Write Your Novel From the Middle

The last two posts I’ve written have been centered around my rediscovery of writing. A search that actually began months ago, even before my encounter with creative silence. I won’t bore you with all of the history again, since I’ve written about all of it (including the creative silence) elsewhere on this blog. Read When You Find Yourself Becalmed and How to Get in Writing Shape After a Long Absence.

Part of my search happened to be reading two books on writing by James Scott Bell. Both have intrigued me since I first heard about them. Only lately, however, have I had the opportunity to read them.

The first is called The Art of War for Writers. Who wouldn’t wonder what a book like that is about? As it turns out, it’s not about writing war scenes. It’s a book of short tips, suggestions, and encouragements based on The Art of War, written by ancient Chinese General Sun Tsu. Most of the entries are less than two pages long. Some aren’t even a page long. But it’s a helpful and encouraging book and I urge you to get a copy if you don’t already have one.

The second book is Write Your Novel From the Middle. Yes, it’s another book on designing story, but it’s not just another book on designing story. It delves into basic story structure, but only to lay the foundation for the real meat of the book, which is uncovering your lead character’s arc. Or, as Bell puts it, discovering what your story is really all about.

Write Your Novel From The MiddleIn The Middle of Things

…Virtually all books on the [writing] craft approach it as another “plot” point. Something external happens that changes the course of the story. But what I detect is a character point, something internal, which has the added benefit of bonding audience and character on a deeper level.

Ordinarily, I don’t read books about how to write while I’m writing. It’s counterproductive.

But I did this time because I’d hit a wall with the story I was working on. I knew how I wanted the plot to unfold, but could not for the life of me figure out how to write the first act. Nothing was working. It was as simple as that.

In the process of thinking through the problem, I came across Write Your Novel From the Middle and thought, I need to read that book. I set aside one afternoon and read it cover to cover in about four hours—including taking notes. As I read, a door gradually creaked open. Through that widening crack, I could see not only the problem with the current work-in-progress but with a story I’ve finished a dozen times over the last twenty years but have never been happy with.

It’s All About What Happens to the Lead Character

In a character-driven story, [the character] looks at himself and wonders what kind of person he is. What is he becoming? If he continues the fight of Act 2, how will he be different? What will he have to do to overcome himself? Or how will he have to change in order to battle successfully?

The second type of look is more for plot-driven fiction. It’s where the character looks at himself and considers the odds against him. At this point the forces seem so vast that there is virtually no way to go on and not face certain death. That death can be professional, physical, or psychological.

These two basic thoughts are not mutually exclusive. For example, an action story may be given added heft by incorporating the first kind of reflection into the narrative. This happens in Lethal Weapon when Riggs bares his soul to Murtaugh, admitting that killing people is “the only thing I was ever good at.”

Rather than thinking of the turning point in the middle of the story as the second major turning point (which is what I usually do), Bell was telling me to look at it as a moment of truth, what he calls a Look in the Mirror Moment, for the lead character. It’s the moment at which the character is forced to look at himself in a mirror. What he sees has the potential to change the direction of the story.

More importantly, what he sees and his response to it is what the story is about.

Once you know what your character sees when he looks into the mirror, you can work backward to set up the circumstances and backstory that create the original condition. You can also work forward to the end of the story, when your character either changes or refuses to change. Those three points—the pre-story condition, the Mirror Moment, and the post story condition of the lead character—make up the Golden Triangle.

The real beauty of understanding how this character arc works is that you can use it at any stage in the writing process. That story in progress of mine? It’s at the perfect point to figure out the lead character’s Golden Triangle.

The same is also true for that twenty-year-old story or for the next story I work on.

It also works for every type of writer. Planner, pantser, or tweener. It doesn’t matter how you write or how little or much of your story you’ve written.

After reading the book, I sent an email to Mr. Bell thanking him for the book and asking for a guest post or permission to excerpt the book. He instead granted permission to glean a few gems from his original post on Write Your Novel From the Middle, which appeared at The Kill Zone in July 2013. You now know the gems I gleaned. Read the full post here. You won’t regret it.

Nor will your work in progress!

Top 4 Podcasts for Indie Authors

2015-12-30 headphones earbuds podcasts listen soundIndie publishing is a new and rapidly developing industry. There’s so much more to know beyond how to format an ebook and upload it to Amazon. (For instance, did you know many authors are finding huge success through Facebook ads, and that building your email list is still the top marketing recommendation?)

There are only so many hours in a day, and most of mine are split between either writing my next book or working on the admin that surrounds being a full-time author. For me, the best way to keep abreast of news and advice is to listen to podcasts while walking the dog or burning making dinner.

I’ve dug up a number of favorites, and I have no hesitations about recommending them to you. These people are leaders on the indie publishing scene – so if you aren’t paying attention to them already, you should be!

2015-12-30 Top 4 Podcasts for Indie Authors

The Creative Penn

2015-12-30 The Creative Penn PodcastThis is THE place to go if you want to hear a top indie author interviewing other top indie authors. If you have time for only one podcast, it should probably be this one. Joanna Penn is enthusiastic about staying on the very cutting edge of the indie publishing industry – with an eye toward future technology and the global market – and is usually the first to bring new, practical, actionable opportunities to my attention.

The Self Publishing Podcast

2015-12-30 The Self Publishing PodcastThis is all things indie publishing by three full-time authors: Johnny, Sean, and Dave. These guys decided to go simple in naming their blog – and actually, they really don’t need to say anything more. (But Sean probably will.) Every episode brings musings on self-publishing sore spots or in-depth interviews with other top indie authors … plus a lot of antics and BSing. (Be forewarned: adult language.)

Rocking Self Publishing

2015-12-30 Rocking Self PublishingSimon Whistler, an audiobook narrator with an addictive British accent, interviews indie authors who have done well, eliciting both their writing and marketing secrets. I can’t lie: while the fore-going podcasts frequently sport bigger names in the industry, this one is actually my favorite. A delightful listen every time, and Simon never fails to deliver ideas you can sit right down and apply to your writing strategy today. He makes it even easier with “action steps” in the show notes to every episode.

The Sell More Books Show

2015-12-30 Sell More Books ShowThis podcast sports a completely different format from the others. Instead of interviews with successful authors, the center of this podcast revolves around the delivery of five news items every week, gleaned from across the indie publishing industry. If something significant has shifted (KU pages read, anybody?), you’ll hear about it here!

There you have it – my four favorite podcasts. What podcasts do you recommend? Tell us in the comments!

New Release! 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing (Part I)

CS Lakin - 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction WritingIndie Plot Twisters, we are thrilled to present to you what promises to be a fascinating new book, 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. I’m in possession of an advance reader copy, and from what I’ve read so far, I have to say, I’m captivated!

What sets this book apart is not just the fact that it was written by five (count them: five) editors, who together give a very round view of twelve writing sore spots; but also the way they show before-and-after sample texts to illustrate what they really mean.

Following is an excerpt from the book explaining objective omnisicient POV. And if you think that’s fun – next week we’re featuring the next section on subjective omniscient POV! Both are written by C. S. Lakin, on of the five editors who contributed to this book. Don’t forget to stick around for the book giveaway! (Details at the end of the post.)

And now … enjoy!

2015-11-16 Objective Omniscient POV

Objective Omniscient POV

2015-11-16 sigting scope telescope binoculars view see searchNot a whole lot of writers use omniscient POV anymore, for various reasons (that I won’t go into in this post), but there are times when it’s a great choice. Let’s take a look at some ways omniscient POV might be used.

Objective omniscient POV is a narrator without a “voice.” Essentially the narrator is invisible; no personality comes through. Events are related as they happen, but the narrator doesn’t share insights, reactions, or opinions. This POV is a silent camera, recording the scene.

Since an objective POV can only show actions and dialogue, what the characters feel can only be implied by their actions and speech. That means writers can’t use “to be” verbs such as “he felt” and “she assumed.” That also nixes telling emotions: “She was angry (or sad or frustrated).” Take a look at this example:

Before:

Diane Chandler stood on the ledge of her eighth-floor office windowsill, afraid to look down at the heavy traffic below on Fifth Avenue. Her heart pounded as she inched out in her expensive Gucci high heels. Wind whipped at her, making her wobble. She clenched her hands tighter on the railing, her nails digging into the flesh of her palms.

But she ignored the slight pain in her hands, steeling herself for the greater pain she would soon feel when she tumbled to the street below.

She gulped, wishing there was some other way.  But there wasn’t. She had ruined everything. Her life was a disaster. Her boss would fire her once he found out the truth. And John . . . that traitorous friend! Telling her he’d keep his mouth shut if she paid him off. She knew where that would lead—to a lifetime of blackmail.

Diane squeezed her eyes shut, trying to muster the courage to take that small, final step. She sucked in a breath, but then heard something behind her.

“Wait!”

Diane’s heart sank to her feet. How had her boss found out so quickly? Traitor John must have run straight to Moore’s office after watching her pull the money from the safe.

“Diane, please. We’ll work this out. You don’t have to do this.”

Diane shook her head, not daring to turn to look at him. He didn’t understand. Couldn’t understand. He could sweet-talk her all he wanted. She’d still go to jail. And she’d never see her baby again. She couldn’t bear the thought of her daughter seeing her behind bars. No, she couldn’t bear it. Better for Angela to grow up never remembering her mother. I’m sorry, sweetie. But Aunt Judy loves you. She’ll take good care of you. Better than I ever could.

Moore spoke again, and she heard the frantic urging in his voice. But it rolled over her like the wind. Tears spilled down her face. She loosened her grip on the railing and sucked in a breath.

Then stepped out into the welcoming sky.

I hope you can see this is truly deep third-person POV. I spent much time going into Diane’s thoughts and feelings. And if that is truly my intent, I should stick with this POV. However, if I want to convey a detached objective take on this scene, wanting distance from emotion and a more insensitive camera feel, then the objective omniscient POV would be better.

Even if your novel is written in shifting third-person POV, it’s common to see partial or even whole scenes in omniscient POV. Usually you’ll see this at the start of a scene or in a novel’s opening scene. The reason is the writer wants to keep distance, prevent the reader from seeing and knowing too much of what is going on. This can add mystery and grab the reader’s interest right away, making her curious as to what is really going on.

If I wanted that effect in my opening scene, for example. I would write it using the objective omniscient POV. Let’s assume I’m the camera, and although positioned in the building across the way, I have a great telephoto lens and can get fairly close to the character. Take a look at the rewrite:

After:

A woman stood on the ledge of an eighth-floor office windowsill, her eyes closed and her hands gripping the wrought-iron railing that framed the window. She inched out on high heels. Wind whipped at her, and she wobbled.

Moments passed as the traffic below moved in fits and starts.

The woman stiffened.

“Wait!” A man’s voice came from behind her, inside the office.

The woman kept her eyes closed, her head tipped back. She did not turn around.

“Diane, please. We’ll work this out. You don’t have to do this.”

The woman shook her head.

The man spoke again. “Listen, just listen. Don’t move. Just take my hand—”

She loosened her grip on the railing and sucked in a breath. Then stepped out into the air.

Of course the After passage is much shorter. Out went all the things Diane knows and thinks and feels. What’s left is just what my camera records. The dialogue, the action.

My camera doesn’t know what brand of shoe she is wearing. Nor does it know it’s the wind that’s making her wobble (see the subtle difference in how I rewrote that phrase?). She could be wobbling because of her nerves. My camera doesn’t know the characters’ names or their relationships, so they can only be a man and a woman (until Moore says her name). That much I can tell from across the street. I decided I couldn’t see her tears, but I could tell by her body language that she sucked in a breath.

Each passage has a very different style and creates a wholly different reader experience. So it’s up to you, the writer, to decide what you want the reader to experience and choose your POV accordingly.

The Book Giveaway

Susanne and her fellow author/editors have one free copy of 5 Editors Tackle the Twelve Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing for our readers – an ebook edition, any format. To enter the drawing, just scroll down and leave a comment in answer to this question: What fatal flaw of writing will make you stop reading a novel you just started? We’ll pick a winner based on our favorite answer! The drawing will end on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. CST. Good luck!

About the Author

CS LakinC. S. Lakin is the author of sixteen novels and five writing craft books. Her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive gives tips and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers, and her Writer’s Toolbox series gives fiction writers everything they need to know to create compelling, solid stories.

The newest release—5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing—is available here and features more than sixty detailed Before and After examples of flawed and corrected passages to help authors learn to spot flaws in their writing.

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About Her Book

CS Lakin - 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction WritingFiction writers often struggle to improve their craft. And the biggest challenge comes from the inability to see what isn’t working. The prose feels off. The scene isn’t gelling. The dialogue sounds stilted or clunky. But they don’t know why or how to fix it.

This book lays it all out.

5 Editors Tackle the Twelve Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing demonstrates the deadly dozen pitfalls on the road to a strong story, along with revisions that show writers exactly how to avoid novel failure. Buy it on Amazon!

Book Review: Write a Novel in 10 Minutes a Day

write-a-novel-in-10-minutes-a-dayWant to learn how to write your first novel – but crunched for time? You should pick up a copy of Write a Novel in Ten Minutes a Day  by Katharine Grubb.

Grubb walks you through the entire process, from arranging your life to fit your writing, to the nuts and bolts of good story telling, all the way to polishing and publishing your new book.

A home-schooling mother of five, Grubb writes from personal experience. She got her first novel written and published by putting her computer in her kitchen, setting timers, and fitting as many ten-minute getaways into her day as possible. Her goal was not to get it done fast (it took five years to write that first novel), but to get it done.

Being the famously bad time manager that I am, I was of course primarily interested in her techniques for getting the writing done despite life. She had some excellent pointers on assessing your life and looking for ways to streamline – such as eliminating or delegating tasks you don’t really need to do.

The primary feature of the book is a series of writing exercises in every chapter, each of which can be done in just 10 minutes. By the time you’ve timered your way to the end of the book, you should have written your first novel in just 10 minute increments!

Two more points I loved were her advice to read non-Western writers as a way to develop your writing voice, and a great questionnaire you can send to your beta readers along with your manuscript to help them read your book critically.

If you’re just getting started as a writer, and don’t have a lot of time to do it in, Write a Novel in Ten Minutes a Day  will take you where you want to go. I also highly recommend the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group, and the weekly #10MinNovelists Twitter chat on Thursdays at 7:00 Eastern.

Buy Her Book on Amazon

About the Author

Katharine GrubbKatharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward, PTSD survivor, and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. She lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her new novel, Soulless Creatures, which is about two 18 year old boys, not vampires, will be released August 2015.

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