WRITING: Make a Plan

One of the things I do with new clients and/or authors is have them take me through their process. Some authors are “Pantsers” and others are “Planners”. Regardless of what your process is, you need to have a plan for when the story gets long enough. Keeping everything in order is a huge task. There are several ways I teach the process because everyone is different. Some are OK with hearing the explanation, others need to see it.

Stick with me a few min’s here while I go through a couple of steps. If any of them help you, please comment and let me know! I always like to hear feedback so I can continue to get better and help more authors!

Map One

The picture above is what I call “sorting it out”. Notice they are all chaotic and out of sorts? That’s OK. It’ll make sense to you once we go further. For those of you who say this is a lot of work? Trust me. For authors/writers whose thought process is all over the place, this is a good tool to use to learn how to sort through the whirlwind of ???’s they have bouncing around an overactive mind.

So, you have this amazing idea, right? Great!

Now, what you want do is throw the thoughts out like darts. Get them all out! You can use different color pens, different symbols, etc., to keep things in order and to differentiate. Stars can be characters or minor details, the pink circles can be larger ideas you want to connect (the lines) so you know how to put it all together when you begin to write.

Once you’ve done the sorting (think laundry!) you can move onto one/more of the next process:

This map is where we begin to streamline and make sense of the chaos. Remember! More experienced writers may not need to sort the dirty laundry. It’s fine to start where you feel comfortable and what your skill level allows. A lot of my clientele say, “I have this concept but I have no idea where to go with it!” In those cases, we need to analyze how much of the story we really have to work with before we start throwing words down.

As much as it’s important to “just write” it’s also important to have a direction. Many new writers can get hung up on details, or not having an end in sight. It’s similar to being tossed in a city you’re unfamiliar with then left to find your way home. It can be daunting and discouraging. Taking an author by the hand and helping them to sort through the storm while encouraging them to listen to their own inner voice is the best assistance you can give them.

Now, on to the next step:

Map Two

Take all the “darts” and start arranging them by importance to your story. Answer the “W” questions, figure out the “How” and develop your “Resolution”. Once you’ve completed a portion of these things, you should-in theory-have a great foundation for your piece. If you want to stop and jot some words down, this is the best time to do it. It’s fresh in your mind, the creative juices are going, and you’re developing ideas you may want (or have forgotten) to integrate.

SUGGESTION: Fill in the blanks with pencil so you can erase/change/alter.

Do you have a story you’re stuck on? If so, do any of these maps help you? If you use the techniques, I would love to know if they helped/hindered you! Comment below and let’s write!

Stay tuned for the next tutorial and more “maps” for getting the story out. If you like what I have to say, you can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.

#Mentoring #WritingTips – Make Every Word Count

Today I want to address words and how to make them count. I know I’ll get some pushback on this from the masses but remember: these are only my opinions. Use what works for you.

When I start mentoring someone new, I ask them to go through their story and remove a certain word first thing. The word, “that”. This word is what I call an empty calorie (junk food) among the serving of healthy words. It’s become overused these days because it’s common speak (street talk, as I call it).

Try it. Go through one paragraph and remove the word that if it doesn’t change the sentence. Now read it again. Does it sound more concise? Do you miss the word if it’s gone? Does it give your sentence a “gut punch” effect? Finally, does it make your words and their delivery sound more confident?

Trust me, I still have to go through and remove them from my own writing. What I’ve noticed, however, is it’s such an overused and unnecessary word, it drenches the pages. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled 6 books off the shelf to peruse the first page, how many jumped off the page at me. I couldn’t continue reading because the sheer number of “that’s” took me out of the story before it ever began.

Go through your own story in Word. Do a word search for “that” and see how many times you’ve used it. Is it 20 times? 50? More?

The next step after removing unnecessary “that’s” is to search for any word ending in -ly.

Here’s where I get challenged most often: using an -ly adverb is lazy. I know. Hearing it stings. That’s what mentoring is, though. Correcting bad habits and creating good ones.

Ok, why do we remove them?

Reason number 1: Most -ly adverbs (quickly, slowly, quietly) can be considered perspective.

Example: He backed up slowly.

How slow? If someone is backing up, are they surprised? Afraid? Dizzy?

Try using your words and make them count.

He took a few steps back. Each step was tentative, seeking the ground beneath him to keep from tripping.

Or

I raised my hand in slow motion, the room spinning around me.

Or

Unsure of where the chair was, I took one slow step back before the other followed.

See how it gives the sentences a better visual? Instead of using “slowly” I gave a better idea of what slowly looked like.

Most times, you can change the position of a few words to eliminate the -ly word and it will make the sentence sound more confident, leaving the reader with a solid description of what’s happening. Adding -ly gives a meek sound to your words and gives the impression of a week vocabulary.

Are you up for the challenge? Give this a try and let me know if it worked for you. Do you feel it made your story more confident sounding? I’d love to hear from you!


If you love these tips and want more, please comment and share!

Frightmare Weekend Review

As a publisher and author, I’m constantly on the hunt for the best con suited for my genre which is horror/dark fiction. In the past year, I’ve attended four as a vendor (those reviews to come). This past weekend, I attended Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, for the first time. Here are my thoughts:

The Staff:
Most of the staff was amazing and friendly. A special shout out to Rachel, who-despite being there for hours-was good natured and fun. On Saturday, having heard how crazy the crowd gets on that day, I got to the convention at 8:45 (it started at 11 AM for non-VIP passes). With my band on my wrist, I stood in line to get into one of the general vendor rooms. It was already bustling with other conventioners (I made that word up, sue me) intent on getting in line early to see Clive Barker. Since this is my first year, I had lots of questions. Each of the staff smiled and chatted with me, exuding their genuine desire to be there.

The Venue:
I have to say, while the venue was beautiful and extremely well-organized, it was too small. If you have issues with social anxiety or claustrophobia, beware. I likened the experience to being in a giant, over-crowded elevator. It was hard to maneuver through tables, bodies, exhibits, etc. If you are buying multiple items, this means trying to navigate without knocking someone over … or vice-versa. Several times I felt overheated despite them having complimentary water available. I mean, who’s going to get out of a six hour line to grab a cup of water?

The Vendors:
What a cool selection of vendors!  I loved how they had everyone spread out, some next to celebrity guests, some off in a giant corner of their own. Everything from Godzilla, to George Romero under one roof. I got to get autographs from the Hellraiser cast, say “hello” to Tom Savini, then turn the corner and get a picture with Tommy Flanagan. The best part was getting to see some local authors I am friends with on Facebook but never met in real life until then! (Shout out to Timothy Long)

Overall, for a first timer to Texas Frightmare Weekend, I had a blast. We stayed in the other Hyatt (Hyatt Grand) and it was stunning. The staff was super polite and helpful, the hotel room was sparkling clean and state of the art. We felt like we walked onto the Starship Enterprise when we entered the room. Lights came on and the large, one piece blind rolled up. Each side of the bed had its own panel to control lights and temperature. The sheets were clean, the bathroom sparkled and they had “oops I forgot …” complimentary items like brushes, deodorant, phone chargers, and more. They didn’t even bat a judgmental eye when I walked out in my Unsaintly Queen, goth attire. As for a shuttle to terminal C (we were at terminal D), they told us it would run every 25 min but we never waited more than 10, to or from.

I would highly recommend this Horror Con to anyone who loves horror.

Price (Tickets): $
Price of Hotel: $$


 

Roller Coaster Muse

I realized that it’s almost August and once more life caught up with me. Each time it does, I’m reminded of the Ferris Bueller quote, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Such is the life of an author turned publisher. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but that means sometimes my own projects take a back seat. If it weren’t so rewarding I would’ve thrown in the towel by now.

In the last six months, I’ve been involved with over 40 authors within my own company (Stitched Smile Publications, you can find the link here) and seen the growth of almost all of them since coming in contact with the company. It makes me feel proud. I’m doing something for other authors out there just trying to chase a dream that isn’t too far out of reach with a little guidance. We’re by no means making them millionaires, but we’re making them rich with experience and I’m OK with that.

As for me, I’m nearly finished with my next novel, “The Unfleshed”. I had hoped to have it out by the end of July but that crazy thing called “Life” is like a roller coaster with three wheels. It’s so close I can feel the pages in my hand. Thanks to Jeff Brown (A.K.A. A.J. Brown) pushing me, the story is even better than I originally thought it could be.

Other than that, I’ve dealt with my two younger siblings’ health issues. Both within a month of one another. Very scary, serious things that made me take a wider look at my life. I’m only 43. I have an entire life ahead of me if I take care of the one I have. I’ve always eaten right, usually pretty good about working out and staying active…but there are times when Life is just a hag and I can’t push through a day, a week, or even a month without some kind of thorn in my side.

I’m trying to juggle a few things, and while some people think I should not be doing that, those are the things that make me happy. I take care of everyone else, so it is my firm belief that there has to be things that make me happy, too.

I design book covers for Indie Authors while looking for that golden ticket to the big house names (of course, that’s where the real money is), I started my own publishing house and it’s growing by the day, I write, and sometimes I even sit around and do nothing just to clear the cache from my brain. It doesn’t leave much else after my daily duties are done but it’s my little slice of heaven.

You see, I do this because I Love it. Not for the money or the fame. If you’re doing anything for those reasons, you’ll find out on your own how empty that really is. I’m lucky that my personality is such that I’ll never do anything I don’t love whether it’s accounting, working out, filling out spreadsheets, meeting new authors, formatting books, orientations for new hires, etc. Everything I do, I have to love or I’ll move on. I won’t waste mine or anyone else’s time, and most people appreciate that. (Admittedly, there’s been some that would rather push me through things that I don’t enjoy. It never works out in the end.)

The point to all of this is, I suppose, is that I sit back and wonder where the heck all the time has gone. I wanted a relaxing summer by the pool, soaking up rays. I think I’ve gone a total of 4x since the end of May and it’s already August! The pools are starting to wind down and close for the winter (although, hello? I live in Texas! Why are they closed???)

It’s August. And I’m panicked.

Did I accomplish everything I wanted with my writing?
With my Pub House?
With my Family?
With my Book Design Goals?
With my Friends?
With my Personal Development?

Ugh. Someone stop this crazy ride. Just for a minute so I can throw up on the side of the car and get back on.

I keep taking a slow deep breath and whispering, “I can do this.” I know I can do this. I know it because I won’t allow myself to fail. I won’t allow anyone else who sits in the roller coaster with me to fail either.

So here I sit, staring at the horizon of this big, crazy world from the top of the ride. Around me is everything. I can see it. From here it’s small and attainable. Do you know what they call this in Physics? “Maximum Potential.” And every three months or so, I start back at this point. It doesn’t matter what you end the first ride at, the point is that you get back in line and you start here, at the Maximum Potential, again.

Then you ride that first loop! The thrill, the excitement, the confusion…all of it tossing you around as you watch the world whirl by you with your stomach in your throat and your hands in the air!

You take a deep breath, wipe away the tears of exhilaration and pass through the bottom of that loop: Maximum Kinetic energy. Kinetic Energy:  the energy that it possesses due to its motion.

Stop.
Re-Read that.

“The energy that is possesses due to it’s motion.”

Are you busy looking back? Shoulda’, woulda’, coulda’? Or are your eyes on the next turn and twist of the ride? Are you going to be taken off guard? Are your eyes closed? What’s coming next and are you ready for it?

Each loop of a roller coaster is slightly less exciting than those first two. Sure there are a few surprises, but as the car moves, it loses energy so that it can coming to a stopping point without catapulting you out into the stratosphere. A stopping point is a good thing. Because it let’s you catch your breath, re-assess, and redirect where necessary.

Like now. I’m reflecting on my year. What was great, and what was not-so-great, so that I can aim for the future…remember that first gaze at the world from the beginning of the roller coaster? What was it that caught your eye? Do you still want it?

You see that’s where most people get caught up. They see the shiny in the distance, they reach for it but there’s no plan for after they’ve either acquired it …or missed it. There’s no plan for whether it was really what they thought it was going to be upon closer inspection. The ride may have ended there for you and there is no desire to go for another round. You’ve lost steam and “energy” because you burned it off and there’s nothing left.

My life is definitely a roller coaster and I choose to change the ride, not the scenery. What does yours look like? Do you get back in line? What is it you see when you’re at the top, at the beginning, and reaching out?

Dear Hollywood Producers…

I see a lot of reboots going on in Hollywood.  So what’s the dang deal?  Seriously, what’s going on? 

I can only assume that Hollywood big wigs have been locked against their will in a cellar. And as an added punishment they’re forced to read books that are generic, overdone,  and have watered down plots. To remedy this, they come up with the brilliant idea to reboot movies. 

This is like taking a nice big bite of your chip, spitting it into the bowl of salsa, only to look down in delighted surprise and say,  “Oh look! A chip!”

I don’t want to see another 7 Harry Potter (definitely not a snub to Harry Potter, it’s just done..let’s keep moving). I don’t want to see Transformers 99. I don’t want to see Not-So-Fast and the Geritol  (sorry Vin, I love you).

I want a movie that’s original, gripping, truly cerebral in its twists and turns, and sends me tumbling down a path I try to claw out from.  I want to watch a movie with a plot so unique, I sit with jaw open and eyes glazed over from the shock.  I want to see,  AND PAY, for a movie I haven’t seen before.  Sometimes a reboot is necessary.  But not every damn movie.  And keep your hands off iconic movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show,  and any Hughes movie. And just because it’s my soap box and I can say what I want, stop “adding to back story” or “picking up from” because you’re doing it wrong. So wrong. 

I tell you what.  Call me.  I read.  A lot.  You want original? How about this…scope the indie scene and make someone’s dreams come true.  Make a movie from some of these talented authors who get @$$ bent by snobs and corporations who say,  “Indie authors aren’t real authors”. Break the rules.  I dare you.  Sign an author that isn’t writing shite just to fulfill a contract. Sign an author that hits the keys every day to entertain their readers.  Take your nose out of each others rectums and put it in a book that has a storyline you’ve never seen before. 

Need help?  Troll Facebook and twitter.  They’re saturated with them. 

Have a favorite indie book you’d love to see made into a movie?  Comment below!