Posted in NaNo, On Writing

NaNo Prep: Expanding Ideas

The second step of my NaNo prep is to expand on the idea I’ve come up with. There are a few methods that I use to expand on my ideas. Occasionally I will use one over the others but for the most part I use a bit of each of them.

Expanding With Word Clouds

This is basically the same as my last post except I already have an idea of what I’m writing instead of trying to figure it out.

When I use this method it is usually to write non-fiction. Each cloud outside of the central cloud is used as either a secondary topic or an expansion on a secondary topic.

Expanding With Lists

Similar to word clouds, this method involves word association. However, instead of placing each item in its own cloud, you write them into an unordered list. Once you have completed your list, you can organize it so that it is more fluid.

Again, this is a method that I use when writing non-fiction. However, when I already have a basic plot for a story, I will use this method to organize it.

Expanding With Conflicts

For this method you need to add conflicts to your idea. Occasionally for this method I will pair it with the “What If” game. For instance “What if zombies appeared?” or “What if the main character finds out they are ill?”

Once a conflict is added, it must then be made worse with a complication. For instance, the main character finds out they are ill. This can be made complicated by it being a hereditary disease and the main character is adopted. Perhaps they always knew they were adopted and never felt the need to find their birth family or maybe they never knew they were adopted.

This is one of my favourite methods for planning fiction as it allows plots to form organically.

Expanding With Questions

This is probably my favourite method of idea expansion because I find it the most fun. Quite literally the only thing you have to do is ask a question and answer it. Each answer should bring up another question. This builds up the idea because you are constantly answering new questions.

While the other methods work for fiction and non-fiction outlines, this method is my preferred one for world building. It may help me with plots and outlines but I find it usually builds more backstory than main story.

 

Let me know in the comments if these helped you with your NaNo planning or if you laugh in the face of outlines and are planning to pants.

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Posted in NaNo, On Writing

NaNo Prep: Word Clouds

One of my favourite methods of pre-writing is word clouds (also known as mind maps, word nets, and clustering). I find that this is the best way for me to come up with subplots which are connected to the main idea without overshadowing it or being too unlikely. It also helps me if I have a very rough idea (such as a genre) and I want to narrow it down into a writable plot.

To start, take your idea and write it in the middle of a sheet of paper. Then, draw a cloud around it. This is what I like to affectionately call “the beginning”.

As you think about the beginning, write down all of the ideas you associate with it. Circle these ideas and connect them to the beginning with lines. (To see an example, look at the image down below.)

If you think of things associated with an idea but not the beginning, write those down and connect them to the idea. If you think of something associated with several ideas, connect it to all of the ideas you associate it with. It is also perfectly ok to start a new cloud from an idea if you find yourself running out of room on the original page or if one idea has more associations than all the others.

Continue making these clouds and connections until you have either run out of ideas or feel you have enough ideas to create an outline.

Word Clouds

 

Posted in On Writing

NaNo Prep: Planning or Pantsing

I am a planner. I have been my entire life. I make plans then back up plans and I’ve even been known to make back up plans for my back up plans. So I guess you could say that I over plan.

In my writing I have found that if I have my plans fully set out then the words flow faster and easier than when I’m pantsing. If I know my characters and all of their backstories, they come alive on the page. If I know my world then it becomes pictures instead of words.

When I attempt to pants through my stories and posts the words stutter worse than a stalled car engine. The characters are zombies and the settings are wastelands. I end up spending more time worrying about the story than writing it.

Other writers have the opposite problem as me. When they plan their stories they find themselves too restricted by the plans. Characters sound forced and worlds become encyclopedia entries. When these writers pants, their words catch fire and light up with passion.

However most writers find themselves somewhere in the middle of both extremes. Part planner and part pantser, they find themselves with a loose plan that can change with the story. Perhaps they have fleshed out characters but limited plot. Or they may have a world but no characters. Too much planning and they are restricted; but too much pantsing and they don’t know what to write. So they hover in that grey area of the in-between.

None of these options is inherently bad. It is all in how you put together your final work and the method in which your words flow best.

And it is the words that count.

Posted in A.P. Roberts, On Writing, Reality in Fiction, Useful Sites

Reality in Fiction: Transplants Part Two

Warning: This post is the continuation of last week’s post. It was even more difficult for me to get through as some of these issues are still current in my SO’s health. If you have questions, please ask. As well, if you have opinions or information, please feel free to share in the comments.

POST-TRANSPLANT

Recovery is different for every transplant but in each instance recovery can take time. Most transplants require patients to be hospitalized for at least a few days post-transplant so that the doctors can closely monitor their recovery process.

Each patient reacts to recovery in a different way. Some patients may find they recover at a fairy quick pace without many incidents. Other patients may find they recovery quickly at the beginning but start to slow down the further into their recovery that they get. There are patients who find their recovery is a slow process which may require another transplant before they reach full health. And, sadly, there are patients who may never recover their health after transplant. All of these occurrences are normal.

Continue reading “Reality in Fiction: Transplants Part Two”

Posted in A.P. Roberts, On Writing, Reality in Fiction, Useful Sites

Reality in Fiction: Transplants Part One

Warning: This post was difficult for me to write due to the subject being so close to my heart. I apologize in advance if this is not edited to my normal quality as I had a difficult time reading it through. As well, if there is anything you feel I have missed, please let me know. I am planning a part 2 for transplants to include more information I gathered over the last few years.

The first thing to remember about transplants is that every transplant is different and every transplant patient has a different experience. Both transplant and recovery can vary greatly from patient to patient.

FINDING OUT

Patients who require transplants usually find out about their need because they become very ill. In fact, it can be obvious from looking at the patient that there is something wrong. They go to the doctor because of these symptoms and are given tests to find out the problem. Once the doctor figures out why the symptoms are present in the patient, they may refer the patient to a specialist. It may be the family doctor or the specialist who diagnoses the specific issue that requires transplant.

Continue reading “Reality in Fiction: Transplants Part One”

Posted in On Writing, Reality in Fiction, Useful Sites

Reality in Fiction: Absent Parents

There are an untold number of stories on the internet where teenagers have absent parents. While this can give the writer of the story more leeway into what their young characters can do, it is also very unrealistic.

This is not to say that there are no parents out there who leave their children alone for long periods of time. Nor am I saying that there are no parents who care as little for their children as they do for a stranger. What I am saying is that these scenarios are not the norm and constitute bad parenting.

If parents leave their under-aged children alone, there must be a reason. For instance, the parent may work away from home or during the evenings. Single parents may need to work several jobs. Other parents may be neglectful because they never wanted kids or they want to party.

Regardless of the reason for the under-aged children being left alone, there are consequences.

Continue reading “Reality in Fiction: Absent Parents”

Posted in On Writing, Reality in Fiction, Useful Sites

Reality in Fiction: Grief

There are many things which can be grieved and what connects them all is loss. People will grieve the loss of a job just as much as they will grieve the loss of a person. If it involves a loss, then it also involves grief.

Loss can be grieved in any number of ways. The grief may be express quickly which will also begin the healing process quickly or the grief may take years to be expressed in which case the healing may never come.

Unfortunately, there are many stories where the writer forgets that their character is grieving. When the writer forgets about the character’s loss, the character also forgets about their loss. This means that the character does not deal with their grief.

If grief is not dealt with, it can get worse. Grief can turn into depression or complicated grief which may require professional help.

The most well-known stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages can overlap, repeat, or skip; and there is no set timeline nor set order for the stages.

Continue reading “Reality in Fiction: Grief”

Posted in On Writing, Useful Sites, Writing Rants

Abuse in Fiction: Romance

It seems like every other romance story found on the internet has aspects of abuse throughout the story. Whether this abuse is from one of the main characters to the other or from a secondary character toward a main character, the abuse is usually written in a way that makes it seem alright. In some cases the abuse is glamorized and in other cases it is glossed over as unimportant information.

This bothers me as there are many people who are victims of abuse and this abuse is neither unimportant nor glamorous.

Continue reading “Abuse in Fiction: Romance”

Posted in On Writing, Useful Sites, Writing Rants

Abuse in Fiction: Backstories

Many lazy writers attempt to create reader sympathy by saying that their main character was abused. At times these writers will include a chapter or two which involves the abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse is rarely dealt with in a healthy manner and tends to be quickly forgotten by the writer.

Words cannot describe how much this angers me.

Abuse affects people’s emotions and thought processes. Different people react differently to abuse. Different types of abuse affect people in different ways. Whether the abused realizes that the abuse affects their life or not, there are lasting effects that need to be dealt with.

If you must have your character abused in their past, make sure you include some of the side effects in their characterization.

Don’t include abuse simply because you want readers to feel sorry for your characters. Victims of abuse deserve so much better than you making light of what they have gone through. They are so strong to have come out the other end despite the scars they may carry. Please, if you include abuse, do them justice by writing it well and doing your research.

I’m not an expert on the effects of abuse and I don’t claim to be. Everything I know comes from what I’ve witnessed and through research. The following links are to some of my favourite, trusted sites that I go to when I need more information about this particular topic.

Posted in On Writing, Writing Rants

Why Writers Should Read

One of my friends* told me that he was an avid writer. I was ecstatic because none of my other friends at the time understood how much I loved to write. I asked him what genre he preferred to write in and he responded with a confused look. So then I asked him what authors he took inspiration from. At that point he uttered something which I found difficult to believe. He told me that he doesn’t read.

I found it extremely difficult to understand how someone could be an avid writer but not read anything. However, when I read his story, I finally believed that he does not read very much, if at all.

His stories were riddled with errors which made them almost impossible to get through. Truth be told, if he wasn’t a close friend I wouldn’t have bothered reading past the first few lines. He stopped writing a few years ago as he found other hobbies to fill his time but I will never forget the lesson he taught me about writing; those who wish to improve their writing should read.**

I’ve learned many things about writing through reading the stories of others. Every time I read a well written book, my writing knowledge grows. Through reading I have improved my characters, description, plots, grammar, and spelling.

 Characters

While my character ideas come from people I have met in my life, the way I describe my characters is inspired by the stories I have read. If I read a story with well written characters, I ask myself what it is I like about the character and how can I emulate that in my writing.

For some stories, I like that the character is believable. I like how the character reacts to situations and that their personality grows in a normal manner. Characters take their time to fall in love and are cautious about doing something which hurt them before.

In other stories I like how the author shares information about the character without interfering with the plot. It takes a lot of work to be able to filter in back-story and physical description without slowing down the action.

Description

In general I have trouble writing out description without bogging down my stories. I can never tell while I’m writing if I’ve included enough description or if I’ve written too much. What may seem like good description to me, pales in comparison to the description of other writers.

Anton Chekov famously said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” When I compare my description to others, I feel as if I’m telling readers that the moon is shining whereas they are showing the glint of light.

I take notes when I find sections of description I like. Sometimes the description is very short, slipped into action without slowing the pace of the story. At other times the author gets into the character’s head and reader learns how the character views the world from the description given.

Through these notes, I’ve realized that many of my favourite authors only use relevant description. Everything they describe helps readers understand the plot more fully. Because of this, when I’m revising my works for description, I rate the passages against relevance to the plot.

Plot

Of course, description is of no use if the plot line is confused. While plots may seem like one of the easiest parts of a story, they can prove the trickiest if the writer doesn’t have sense of what makes a plot good.

Any writer who has pantsed their way through a long story can tell you how easily the plot can derail from your beginning idea. Plot holes form that you skip over because you don’t want to lose your current train of thought. A simple scene can make you change who your main characters are or where you start your story. Sub-plots can appear that you may not have thought of or can disappear before they are resolved.

The only way to remedy these is to know what takes away from your plot and what helps your plot. In order for you to know this, you need to figure out what your plot is.

When I was first starting out in my writing path, I use to compare my plot lines to those of faery tales. I would make a list of all the events which happen in the faery tale and I would make a similar list of the events in my story. Once the lists were made I would see if my list flowed as nicely as the faery tale list. Most of the time my list did not match up nicely against the faery tale. Sometimes the events would jump, as if there were a scene or two missing. Other times there would be scenes that would work better in another story.

While I can now pick out plot holes and unnecessary scenes without comparing against another plot, it has taken years to develop this skill.

Grammar

As with developing my plotting skills, it has taken me years to develop what I consider a passing knowledge of grammar. Reading has taught me how well written grammar should look. By knowing what good grammar is, I can more easily catch the grammar mistakes in my works.

That being said, reading does not teach everything about grammar unless you are reading grammar and style books. Reading is not the only way to learn grammar but it is one of the best starting points for new writers.

Spelling

Similar to grammar, reading can help give writers a start on proper spelling. This trick only works when stories have been edited for spelling. Reading allows the writer to know what the words should look like. The more familiar writers become with correctly spelled words, the more likely they will spell the words correctly themselves.

Summary

For those who skipped the majority of this post, the TL;DR version is as follows. Through reading properly edited works which are similar to what you are writing, you will be able to better catch the mistakes which you make. This is simply because of familiarity. The more familiar with something you are, the more you can see the differences.

These are the ways reading has improved my writing. How has reading improved yours? Do you disagree with any of the points I made?

 

* I am withholding the name of my friend as he is a very gentle creature who is extremely creative. While his writing was an extreme case, I have also read many online stories which contain one or more of these traits.

** There is a vast difference between reading to improve your writing style and comparing your writing against another’s work. There is also a difference between gaining knowledge from reading and plagiarizing someone’s work.