Writing a Breakout Novel

9 09 2010

Gotta love my CPs (critique partners, for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym). Where else would I find such a great group of cheerleaders. They keep me going on my manuscripts, subtly pressuring me to complete a new chapter for each critique. And it works.

Sure some chapters need a lot of work, but my CPS are always generous with their crits (and their praise, so I don’t get discouraged). And sometimes they do something extra special that makes my heart race. Last night was a case in point. One generous member of the Piedmont Plotters gifted all of us in the group with Donald Maass’s (yikes, all those s‘s? But it’s what CMoS says is correct, & I always follow Chicago Manual of Style) Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. How cool is that? I’m guessing we’re all going to be breakout novelists soon. Can’t help but be.

According to the promo, we’ll “learn to: – Create a powerful and sweeping sense of time and place – Develop larger-than-life characters – Sustain a high degree of narrative tension from start to finish – Weave sub-plots into the main action – Explore universal themes that will interest a large audience.”

From the first lesson, which you can see here, your protagonist needs to have at least one heroic quality. Try the exercises on page 12 and see what heroic qualities you value.

I couldn’t resist adding more than one person I admire, but it turned out they all had similar qualities. My list included Mother Teresa, Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I’m drawn to people who fight for human rights, who fight convention, and dare to be different. I was intrigued to find that the protagonists of all my books share these qualities.

Two other things that resonate with me are selfless giving and nonviolent protests. Interestingly enough, my main characters don’t always use peaceful means to reach their goals. And sometimes (a character flaw, perhaps?) they’re far from selfless. It definitely set me thinking.

What about you? Who are your heros/heroines? And why are you drawn to them? Do your book characters reflect those values?

Overcoming Procrastination

29 08 2010

My Muse--Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I just stumbled across a blog called “Getting Jump Started” that has what the author, Sarah  Bush, calls the 20 Minute Technique. To get moving on projects (especially creative ones) that you’ve stalled on for a while, set a timer for 20 minutes and do something–anything–related to the project. Sounds easy, right?

It is. I’ve been using this technique for years, only I set the timer for 10 minutes. The results are the same. It shoves me out of my complacency and gets me moving in the right direction. Even if it’s only a tiny step, I’m one step closer to finishing than I was before. And it works for writing a novel, painting a picture, cleaning the house, or any task that I’ve been avoiding.

One of the reasons it works so well is that, for a perfectionist like me, the critical part of my brain shuts down. It dismisses those 10-minute efforts.

“Ha,” it says. “There’s no way you can do anything productive in such a short amount of time.” And it stalks off.

Yay! It’s amazing what a great creative start I get before it realizes that I’m actually getting things done without it. By the time it comes storming over to demand that my creative half pay attention to its directives, the work’s well under way. And even it can see that the creative side’s doing a super job. Sometimes it stalks off to sulk; other times it points a finger at all the mistakes, but by then my creative side is strong enough to handle the barbs.

Most of the time procrastination is fear of failure, so the 10- or 20-minute trick helps. No one can write a perfect novel in that short a time, so for a little while, my muse can play freely without the pressure of producing a perfect product.

I Survived… I Think

21 04 2010

So, one day after the event, I can look back with equanamity. If you read my public speaking post, you might have gotten the impression I don’t like to speak in front of groups.

That’s partially true. And I’m a procrastinator who avoids thinking about the presentation until the last minute, then…gulp!…realizes that it’s time to go out the door, and I have no time left to prepare. Why do I do that? It means I panic as I rush to pull some thoughts together as I drive to my destination and pray that I’ll come up with an interesting and inspirational topic. Yes, I was asked to talk about myself, but every talk should be structured like a story, with a beginning (inciting incident), middle (rising action), and ending (dramatic conclusion).

Luckily for me, my muse works well under pressure. I came up with several exciting (at least I hoped they were) events in my life and made them steppingstones, using an underlying theme of how I jump into careers, then learn on the job, often after I being forced to change directions by a tragedy or a roadblock. That helped me choose my anecdotes.

But I also like to give each audience a takeaway, something meaningful that they can apply to their own lives. My muse, my creative mind, my subconscious didn’t fail me. It dredged up a wonderful idea–one I’d heard years ago in someone else’s speech that had a powerful effect on my life…

Stay tuned for: Seeing the Other Side

Finding Courage

25 06 2009

I have a dream, and I’m working toward it, but I’ve been struggling with many things along the way. Today I read Michael Hyatt’s blog:  6 Steps to More Courage. For me, courage means following my heart and doing what I know is right. Not just speaking up about injustice, but doing something about it. People around the world are risking their lives to do just that.

When I realize that, it puts my own worries in perspective. Yes, I may fail, but is failure the end of the world. Many people used failure as the stepping stone to other greater ventures. So can I. But I don’t intend to fail. I plan to succeed, and I know I will. I’m surrounded by great people who offer a helping hand when I need it most, who sacrifice themselves for my dream, who work hard to help, who support when I’m down. It’s hard not to be courageous with so many encouragers in my life.

One of my biggest encouragers was my dad. I’ll never forget a time I was offered a leadership position in an organization. I wanted to take it, but it meant doing a speech in front of 200+ people every month. I couldn’t speak up in a small group of 4 or 5 people. I’d NEVER be able to do that.

My dad asked, “Would you take this on if you didn’t have to speak?”

“In a minute” was my reply.

“Then tell them ‘yes.’ You can conquer your fears if you follow your heart.”

I took his advice, and I learned to do public speaking. It wasn’t easy. I signed up for a class that had 6 participants. After our first class assignment–standing in front of the group to say our names, hometowns, and 3 things about ourselves–I raced to the bathroom and threw up multiple times. I was that frightened. Each week on the way home from class, I’d have to pull over to the side of the road, because I was so ill.

By the time I did my first speech for the organization, I could do it without getting sick, but my legs and arms trembled and I couldn’t remember I word I’d said. I have no idea if what I said even made sense. But now, years later, I can get up in front of a crowd of 500+ and speak extemporaneously, if need be, with barely more than a quiver in my stomach.

And that also means I can find the courage to tackle this new venture. Someday I’ll look back on all my trembling and wonder what scared me so. For now, I’ll move ahead and keep repeating my dad’s advice:

“You can conquer your fears if you follow your heart.”

What have you been putting off because you’re afraid? Why not step out in faith and try it today? Feel free to share your own stories of courage. We’d love to hear them.

If Only…

31 05 2009

Is your life filled with regrets? Do you have dreams you want to reach, but obstacles hold you back? Tomorrow, June 1, join me at  Anna Kathryn Lanier‘s blog at http://annakathrynlanier.blogspot.com/ for a look at how you can reach your dreams.

Is Your Shadow Brand Holding You Back?

12 05 2009

Just read a great article by Jenn Stark (Branding Expert/Know Your Brand) on “You and Your Brand.” Everyone says authors need to establish a brand—a short, pithy statement that identifies them and their books. But Jenn’s advice went further. She identifies three types of branding—your core brand, your functional brand, and your shadow brand. The functional brand is the one you advertise to the public, but the other two are internal. The way Jenn describes them, they’re tied to your self-concept. What words do you think about when you label yourself internally? Those words make a difference in how successful you’ll be in reaching your goals. The core brand is more of your positive assessment, whereas the shadow is your darker side. Ouch! When I read her description of the shadow brand, I saw myself–fear of rejection. You may have a different shadow brand. Is your shadow brand holding you back from achieving your goals? Not sure? Check out Jenn’s article.