep turning pages. For several days I worked, re-read, edited, plotted and planned, and when I finally got those two areas worked out, it felt like the whole manuscript fell into place, like carefully place dominoes.

And you know that old saying about not seeing the forest for the trees? The more I write under deadline, the more I realize that I need to work toward getting those plot points firmly in place before I worry overmuch about the minor details like pet words, sentence structure, word choice, etc.

So, if I have a sweet spot, it's that. When I know the plot points of the story from beginning to end are solid and can hold the rest of the canvas up like carefully planted "tent poles", then it's su-weet, indeed.

Julie Lessman: Well, my physical “sweet spot” is down on my lower deck where I and my laptop spend most of our days, eight months of the year, rain or shine, spring-summer-fall. But as far as the actual writing process, the most addictive part for me—the thing that gives me that sweet adrenaline rush—is finding the perfect word to convey on paper what I see in my mind. I have an online thesaurus called OneLook Reverse Dictionary that is hands-down the best writer’s resource I’ve ever seen. Strange as it may sound, my heart literally jumps in my chest almost every time I use it, filling me with a rush of giddiness at the challenge of finding just the right word. But … when I’ve hit that writing wall where even my beloved thesaurus fails to skitter my pulse, I find that 20 minutes on the treadmill works wonders to loosen the logjam, causing the streams of passion and creativity to flow once again.

Missy Tippens: The part of writing a story that makes my heart sing is when I'm barreling toward the black moment. It's like everything I've been working toward is about to happen. Which probably sounds terrible since it's a crisis! :) But I think it's because I know the characters are ready to face this problem and will overcome. I know they'll earn their happy ending--which is also very fun to write. So my favorite part of a story is writing from the black moment to the happily ever after.

Myra Johnson: The part of writing I love most is when I get into the flow of a story and the words keep coming! This usually happens when I give the characters free rein and let them live out each scene on the page. Detailed outlines or synopses freeze my creative juices. If I'm too hung up on making the story fit the synopsis, it starts to feel like putting a puzzle together with all the wrong pieces. Nothing fits the way I envisioned! I've found that if I trust my characters, they usually know what's best for the story, and it all comes right in the end.

Janet Dean: My favorite part of writing the book is writing the first chapter! I get excited with my new hero and heroine, the new conflict, the back story that just seems to fall into place. I feel eager and optimistic, sure this will be my best book ever. The proposal phase goes pretty well, too, but by the middle I’m sagging as much as my story. Lots of writers love writing the ending, but I find it intimidating because I’m rarely satisfied. I want the HEA to feel bigger than life, to sing. Though revisions are fun and playing with words and finding ways to up the emotion is fun, I never feel the book is as great as I’d thought it would be when I penned that first chapter.

What’s your Sweet Spot?

I’ve boiled eggs for the breakfast buffet. My method?
Place eggs in pan and cover with water. Gently boil for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Fill pan with cool water.

Along with dozens of hard boiled eggs, I’m serving fresh fruit, an assortment of pastries and bagels, and grits. The coffee’s hot.

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

Plain Danger is available now!

When Carrie York arrives at the house she inherited from her father in an Amish community, she's shocked to discover a soldier's body on the property. Her neighbor, army special agent Tyler Zimmerman, starts investigating the murder, and Carrie fears it's related to her father's mysterious death. Tyler doesn't trust the pretty speechwriter or the suspicious timing of her arrival—especially since her boss is responsible for his father's death. But when someone attacks Carrie, Tyler insists on protecting her. With his help, will Carrie be able to hold on to her inheritance and her life? 

Military Investigations: Serving their country and solving crimes.

This post first appeared in Seekerville 7/16/2014. Comments are closed so we can write and read today. 

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Speedbo incentives for the final week of Speedbo include: a $25 Amazon gift card for one Speedbo writer. To another writer, a copy of Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict. To a reader, a surprise box of books.