Monday, August 21, 2017

5 Tips to Vacation Writing

Earlier this summer I gave tips on summer writing and I've done some tips on writing when you're out of town or distracted, but now is the height of summer vacation. How can you keep your writing groove on when faced with trips, tours or just sitting on the beach or up in the mountains and relaxing. Who wants to put your nose to the grindstone when you can be playing or visiting with friends or relatives? Well, yes, you can put those trips to good use, very good use.

1. Make your trip count. Take that trip to some place you've always wanted to write about or some place you've read about that you've always wanted to visit. Visiting a new place always can foster new story ideas or new places to set your book.  Take that trip to Hawaii or Europe and use the location, but summer vacation can be a great time to get in some writing while you are sitting at the beach and soaking in the sun. Take a trip to the beach at sunset and enjoy the last rays of the day, or sit in an outdoor cafe and observe the people and listen to the special sounds of that particular place. Because let's face it, whenever your are on the road, you should....

2. Observe your particular location. When I say observe, think about how you would describe it as
you are writing a story. Or better yet, write a travel story about it. Whenever I go to a new place I immediately go through all the information at the hotel to see any local tourist destinations, but I also look for those different little places. Ask around in the hotel coffee shop or the cab or Uber driver about any interesting but not tourist-y place that you might visit. I also like to learn about local sports stars, historical figures or heroes,  to get a feel for the people from there and to get more ideas for characters.

3. Try those little dining spots that are not necessarily in the tourist guide books. Look for the local coffee shops in the neighborhoods or the small diners or ethnic food places. Try them out. It not only will enhance the vacation, but can also be good food for thought next time you are writing a book.

4.  Talk to the local people. Pick up on any local accents, the way people dress,  even the items on the local menus. When I was travelling across the country with my family we made it a rule that we were going to eat whatever the local delicacies were. From Texas to Maine we enjoyed Mexican food and steak in Dallas, then Cajun in Louisiana, all the way up to crab in Baltimore and lobster in Maine.  We even had to stop by in Hershey, Pa and buy chocolate.

5. Keep a travel notebook and make good notes. And keep taking them, and updating and updating. When we went across country my mother started taking notes the minute we left Colorado and crossed over into Kansas. She had great notes on the farms of Kansas and even listed all the foods we had those first days. By the time we reached the East coast she had lots of blank pages and was trying to remember instead of instantly writing as she witnessed things.

So enjoy your summer vacation, but keep notes and pictures, and if you aren't a photographer, buy postcards. I began collecting postcards the minute I left home for college. I have cards from all 45 states I've visited -- from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic to the beaches of Hawaii and the glaciers of Alaska.

Enjoy your summer trip, and if you find yourself sitting and waiting at an airport or on a long plane ride, try some writing to fill the time. Or pick up a book by a new author or try reading in a new genre.

There's always lots you can do before getting back to work on your next book.

Monday, August 7, 2017

5 Tips to Plotting

Is there anything more intimidating to a fiction writer than a blank piece of paper or a blank screen? What do you do with it?

This past weekend I was lucky enough to present my ideas for my plotting methods to my Sisters in Crime - Colorado group.  This is a wonderful organization and our Colorado chapter has a great group of writers.  The sessions are always good for generating ideas and for tossing out new ideas when someone is having trouble with their current work in progress.

As I planned my portion of my plotting session I got to thinking about not only my particular haphazard method of plotting but how much I have learned about the overall plotting process through the years.  When I first started writing I began by simply sitting down with a blank notebook, a pencil and a vague idea in my mind. I had one character and I had no idea what she was going to do. My first story ever was about a teenager who got kidnapped with a rock star. I think I had Herman from Herman's Hermits in mind when I wrote it.  But I started out by writing a scene. Strangely enough I still write that way. When I get bogged down is when I start planning so many scenes in advance and then my mind doesn't seem to want to write them. That made me start thinking about the entire plotting process.  And what I came up with was DO IT YOUR WAY. Only you can tell what process works for you. Here are some ideas for figuring that out.

1. Try plotting a story if you must. List the scenes that you know you need and then start writing them. As one of our presenters mentioned, even if you are listing them as you go along or a scene or two in advance, then you are plotting through the outline method. There's no problem with that and by writing them down as you go you are also able to see where certain events go in case you need to refer back to something.

2. Plot using the "What if" method.  That is one of the things that always gets me going on a story even if I have no idea about the direction it is headed. By writing down the "What if" I can find motivation coming alive for my characters. Well, if X happens, how will my main character react? How about those around him or her? What will happen as a result of that.

3. Try plotting a few scenes ahead of time.  Usually this can work for me because then I know what scenes are coming up. I can plant clues or misdirect the hero or heroine in the current chapter or scene and know what I need to do as I work toward the overall outcome.

4. Try plotting by chapters. Usually there may be two to three scenes in a chapter so in that case I might use a story board to make sure I am keeping my pacing going in each chapter. No one wants scene after scene of back story. The reader gets bored. Also no one wants scene after scene of chases or life and death situations. The reader gets breathless.  Plotting by chapter lets you see where you need to let up on the action or make something happen.

5. Try simply writing out the story itself from beginning to finish -- no dialogue, no description. That in itself can become your overall outline. This can sometimes serve as a backbone to your book too. You can always take some of the parts and then embellish them should you get bogged down at any point in the book.

Most of all, though, experiment and figure out what works best for you in plotting. There is nothing worse that getting bogged down using a certain method and getting so wrapped up in the method that you forget to write the story.  I regularly teach classes on a method called the Plotting Circle, and that was the session I presented on Saturday. It works well for anyone who needs to outline or if you are like me and plot organically or a scene at a time.  Email me at if you would like to learn more about how to use the Plotting Circle.

Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...