On Writing: Frog Marching the Muse

Tuesday, November 22

3340067512_83836dee8f_b-525x350(From the Writer Unboxed archives.)

Here are eighteen tips I use to help me produce words when my creative muse packed up and left me, leaving no forwarding address. You can, in fact, get an entire book written this way, although it is not the most joyful of processes.

Some of the things on this list are about assembling the raw materials you will need to write the story. Others are about priming the writing pump to get the words flowing. Often, the suggestions will do both. But all of them are about building forward momentum and finding a way—any way—to get those damn words on the page.

I tend to think of them as the equivalent of hauling the bricks, bag of cement, mortar, etc. over to where I am going to build the wall, assembling all the things I will need. Sometimes, having them all there and ready provides motivational juice. Other times I still have to build brick by brick, but at least I don’t have to go hunting for all the parts. [click to continue…]

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On Writing: Spackle

Sunday, November 20

A lot of us are feeling woefully behind on our word counts right now and doing anything we can to move forward. One of my the things I rely on in these sorts of situtations is the literary equivalent of spackle.

Spackle, you might ask? You mean like that weird, white plastery stuff that you use to cover holes in the wall?

Yes. That is exactly what I mean.

Spackle when writing is just what it sounds like: a flimsy lick and a promise to get back to a spot and create something better. Stronger. Heftier. When I am in the zone and the story is unfolding before me, if I take too long in trying to capture the words, they’ll disappear before I can get them down. For me, always, the race is to get the story down while I’m in the heated flush of that writing zone. I can linger and dally over language all I want later, once the bones of the story are firmly in place.

Or, conversely, if I am having a hard time getting the words to flow, or flow in a jumbled, out-of-order sort of way, I use spackle to fill in the blanks so I can at least maintain my forward momentum. Sadly, this is the situation I find myself in this month. [click to continue…]


On Writing: What’s In A Name?

Monday, October 31

For me, naming is a huge part of character. In fact, I cannot get very far in a novel until I have the correct name. I can be brainstorming and jotting down plot notes and some basic character sketching but until the true name clicks, I’m rudderless. The character doesn’t become real to me until that name solidifies.

The truth is, names matter. A lot. Both in real life and in fiction. So much goes into a name; parental hopes, ancestry, gender, ethnicity, and social status.

Because names carry all that weight, they can also be a hugely valuable tool in terms of world-building, setting an emotional tone, creating an integrated setting, and of course, characterization. The right name can also help anchor us in the story world, whether it be historical or contemporary or Other. Think how different the name Araminta is from Jennifer, or Carradoc is from Justin.

Plus all words have connotations, even names. The way they sound, feel, roll around in our mouths as we say them. All those elements affect how we perceive a name as well. As writers, we can use that, make it work for us. The names can do a significant amount of “showing” so we don’t have to waste time “telling.” [click to continue…]


Someday, I will write a book that does NOT have a cast of thousands. Some day. But for now, that seems to dog me with every book I write. Here then, is a trick I devised to not only help me keep track of the characters, but to help the ones that need to be memorable BE memorable.

When one’s novel is populated by hundreds of people, not every one of them can stand out, nor should they. It would be exhausting and overwhelming. Even worse, it would risk diluting those characters who truly were important. It is perfectly acceptable to have some characters in one’s novel simply be part of the backdrop, the bodies that populate the room for realism’s sake while the true drama unfolds among a select handful of your characters. For those walk-ons and stand-ins, its okay, necessary even, to use quick broad strokes, perhaps even, dare I say it—stereotypes—since their actions have no bearing on the plot.

Because their actions have no bearing on the plot.

Those words are key.

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Even though I still consider myself to be in the pre-writing phase, the next thing I need to do is to create a foundation that will support the shape and heft of the book. I know that might seem like kind of a left-brained thing to do in the pre-writing stage, but I find if I don’t do it, I run out of steam after about 50 pages and the story just lays lays there, staring at me with accusing eyes.

However, if thinking about plot or structure makes you tense or nervous or doubt yourself or break out in a cold sweat, by all means, back away from the computer and ignore this post!

To make plotting feel less left-brained, I remind myself that at this stage, structure is merely a way of thinking about what sorts of scenes go where. Since character transformation happens through action, the plot is simply the actions our characters go through in order to grow and change, and looking at structure helps me brainstorm the sorts of story events and scenes I will need to be thinking about. [click to continue…]


Growing Plot From Character

October 28, 2012

Once I know my character’s emotional landscape, it’s time to see how to shape that into an arc that will work with the story idea. How can I turn all that I’ve learned about my protagonist into the beginnings of a story? In order to understand what actions will effect a transformation in your character, […]

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Pre-Writing: It’s All About The Character

October 25, 2012

I usually have at least a vague kernel of an idea as to who my main characters are, a kernel which I will be able to dig around in and coax into some sort of personage. Although with MORTAL HEART, I do have a decent sense of Annith and the other characters in the book […]

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On Mash Ups, High Concepts, and Writing to the Trends

October 24, 2012

A Google Alert landed in my inbox the other day, pointing me to a blog that was talking about GRAVE MERCY in conjunction with a recent Publisher’s Weekly article that had mentioned it (which I had totally missed, so YAY!) The PW article was about current trends and the increasing number of mash ups being […]

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