The Birth of a Novel

I was cleaning up my home office today (because I always feel the need to purge at the end of the calendar year), and ran across the critiques from my writers’ group on a piece that was the very first inkling of Diamond in the Rough.

Whether or not you’ve read Diamond in the Rough, I thought you might enjoy this peek behind the curtain, to see how my novel was born. Hope you like it.

http://www.amazon.com/Denim-Diamonds-Lori-Robinett/dp/1631030035/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433871817&sr=8-1&keywords=denim+%26+diamondsRusty is a cowhand at the Domino Ranch, where he’s been for years. He lives in a small house, which he shares with Beau, Joe and a couple of other guys. Thursday nights he spends at a neighboring ranch, playing poker with the guys. He drives an old gray Chevy pickup that has more miles on it than he does.

He was with Beau and Beth the night that Bert’s herd was stolen by rustlers. The mutilated steer affected him deeply. A love of animals is what led him to life on the ranch. Growing up, he was responsible for taking care of the family dog and made money summers taking care of neighborhood pets. That was back when he was known as Russell Warner. He dreamed of living in the country, surrounded by rolling green hills and dogs and cats and horses. Once in high school, he joined 4-H. Other kids made fun of him for his project – he raised rabbits. It was the only project he could do in city limits. The girl he had a crush on – her name was Penny – raised a bottle calf every year. Her brother Mike was the one who had given him the name Bunny Boy. His high school years were a blur of embarrassment. He had been a country boy stuck in the city, a disappointment to his college educated parents and an outcast in the FFA / 4-H circles that he desperately wanted to join.

The day after he graduated high school, he packed his meager belongings into the used maroon Toyota Tercel that his parents had given him as a graduation present and headed west out of St. Louis. He stopped for gas in Kingdom City, picked up a newspaper and went to Denny’s to peruse the want ads while he wolfed down a Grand Slam. The girl who was waiting tables chatted him up, and told him about her cousin who worked at the sale barn just down the outer road and how they always needed extra hands on sale days. She jotted her cousin’s name on the back of his receipt and told him to go on down to the sale barn and introduce himself.

The girl’s cousin showed him around, and Bill, the owner, hired him on the spot. The crusty old man gripped Russell’s hand and give it one firm shake. “Welcome aboard, Rusty.”

And in that moment, Russell the Bunny Boy became a distant memory and Rusty the cowhand was born.

***

<SIGH> I always feel nostalgic when I come across a piece like this, that grew into an entire novel. If you want to keep up to date with my new releases and other book news, make sure you sign up for my mailing list – and if you’re intrigued by how stories like this kernel of an idea become a full-fledged novel, sign up for my WriteScouts newsletter.

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Why WriteScouts?

novel-idea-generator-coverYou may have heard me talking about WriteScouts. What the heck is it anyway? Well, you’ve heard of the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, where kids learn skills that make them better people, right?. As I began taking my writing seriously about 13 years ago, I started by stumbling along. I wrote and thought it was amazing (oh, the joy! I was going to be rich! Everyone would be blown away by my brilliance!), but a writer friend (Hi, DaLynne!) pointed out places where I could improve my writing and I was crushed. but determined to do better.

I read blogs, craft books, magazines. Essentially, I needed to know how to do everything. I started a novel and sent a few chapters to a writer I met online who agreed to give me feedback. Yeah, that feedback was kinda brutal. I worked and reworked and revised, but got stuck in perfection stasis. I couldn’t get past 25K words.

Then I found National Novel Writing Month and learned how to lock up my Internal Editor and get that first draft DONE. That was huge for me, because you can’t edit a blank page. The second year I did NaNoWriMo, I met a fantastic group of people and a few of us started a critique group. That was in . . . 2005, I think. We are STILL meeting and those women are some of my closest friends.

Together, we’ve learned all kinds of things about characterization, plotting, suspense, pacing, setting, etc. I discovered that there are a myriad of skills that need to be learned to make one a better writer, and then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a group that would teach you those skills, and help you keep track of the skills that you learn (and, I have to admit, I kinda like the idea of earning badges)?

WriteScout was born.

To celebrate the birth of this new program, I’m giving everyone who signs up a copy of my Novel Idea Generator. This is the exact method I use when I’m brainstorming ideas for a new book. The workbook contains step-by-step instructions, a series of exercises that will help you find the book that YOU are meant to write.

Do you want YOUR Novel Idea Generator?

Are you interested in learning the skills to make you a better writer?

What are you waiting for? Sign up today.

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Want to Write a Novel? Introducing the Novel Idea Generator

Drum roll, please (go ahead, I’ll wait . . . )

I’ve been working so hard over the past few months putting together some exciting things for you and, tonight, I’m happy to show you the very first offering of my new WriteScout school. People often ask me where I get the ideas for my novels. The answer is . . . in me. The nuggets of ideas are within me, just like you have nuggets within you. That’s how two people can write two different stories based on the same basic premise. But the trick is to mine those ideas, to unearth those gems. And I want to help you do that.

novel-idea-generator-coverAre you ready to find the novel within YOU?

I use a set of questions when I get ready to write a novel, so I put my ideas together in a series of questions that can be used over and over again, in workbook form. The Novel Idea Generator is available on Amazon, but . . . you can get your Kindle copy FREE.

If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, but didn’t know where to start, this workbook will get you started. Are you ready?

Get your FREE Novel Idea Generator!

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If you’ve signed up for National Novel Writing Month, but you don’t know what your story is, this workbook will give you at least three ideas for to make you a WINNER. These are the step by step techniques that helped me write ten novels, three of which have been published. The exercises are designed to give you characters, settings and plots that combine to form the story that YOU are meant to write. Now . . . are you ready to start YOUR novel?

Get YOUR free Novel Idea Generator workbook now

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WriteScouts: the Quick Start Guide

Last week, I gave you a heads up that I’m finally starting the online writing school that I’ve been thinking about for years. Even though I was at the Star Trek convention, my 30th high school reunion, and Penned Con this past weekend (which was AWESOME!!!), I still made time to work on the first course.

The first class is going to be a quick start guide to writing a novel, inspired by the instruction manuals that I never read. A couple of weeks ago, I bought two end tables in boxes. Opened it up and there were 16 pages of instructions. I searched the box but alas, no quick start guide. ARGH!!

We’re so spoiled these days. We want everything quickly. In college, we want Cliff Notes. In electronics, we want quick start guides. Be honest . . . if you want to write, you want to get started quickly, right?

Well, why not? Because here’s what I’ve discovered: the best way to learn to write is to write.

So, how do you get started? You write. If you want to be a writer, get a notebook and write three pages longhand every morning. It can be about anything. Talk about what you want to do, what you need to do, what you want to write about, what rolls around in your head. I often find that I’ll run through almost a laundry list of things that I need to do. Once I get that down on a page, I feel freer. Try it and let me know if that works for you.

Comment and let me know what sorts of things you’d like to see covered in the first class. And stay tuned – those who sign up for my mailing list early on will get first dibs at freebies offered in my new online school.

BLANK to 50K: Getting Started

Blank to 50K(2)

The hardest part of writing is facing the blank page.

When I was a kid, I wrote all the time. My mom brought me notebooks filled with my longhand scribbles several years ago and I was amazed. As a teenager, I didn’t have trouble getting the stories started. I just put pen to paper and let the words flow. So why was it so hard for me to start writing as an adult?

Adulting is hard. Creativity is fun.

Simple. I’m an adult. I’ve lost that joyful creative streak that lets kids PLAY.

Think about it – when was the last time you let yourself play purely for the sake of playing? When did you truly let your imagination run wild?

You need to find that inner child. Bribe him or her with something fun. Let her play.

And that brings me to NOW. You want to write a book. You have the kernel of an idea. You’ve thought about your characters and your setting. You may even know some of your plot points. But you don’t know how to start. I get it. I remember getting book after book about how to write, but I didn’t “get” it. I couldn’t figure out how to actually start with a blank page and get to at least 50,000 words so I’d have the complete skeleton of a book.

That’s why I’m here. To help you get there.

So . . . how do you start?

First things first – start your routine. Once you get in a routine, you’ll actually be training your brain to write when you are ready to write. Real writers don’t wait for inspiration to write. They treat writing as a job.

Do whatever works for you. It could be where you write, what you write with, lighting a candle, drinking a particular drink, having a particular snack. I used to have a little rock that I drew a face on – I’d take him with me when I went out somewhere to write. Now I have a fairy necklace that I wear, to represent my muse.

Your Notebook

You should have a notebook dedicated to this book you are writing. Get it out now. Grab a pen that feels good to you – one that writes smoothly. (are you as obsessed with office supplies as I am?)

Open the first page. Now, pretend you’re writing to me.

  • Tell me what your book is about. This should be at least a page long.
  • Tell me about your main character. Who is she/he? What does he/she want? What is his/her greatest fear?
  • Draw a mindmap. Put your character in the middle. Then think about the individuals and events that would have had an impact on him/her, and how those things are related. Do this for your other characters, too.
  • Flip to a fresh page. What is the first thing that will happen in your book? Pretend your talking to me over a cup of coffee.
  • Flip to a fresh page. How do you want your book to end?

Okay, so, you’ve done all that?

Open up your laptop and start.

There’s no magic formula. Just start writing. Don’t worry about grammar, don’t worry about structure, just tell your character’s story. Let yourself feel what your character feels, see what your character sees.

Have a goal.

Write 3 pages a day. If you can’t get that much done, write something every day. There are days I have to force myself to sit down and write one sentence. I tell myself that – “You can write one sentence, at least.” I don’t think I’ve ever stopped at one sentence. You’ll likely do the same.

Touch base with your muse periodically.

At least once a week, pull out your notebook and simply noodle ideas. Just like at the beginning, pretend you’re talking to me. Just tell me what’s going on in your story, what is going to happen next, what problems your characters are having, what else you can do to give them a hard time.

If you’re really pressed for time, record your thoughts while you’re driving. I plotted my first book entirely by talking to myself while commuting to and from work. Every day, I would ask myself, what can go wrong on the ranch tonight? What if this happens? What if that happens?

See, you started out with a blank page and now, you’re a writer!

You can do this. I have faith in you.

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Draft to 50K: Point of View

Blank to 50K(2)Point of view is the essentially the narrator’s position, how the story is told. Ideally, you should decide this before you start writing, though I’ve been known to switch partway through a book. In fact, when I first wrote Fatal Impulse, it was in first person. I got all done and my editor suggested third person. I changed the manuscript (a HUGE undertaking!), but think it was a better book for the change.

Here is a brief overview of each common POV, along with my bewares and tips:

First Person

This is the “I” version. The story is told from the viewpoint character’s point of view. That person must be able to see, hear, taste, smell and feel everything that you write.

Beware: it is very difficult to really get into your character’s head, and to avoid telling the story.

Tip: Get closer. For instance, instead of saying, “I heard the boom of thunder,” say “The window glass vibrated with the boom of thunder.”

Third Person

Third person is the he/she version. The story is still told from a character’s point of view, but through the filter of the author. Again, the person must be able to see, hear, taste, smell and feel everything that you write.

Beware: Headhopping is a common mistake. Remain in one character’s head per scene or, better yet, per chapter.

Tip: Add internalization. Much can be said by what the character thinks as opposed to what he/she says. Sharing your POV character’s thoughts is a way to put your reader in the characters head. There’s no need for italics or saying he/she thought. Simply write the character’s thought. The reader will get it. Trust me.

 Second Person

Second person is you did this, you did that. The story is told from the reader’s point of view. The narrator tells the reader what is happening to him.

Beware: This should be used sparingly. It can be jarring to the reader, and is tricky to pull off.

Tip: In short bursts, this can be useful because it truly does put the reader in the character’s shoes. Read the first chapter of Harlen Coben’s The Innocent for an example of how this can be used effectively.

Draft to 50K: Which tense?

Blank to 50K(2)You have your characters, you understand point of view, but what about tense?

Tense places your reader in time. It gives your story a framework: present? past? Think about your favorite novel. What tense was it written in? Pick out a handful of novels that are similar to what you want to write – what tense are they written in?

Present

Present tense is written as if the action is happening right now. Jane swims to the other side of the creek. This is seen often in YA currently, and can work very well in short fiction where every word counts and you really want to pack a punch.

  • Immediate
  • Energizing
  • Engaging
  • Adds punch

Past

Past tense is written as if the action has already occurred. Jane swam to the other side of the creek. This is the most common tense, and has been for a very long time.

  • Traditional
  • Freedom to move in time
  • Pacing can adjust
  • Control

Whichever tense you use, make sure you are consistent. One caveat to that – no matter which tense you use, remember that you can adjust your tense through your character’s voice. For instance, if you write a story in the present tense, but can have your point of view tell a story in the past tense. The same applies in the alternative. You can write a story in past tense, but have a character speak in the present tense.

 

Blank to 50K: How to Plot a Novel

http://lorilrobinett.com

Plotter or Pantser

Writers are generally in one of two camps: Plotters or Pantsers.

Either one is fine. Either one works. But in order to decide what works for you, you need to know a little bit about it.

Think of Plotters as those who create a map before they start along the journey of writing the novel. As you draft your novel, you read your map and follow the directions until you reach your destination: The End.

Pantsers are folks who hop in the car and go, turning right or left on a whim. They may have a general idea of where they want to go, or they may be happy with wherever they end up. Personally, I tend to be a pantser. For me, the true joy of writing is when the characters chatter away in my head and I feel as if I’m channeling them when I sit down at the keyboard. That said, I do more plotting now that I’m more serious about my writing.

Ways to Plot a Novel

  • Outline: You’ve done outlines. Remember those outlines you wrote when you were back in school? Like that. Essentially, think of your novel as a three-part story. I. Beginning – II. Middle – III. End. Simple right? YES! Don’t try to make this too complicated. These are the basics, enough to get you started. Add subsections if you’d like, for the chapters, with scenes under that. My tip? Keep it simple, and don’t get too caught up in this step. You just need a general road map, not a turn by turn with maps. Drawback: this method is a little harder to reorder if you don’t like the way something flows.
  • Sticky Notes: This works especially well if you have a big, blank wall. You can also use the back of a door, or even a big piece of poster board. Think of this as a storyboard for your novel. Again, keep it simple. You don’t need to write a note for every single scene. Just hit the high points. Think about things that move the story along, actions that need to happen to move your story from the beginning to the end. My tip? Use different colored sticky notes to represent different things such as POV.
  • Index Cards: Holly Lisle offers excellent instructions on her website. In short, you will have an index card for each chapter, with different colors representing different POVs. Once you’ve got your index cards, you can move them around and come up with the best chronology to fit your story. My tip? Write how you want the chapter to end. That way, when you pick up an index card to write the chapter, you know where you’re going. See? There’s the map analogy again!
  • PowerPoint: This is the index card method, for those who prefer computers to paper. Each slide will be a chapter. Again, you can move them around to tweak the chronology.
  • Snowflake: This is the brainchild of Randy Ingermanson. The idea is to take the kernel of a story and build upon it, piece by piece, until you have a novel. Take a peek at his instructions and you’ll see that he recommends that you start with pre-writing, in order to lay the groundwork for writing your novel. Though this is technically plotting, it sure makes figuring out your plot a lot easier.

How to Pants a Novel

Okay, technically, if you’re a pantser, you just sit down and write. BUT . . . there are things you can do to make the process go a bit smoother.

Before you begin:

  • Write character sketches
  • Collect inspirational pictures of settings and characters, like this.
  • Know your genre

Once you begin, you need to provide yourself with fuel so you’ll have something to put on the page when you’re able to sit down. Here are a couple of things to try:

  • Talk to yourself. Ask yourself, “What can go wrong today?”
  • Email yourself a few sentences several times throughout the day

Each method, Plotting and Pantsing, has its advantages and disadvantages. Give whatever appeals to you a try, and be willing to trash it and start with a different method if it doesn’t work for you.

If you want to read a book that was done totally by the seat of my pants, check out Denim & Diamonds.

http://carypress.com/denim-diamonds-by-lori-robinett/

Denim & Diamonds by Lori Robinett

Blank to 50K: What if I want to do NaNoWriMo?

http://lorilrobinett.comGreat! Good for you for making the commitment! Participating is easy.

  • Go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up
  • Look for your local region (I happen to be in NaNoWriMo::Missouri::Fulton – and we have a Facebook page (that is woefully outdated at the moment!)
  • Check with your local library for a kickoff or informational session. If you’re in central Missouri, check the library calendar here.
  • Keep an eye on the regional forums of the NaNo site, check your NaNo mail, and keep an eye on your email so you can stay informed about local events, like write-ins and parties.

And if you decide NOT to participate officially in National Novel Writing Month, no worries. You can still participate in Blank to 50K and learn tips to help you finish your first draft.

Blank to 50K: Characters Bring Your Writing to Life

Blank to 50KWe’ve determined you want to write a novel, and you’ve committed to getting the first draft written in 30 days. Great. What now? Where do you begin? Some writers start with the plot, others with characters. Either way is fine. Personally, the characters are usually my starting point. They talk to me, take form in my head, and then I figure out what they’re up to. If you’d rather start with plot, go for it – but you’ll have to wait until next week for my tips.

Character Sketches

These are highly touted, and there are lots of worksheets and templates available on the internet. I use Scrivener, and often use their templates as my jumping off point, but that template is very basic. I suggest you do two things:

  • Write a detailed character sketch, at least a couple of pages. See the bottom of this post for a free copy of my worksheet.
  • Write an autobiography – your character’s life story from his/her point of view. A page is fine. This doesn’t have to be long, just focus on the high points – what is important to your character.

Character Spreadsheet

You need a spreadsheet for every novel/series you write. This helps you keep track of who you are writing about. Actually, it does a lot more than that – your spreadsheet can become your writing bible. It tells you who did what, when they did it and where they were. But for right now, keep it simple. All you need is a list of characters, so you can fill in the details for each character as you create their sketches. This is also a great place to keep track of tags that you use to cue your reader as to who the character is. For instance, in my Diamond J series, I use “Wranglers” as a tag for Beau, and I use “red hair” as a tag for Beth. Very simplistic, but I want those things to instantly remind the reader of that character. Another great example of this is the Harry Dresden series. If you hear duster and staff while you’re reading a Jim Butcher book, you know Harry is the character in play.

If you’d like a copy of my Character Sketch Worksheet (Word format) and my Character Spreadsheet (Excel format), please enter your name and email below and I’ll send them to you.

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