I can’t tell you how many writers tell me they’re pantsers and don’t have a book to show for it. As a hybrid pantser/outliner myself I get where you’re coming from. I really do. You want to just jump in on that scene you thought about as the idea came to you. You can totally take it from there! And some people can. Stephen King is the most famous pantser I know of. And obviously that works for him. BUT if you don’t have a book or workable manuscript from your years of pantsing, you should consider other ways.
- You don’t have to create a detailed outline: I call myself a hybrid because I make a bulleted list of plot points. It’s that simple. I just need something to look at when I get a little lost. I know people who spend more time on the outline than the book itself and I just can’t do that. I would outline all day then be sick of the project.
- If you have a workable draft from pantsing keep it up! You don’t get your grandmother’s famous cookie recipe (or in my case my dads) and go changing it. If it’s working keep doing it. If you find something that makes it easier for DO IT! This is your baby, your career, your book. Do what works for you.
- Don’t give up: Writing isn’t as easy as people seem to believe. You might have to try several different approaches to find what works for you. I work best out of the house or late at night. I need that bulleted outline, most times I don’t even look at it after I write it out but the process of thinking about the story in a linear fashion helps me. So I keep doing it.
Are you a pantser? Do you know of any famous authors who are? Tell us in the comments!
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can found on Facebook, Twitter, blog and her website.
I have suffered from word vomit pretty much anytime there has been a lot of pressure on my writing and I let myself get behind. NaNoWriMo is a good example. If I start out that first day and write 4k words this isn’t going to happen to me. If I don’t reach the 1667 words you need to make it to 50k though, it’s possible. If my house is a mess and I have other responsibilities outside of writing, like a day job or children and I think I’m not doing my best it happens. Unfortunately, every time it did happen I would write a few hundred words and then call it quits for the day. I would go about life and try not to think about writing or deadlines. It did work but it was slow and usually results in pushed deadlines which just make me feel worse about myself and more prone to this particular ailment.
Recently, while listening to a podcast by Joanna Penn, her guest said he wrote for 8-10 hours a day. After the jealousy had ebbed, he started talking about his writing and he said something that completely changed the game for me. He said you don’t have to be at the keyboard or even have a pen in your hand to be writing. As long as you are improving your craft you are writing. Reading counts. Watching TV can count. Going for a walk outside or sitting in the mall and people watching. Going out lunch with an old friend and catching up.
We are all slaves to this idea that words are the only things that matter in this business. We’re not wrong but quality words are worth so much more than vomit. The stress of knowing every word is crap can make you run from not only your WIP but from writing altogether.
If you start to feel word vomit coming on, take a break from the keyboard or the pen but don’t stop writing. Don’t stop working through scenes as you drive to work and looking at what makes the characters in that TV show so relatable. Don’t stop admiring your favorite authors ability to weave words into a beautiful canvas. Don’t quit. Just give yourself permission to step away from your computer or note pad.
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can found on Facebook, Twitter, blog and her website.
- Outline: I know I harp on this but seriously, figuring this out is the only reason I’m a published author right now. OK, not the only reason but definitely a big one. I was a pantser, hard core. Hated outlines with a fiery passion even. However, after failing NaNoWriMo’s and writing 80K words that literally went no where, I started making bullet points with how I was going to get from A to Z. Eventually I would start really outlining but even just a few bullet points to look at when you find yourself off the trail can be crucial to success in writing your first draft.
- Don’t edit: Editing is a wonderful and totally necessary thing. LATER. Don’t stop your progress because you know you missed some commas back there. When you have finished your first draft and let it sit for awhile, you can go in and add commas and take them away to your hearts content. But wait until you have a complete draft.
- Don’t Revise: Same deal. You might be in chapter 5 and decide that you want two character who were madly in love in chapter 2 to just meet. Well, make a note in the margin and keep moving. Do not go back and change the beginning yet. It can wait. Just don’t forget to make notes about plot changes. While they will likely come back to you when you reread the piece, they might not. Don’t take unnecessary risks with your work.
- Don’t quit: The number one reason writers don’t finish their novel? They give up, they stop making the time, they quit. It’s really sad when someone gives up on their dreams. Don’t be the guy in the bar who wishes he had only kept trying. Be the one who succeeded. Who finished their novel.
Do you have any tips for first time writers? What was the thing that helped you through your first draft?
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can found onFacebook, Twitter, blog and her website.
NaNoWriMo is tough, make no mistake! So we’ve both complied a list of our top three tips and tricks to help you reach that coveted 50K word goal and become a NaNoWriMo winner!
Cameron J Quinn–Cameron is a stay at home mom who has won two NaNoWriMo’s in the past. Here are her tips.
- Outlining: Yeah get the groaning over with and give me a chance! I have won two NaNoWriMo’s but participated five. Yeah, I failed three of them. Mostly because I really was not in anyway prepared. I hadn’t properly thought out my stories or anything. I was like “Ooo I have an idea, let’s start!” which lead to plot knots, holes, and general confusion. Now, Outlining does not have to be the bane of your existence. You don’t have swear on your parent’s grave or to God that this is exactly how the story will go. It’s a guide. A map for when you get lost.
My outlines are fairly simple. I do my research and then write down key plot points. After the key plot points, I like to go in and make sureI add things that could be fun. For example: In my book Wanna Bet, a bad breakup, meeting a bad boy, and making a wager are all pivotal plot points. Between them I put in the fun stuff, like a weekend trip to a lake and skinny dipping, as well as some really bad dates with Mr./Ms. Wrong.
- Scheduling: If you are a parent you already know the importance of a schedule, but it’s even more necessary to be successful during NaNoWriMo. I get up an hour before the kids to get into creative mode. I make crock pot dinners so my evenings have limited cleaning, and I make sure to write creatively at the same time every day. Science helped me with that last one. It’s easier for your brain to get out of parent/partner mode and hop into the creative realm if it knows to expect it. V.S. will talk about starting before the first day of NaNoWriMo below, but you also need to make sure you start at the same time everyday if you can.
- Find your peeps: I know during Camp you will be in a cabin, but it’s good to have other people you can go to if you are ready to write and your cabin mates are less than active or live in another timezone. Writing friends are crucial to a successful NaNoWriMo. Word sprints are not nearly as fun without someone to share your favorite lines with or to compete with.
V. S. Holmes is an archaeologist and author who has won three November NaNoWriMos and participated in one Camp NaNoWriMo.
- Foundation: I’m not big into outlining until I have the first few chapters drafted. I do, however, need a good foundation, especially for a intense writing time like NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo. For me, this means having already drafted the first several thousand words of my project prior to the challenge beginning. Yeah I know, sounds like cheating, right? It’s not. I still write the targeted number of words in the month, it just means at the end I have about 60K instead of 50K. I try to have about 5-10K words written ahead of time. This allows me to hash out a lot of the things that bog us down in the beginning: the inciting event, the voice and POV of the piece, and the basic personality of the main character.
- Schedule: My day-to-day obligations are a bit different from Cameron’s. I work full time as an archaeologist, which requires me to spend four nights a week in a hotel with a bunch of hard-drinking outdoorsy types (a category that I do fit into on occasion). This doesn’t make it easy to find time to write, especially with 6am starts. I commit to waking up an hour early to get my creativity going. I don’t get a lot of words in the morning, but I do get inspired for the evening and plan out where my plot is going that day. After work is over, I try to get 1000+ words in the hour before my crew goes out to dinner.
- Research: Cameron includes research in her outlining, but for me they’re very different. Things like climate, technology, basic science are good things to know ahead of time. For example, when writing Travelers, I needed to know the climate of Chile during the summer, the tools Nel and her crew would use, and the archaeolgical timeline of South America. Most of these things I knew already from my own work and studies, but if I did have to double check and brush up on some details. I make sure that I know any hard facts that are integral to the plot of the book. Having these hammered out prevents epic re-writing or wasted writing time.
NaNoWriMo, though made up of sprints, is actually a marathon. You have to know when to slow up and when to give it your all. Preparing—even if you’re a pantser—is an important part of that. You don’t have to outline, but know what story you’re going to tell. You don’t have to write at the same time every day, but build in time each day.
Looking for some extra support? Check out our NaNoWriMo Support Group on Facebook, follow the @CampNaNoWriMo and @NaNoWriMo profiles and #NaNoWordSprints, #CampNaNoWriMo #CampNaNo hashtags on Twitter.
Cameron J Quinn, a pseudonym for Marissa Frosch, is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles, which can be found in most eBook Stores. She is also the Head of Marketing at Amphibian Press. She can found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and her website.
Tropes Vs Archetypes
I’ll start with some easy definitions:
Archetype: something that fits fundemental human motifs and is reused without becoming trite or stale.
Example: A mentor character, a Loveable Rogue.
Trope: culturally specific person or theme that is already present in the reader’s mind. Often becomes a cliche.
Example: Magical Native, Broken Bird.
I’ll get this out of the way now: your character is going to fit into some archetype. And that’s OK. It’s even good. Get over the whole “They’re an original perfect unique snowflake!” Now, tropes in and of themselves aren’t inherently bad, but they are often used poorly and become a shallow, lazy way to create a character that the term carries a pretty negative connotation. Lets take the above examples.
- Mentor vs Magical Native
There is always a mentor character in any journey. Good examples are Yoda in Star Wars, Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Qindra in Forged in Fire. They are wise, cryptic, powerful, and often a bit morally ambiguous. Within those guidelines there is tons of creative wiggle room. Now, if we look at a trope of a guiding/mentoring character, Magical Native, we see a big issue.
The character of a Magical Native is often the only character of color, and their entire existence centers around guiding the main character (often to ultimately Do The Thing better than people who studied it for hundreds of years). Characters who exist only for a single plot device are a problem, regardless of color or sex, but these are the roles most often given to marginalized folks.
- Loveable Rogue vs Broken Bird
She blazes in, weapon and tongue equally sharp with a rap-sheet as long as her list of complaints. He’s more likely to run and hide, but when he does fight it’ll be for Good (but not the Law) and with a barrage of snark. Character examples: George Cooper of the Song of the Lioness, Wesley of The Princess Bride, and Catwoman of Batman. Again, there’s a lot of ways a character can be built off of this archetype. Learning the over-used ones so we ca avoid them, is a great first step.
Broken Bird’s often have a good-but-bad personality type too. They were good-hearted but have a troubled past and lots of emotional (and sometimes physical) scars. They are interesting because they are “damaged.” Most of their character arc serves to show how not-shallow the main character is when they don’t give up on the Broken Bird. There’s usually a resolution that involves “fixing” said Bird. While I whole-heartedly endorse adding characters who had suffered trauma or are neurodiverse, you need to be sure you’re not perpetuating a harmful myth. People can’t be fixed with a kiss, and we shouldn’t pretend they can be.
Tropes and archetypes are a great instance to learn the rules so we can break them. There are many sites that have extensive lists on Tropes and their appearances in main stream culture. As authors we need to make sure we’re not perpetuating something negative — Manic Pixie Dream Girls(Boys) and Token Race characters are too common. Learn common archetypes and tropes in your genre. Why are they so often used? What are we doing to make them different (and we should be doing something). And above all, write characters that are People.
Let us know some of your favorite archetypes or pet-peeve tropes in the comments!
Here are five things you can do to make your MC seem more human:
- Know your character inside and out: No, I’m not suggesting you name your first child after your character and see what traits develop. What I am suggesting is you really develop them as if you were interviewing a person. What is their favorite food? What can’t they stand to eat? Do they have any pet peeves? What was their childhood like?
- Give them flaws: It’s incredibly difficult to connect to the perfect protagonist. By perfect I mean they do everything perfectly even the first time. For instance a character who takes a painting class and paints a masterpiece. You can have talent for art and still won’t be able to paint masterpiece on your first try. And if that’s art of your plot, then you need to give them a pretty significant flaw. Maybe they are the clumsiest person ever. (But maybe do a better job than Stephanie Meyers and E. L. James. of having their flaw not just be cute)
- Find their pain: Everyone has some kind of pain within them. Whether you feel that pain is valid or not, doesn’t actually matter. For example, if your antagonist is from a wealthy family and felt his mother never loved him, you may think that’s ridiculous, but you are not your character. You are creating someone new. And they need to believe 100% in their convictions. They don’t have to be your beliefs. This is really important for all characters but it gets lost and forgotten most when creating
- Make you main characters diverse:
Writing diverse characters adds to the realism and the interest of your story, and gives you more to write. While writing diversely is incredibly important, make sure you’re not perpetuating harmful stereotypes. If you’re writing a character who is a different race, gender, sexuality, culture, or is neurodiverse, do your research. Like in school, Wikipedia doesn’t count. Interview people, read books, and listen to other authors who have experience writing diverse characters. As far as physical descriptions go, check out the Writing With Color tumblr, which is an invaluable resource. It means the world to readers when they open a book and see themselves within the pages.
- Write some scenes about their life before the book’s plot begins: This is my favorite character building exercise! Write about your character in a situation that occurred before your novel starts. For The Starsboro Chronicles, I wrote the scenes where Trent and Zurik were kidnapped. The emotions of their parents and the people around them still affect their interactions. I also wrote a scene where Trent, as a little boy, sneaks off to follow Zurik in the woods and nearly drowns. This scene was pivotal to my understanding of Zurik’s need to keep Trent safe. These exercises are so much fun and you will surprised how much you learn about your characters, things you would have figured out as you wrote your novel, but now can be incorporated purposefully.
What is your favorite character building exercise? How well do you know your characters? Share in the comments below!
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and also writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. The first of her Starsboro Series is due out on January 16th. She can found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and her website.
For now, lets discuss setting. Whether you’re a world-builder or not, you can create a real, deep setting with just a few steps.
Step One: Laws of Nature
Every world has laws. In a thriller it could be that it is almost impossible to not leave DNA behind, or the physical limitations of the human body. If your book is set in our world you will need to research these aspects. Fantasy and science fiction worlds have laws too, but these need to be written. Maybe the law is that all creatures or elements have finite energy, and only certain species can manipulate that energy (magic, mana, and element-bending are all examples of this). In science fiction the law might be the speed at which spaceships travel (warp-speed, light speed, worm holes all play into this) and the physics behind interplanetary travel, which would require some research as well.
Once you’ve made your laws you must never break them. Readers notice. You may have heard of “Suspension of Disbelief.” If a world has laws, doesn’t break them, and the entire plot is plausible within those laws, then Suspension of Disbelief remains intact. If some aspect of your plot doesn’t work within your laws, then the plot needs to change. This can add additional hurtles for your characters and that’s always a good thing.
Step Two: Make it Real
Think about all the things you love about your home and the places you’ve visited. It’s not just the history of a place or it’s colors. It’s the way the ground feels under your feet, the way it smells, the sounds around you. If you want a great piece of world-building, (re-)read the first few paragraphs in “An Unexpected Party” in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Include all the senses you can think of, but moreover, include them through your character. Do they secretly revel in the sweet tang of the subway tunnels? Do they miss the sound of wagon wheels on cobbles in the morning?
Our world is a diverse place. We have so many different people, cultures, and biomes. Even if the entire story takes place in a small town, your world should show diversity and richness — the differing opinions of the owners of two general stores and the houses on the main street, versus those in the rural dirt roads. The larger your world is, the more diversity you need to include.
Step Three: You Are a God
I’m sure most of us have heard “God(dess) knows…” when someone refers to something they can’t fathom. You are the creator of your world. You will always know exponentially more about the world than your readers. This means for your readers to know a bit about your setting you need to know (either through brainstorming or research) five times that. A good analogy is that of an iceberg. Your readers see what juts above the surface; you see the entire thing. If you’re worried about how many details to include, ask your beta readers for setting-based feedback. How much you actually share will depend on the demographic you hope to attract and your genre — you don’t need the same scope when writing a cozy mystery or romance as you do when writing a multi-novel epic fantasy or space opera.
Developing your setting can be so much fun and lead to more stories within the same universe. If you keep these three steps in mind your readers will love your world as much as you and keep returning for more.
Here are the four things you need to write with children:
- Your Own Space: Preferably an office with a door that closes. This is something I do not have. Which makes life tough, for now. With my own space it would make it easier to get into the creative zone. With a door, I could potentially minimize distractions. I know that children cannot be stopped by a door, but “out of sight out of mind” goes a long way. That being said you need to make sure your child is safe. Please do not leave your toddler roaming free in your house.You know your child and the safety concerns in your home. If you cannot leave them alone because of their age or your living situation, nap time is your new best friend. Two hours is plenty of time to get those words everyday. And then there is bedtime. If your child goes down at 7:30 PM you can work till 9 PM and still get a full night’s rest. I know not all children are this accommodating, but if you want it, you will find it.
- Time: Once you have your space, you will need to designate time. Kids, as well as our brains, work better on a schedule. If you write at 9 AM every morning your brain will be ready to go. If you need someone to help out and watch the kids, try to make it a regular occurrence. For instance, every Tuesday morning you drop off the munchkin with your sister and head to the local coffee shop or library to get some words down. This helps your child know whats going on as well as prepares you for maximum productivity.
- A Plan: I know, I know, we all hate outlining, but guess what? If you have all the scenes of your novel planned out, those tiny little amounts of time while your child is sleeping or playing nicely will be a thousand times more productive. The goal is to finish the book, right? So, while your folding laundry or doing dishes, think about your story. Think about your characters. And for the love of God, write it down. You won’t remember. You have mommy brain. It doesn’t work like it used too.
- A Community: A writing group is really important. This doesn’t mean you need thirty friends who are writers and authors. It means you need one or two. These people should understand your goals and where you want to be, as well as your writing style. Hopefully they will share some of these this too. These people will hold you accountable as well assist you when writers block rears its ugly head.
Also, I know working and helping to pay the bills (Or paying them all yourself) is very important, but don’t forget, your kids are only little once. Every second that writing allows you to spend with them should be seen as the gift it really is. So, when you sit down to make that schedule, don’t forget to pencil in time to play dress up or ninja turtles. Maybe even snuggle and read a book to your little one.
Happy writing and happy parenting!
Writing a book is commendable, whether you’ve slaved away for ten years on a single manuscript or have a brand-new piece fresh from NaNoWriMo. It’s easy to coast on the high from finishing your work and think your book is ready to snag a 6-figure advance. It well might be one day, but you still have a long way to go. The road between completing your first draft and publishing is a bumpy one, but, man, does it have some great views.
Step One: Brag, Brag, Brag!
This is easy — celebrate! Tell your friends, your family, the clerk at your local bookstore. This will keep you excited about your project and build potential fans. When you’re further down the road these people will keep you accountable and give you support if you’re having a bad writing day. Trust me, you’ll need it.
Step Two: Put It Away
This is an often over-looked part of the writing process, but it’s so important. You’ve been up to your eyes in this project. You have been breathing nothing, but the characters and world. It’s time to step back, and for a while. Read some titles on your neglected To-Be-Read list and write reviews. Thinking about why certain aspects of others’ work appeals to you is a great way to hone your own craft. Try some new writing projects — bonus points if it’s a different genre, POV, or length than that of your manuscript. This will further remove you from your manuscript and give you much needed perspective. Work on building your author platform, network with other writers, and listen to what successful authors in your genre have to say. You might have plot or character epiphanies, and be sure to jot them down, but don’t open that document!
It’s hard to say when you’re ready to return to a piece, but my rule of thumb is at least a season — three months or so. The busier you have been, the better.
Step Three: Prodigal Project
You’ve read every book ever. You’ve followed 2170 people on Twitter and have three new projects that are seriously awesome. Time to return to The Manuscript. If you prefer hard copies print out your project — your local college should have free or cheep printing for large projects if you don’t have the resources to print at home. If you’re more of an e-book fan, convert your manuscript to the proper format (Calibre is a great resource for this) and send it to your e-reader of choice. If you want, make notes as you read, but don’t get bogged down with typos or sentence structure. This read-through is all about the big picture. Does the plot make sense? Is it realistic? Are your characters believable? Compelling? Do you have subplots? Have you avoided tropes? Make notes as you read, but don’t revise or edit until you’ve finished reading the project in its entirety — this is the beauty of reading on paper or e-book, versus the document itself.
Step Four: Breaking Bones
You’ve read your book. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s terrible. Either way, now you’re going to make it awesome. Open a new document. I love side-by-side revisions, rewriting the entire piece, but with the first draft as a reference. You can worry about genre, word-count, even filler scenes later. Those are the fat and skin of your book. Now you just need to worry about the bones. You might find that what started as a 120K word epic fantasy is now a 80K urban fantasy. That’s OK. This is a good time to lean on your support network of other authors.
Breaking the bones will be hard, but it’s so worth it, and I promise your writing and The Manuscript itself will be stronger for it.
Step Five: Feedback
You’ve finished your next draft. Now it’s time to take your project out into the wide world. Find some Beta readers — reaching out through social media works well, and there are some great sites that help connect authors and readers. Trading with another author at the same point in the revision process is a great way to build readership and read undiscovered work. Find two or three people who read or write your genre and send your first chapter — after asking, of course! See if their critique works for you. Try to find people who are your desired demographic, but still diverse. You want as many opinions as possible. There are sure to be some false starts, but good beta readers are worth their weight in gold.
Remember, your writing will never be perfect and you will need to make changes, but also stay true to your intent and voice. Try to refrain from revising while your book is out with betas. Use this time as a second round of Step Two.
Finally, Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Go back to Step Three. It will feel like you’ve re-written this book a hundred times. You’re going to feel like you’re fantastic one day and a failure the next. On bad days, make sure to take the time to do things that make you happy and ground you. You will start to hate The Manuscript and think everything you write is trash. DON’T DELETE IT. Read positive feedback and search for inspiration in your outside life. If all else fails, step away for a week or two.
Stick through it, though, because I promise it gets better. One day you’ll read through it and will realize it’s exactly as you want it to be.
2016 Goals from V. S. Holmes
Consequently, 2016 has some big shoes to fill.
Writing — drafting, in particular — is tough when I work 40-60 hours a week and spend 4 nights a week in a hotel with some first-class partying co-workers. I had some high hopes this past summer that were left by the wayside in favor of networking with a new company. Turns out being an introvert doesn’t count when everyone is socially awkward.
This potential time-constraint is something I’m factoring into my 2016 goals.
- February 27th is the projected release date for TRAVELERS, the first in a series of sci-fi novellas following badass archaeologist Nel Bently.
- May will bring the release of Lightning and Flames, the second book in Reforged, my epic fantasy series. The final round of edits will need to be completed by April, as well as the cover design. I learned the fun way with Smoke and Rain that formatting a cover with a different spine takes a lot of time.
- I will finish the draft of Madness and Gods, the third Reforged book by August, ready for its publication date in November.
- I will finish the draft of Drifters, the second Nel Bently book, via NaNoWriMo and have it ready for release in the beginning of 2017.
As daunting as this looks when I type it out, I’m so excited to continue this awesome journey and share it with all of you every step of the way.