Tag Archives: writing process

Like A Boss: Writing Exercises for your Work in Progress

François_Boucher_019_(Madame_de_Pompadour)

This was one of the first “appropriate” pictures that came up when I searched for Mistress. I think it’s perfect. She even has a book and writing materials!

I may only be Mistress of Fine Arts, but I am boss (my favorite trendy adjective, by the way) at using writing exercises to maximizing their use on my current work in progress. In almost every workshop or writing group I’ve attended in the past four or five years, my novel Dollhouse Daughter has always been at the forefront of my mind to finish and get it into the hands of my future readers. It’s been a long road and like all masterpieces is still incomplete.

As accomplished as I felt after completing my degree, my novel was in urgent need of structural renovations, character makeovers, and an addition of approximately 100 pages…at least! Add to that a start date of January and a deadline of July, and you have a recipe for confusion, disaster, stress, complete meltdown.

My sweet, beloved minions must be asking, “Mistress, how can you pull that off when you’ve expressed many times how slow your muse works, how you are notoriously slow to get new content written, and how much you procrastinate?”

images (1)

Yes, this is what writing exercise looks like!

My answer…drum roll please…WRITING EXERCISES. Now you’re thinking, “Okay, but those are just to help with the fundamentals and they aren’t even fun.”

Except my minions, they are! Character charts filled out like dating profiles, timelines for plots handwritten on notecards and taped to the wall, writing prompts specifically geared toward the book’s subject. When a book requires this much attention to detail or revising, the key is organization and focus.

Take for example my new outline for the revised plot. I have three separate pages of lined paper, draw so that on the left column you have the major points in the plot: obstacles, midpoint, denouement. And on the right side some keep points or summaries of the chapter’s contents.

3-act-structure

This diagram is both easy to outline with and also not too simplified.

The reason I have three? Well, my book has a main character (Cassie), with a subplot and important point of view from her mother (Marge), and a secondary mother-like character (Azalee). In the current version, let’s call it my MFA version, it had a lot of Cassie (as expected) and she was present in all 15 chapters. Marge was present in about 13 chapters. Azalee was only present in only 6 chapters. Thus I had to equalize the distribution of mother and mother-like character in order for the book to be balanced.

So, now that I was organized, I needed to focus. And here’s where my writing exercises came in handy. I needed new content, and a lot of it was for Azalee because she is a catalyst for the change Cassie had been waiting for.

I’m starting by using my monthly prompts (which you can read about here) in reference to write new content about Azalee, and thus add more content to my book. I feel like it’s an kind of art to take seemingly unrelated exercises, like prompts which pose a different story and genre in each one, and write a chapter or scene somehow related to one piece. This month, I chose a prompt about love spells and how someone would ever come to the decision to use magic to make someone love them. And who better to write this scene with than my vodou priestess!

So, I’m going to share my three tips for using writing exercises to benefit your current work in progress.

  1. Most stories beyond their theme or genre are about people, so choosing a character based prompt that focuses on why a character is making decisions or how they’re feeling are best. They are easiest to apply to many story ideas. You could use the love spell one, most obviously, for fantasy, but if you interpret spell differently you can use it as a scientific breakthrough or natural phenomenon in science fiction, or an emotional state for realistic fiction like romances or westerns or mysteries (to clarify: someone’s emotions are so strong, to call it a love spell would be a figurative description of the emotions). The most important part about that prompt is the intention or emotion you’re focusing on about the person willing to use a love “spell” on someone else is quite a character to write.
  2. There are hundreds of prompts out there that you can tailor to what you’re looking for. If you have a character who will soon have a flashback to childhood, but you’re having trouble envisioning that character. A prompt like this would help you find out what details to include with the flashback by creating the child’s setting: Imagine your character’s childhood room. What color are the walls, what kind of toys do they have, what posters hanging on the wall.
  3. Lastly, don’t be afraid to write something completely off topic. Say your work in progress is located in a warm climate. Don’t be afraid to choose a prompt relating to snow or ice because it puts your characters in a completely different environment or situation and can reveal something truly remarkable or unknown for you to use in your actual piece.

Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to use simple, seemingly unrelated writing exercises to help you and your characters get to know each other. Because getting to know your characters in any situation, no matter how ridiculous, is the most efficient way you can tell your story. Look out for the prompt submission I’ll be posting on 2/22 using my vodou priestess Azalee and how she handles a love spell. If you want to read more about the prompt I used or want to try one of your own. Check out my monthly prompts chosen here.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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The Blog Hop Stop: The Spotted Writer Station

Throughout the two and a half years I’ve been building this platform, I’ve received blog awards and surveys that help share who I am as a person and a blogger. It’s reminiscent of a right of passage for bloggers to post at least one of these introspective questionnaires. This survey of sorts is probably the most personal and technical I have had the pleasure to write.

And so I have been invited by my very dear friend Matt from WantonCreation to take part in a themed post about my writing process. Matt and I began our blogging journeys around the same time, and he has been such a phenomenal inspiration to me since we first found each other. His blog is much more versatile than mine including posts about music, interesting sites to check out, and his recent move to Sweden. Matt is both witty and humorous in his posts, so please be sure to check him out!

My lovely writing nook!

My lovely writing nook!

So, this particular blog hop stops at Spotted Writer Station for a look inside my writing process, which up until this post I hadn’t given nearly enough thought. I hope you, my ferocious minions, learn a little bit about me from these questions and the person I’ll be tagging at the end.

What am I working on?

The only answer I should have at this point is my novel Dollhouse Daughter. As most of my writer’s group knows, I have terrible issues with procrastination and focus (hence why I’m typing this post instead of revisions). Dollhouse Daughter is a coming of age story, but also a reaction of how families recycle mistakes across generations. Here is a working book blurb:

Cassie Brooks, a bookish 13-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, must move hundreds of miles from her childhood home when her grandfather falls ill and her parents are left to care for the Brooks Plantation in Warrenton, GA. Cassie has a choice—settle for her narcissistic mother, a passive family, and the unforgiving awkwardness of a new school or give in to the temptation of vodou after meeting a mysterious woman in the forest?

Insert Pudgy kitty picture!

Insert Pudgy kitty picture!

The blurb could use some fine-tuning, but I’m over halfway finished with the novel. It’s taken me two years to get to this point, but I feel confident in my characters and the way my story is told. I think people will enjoy my main protagonist Cassie with her love of Japanese anime and her snarky comments. I also think they will love to hate my antagonist Marge— not necessarily a true villain, but she’s mighty difficult to tolerate in the same room. Eventually, I hope that at least one person will enjoy the finished product and it will lead me to my Master’s degree.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I branch out into a few genres (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery), but if we’re talking about Dollhouse Daughter the genre would definitely fall under YA fantasy. Yes, I know it’s a mega popular genre, especially within the past ten years, but when the characters speak to you—you better damn well listen. Anyways, I think I bring an honesty to the genre that otherwise could be forced or disingenuous. I think me being a 25-year-old lends to a closeness to the suffering in my teen years. I mean, I still haven’t fully processed everything I am and everything I can be. The terror and loneliness that Cassie feels when she’s with her family isn’t something I pulled out of the ether; it’s pulled straight from my heart onto the page. Not only that, but the fantasy element isn’t an escapism like it is typically defined in the genre. I wanted my fantasy to intensify the situations in my stories. Instead of running away from reality, my characters, especially Cassie, must face the harsh facts life has to offer.

Why do I write what I do?

I’ve loved fantasy and science fiction ever since I started reading. It’s really as simple as that. I write the same wonderful ideas that have nurtured me into an avid bibliophile since first grade. Dragons, ghosts, aliens, vampires, zombies—all of my favorites will find their way into my writing not on purpose, but because it has helped shaped me into the writer I am today. My love of fantasy began with Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville, and from then on I knew I wanted to write about magic and space for the rest of my life. It allows me to show the truths of humanity without the limitations of what’s “real”. I can choose to make a story about zombies with my imagination and people will learn more about me in the process.

Iz rly comfy like dis!

Iz rly comfy like dis!

How does my writing process work?

That's right I said no kitty. Too much distracting cuteness

That’s right I said no kitty. Too much distracting cuteness

This is the tough question. My process goes against everything that most authors/mentors tell you to do. But hey, whatever works right? I don’t wait to revise until after I’ve finished the first draft. For me, there is no first draft. There’s only the work in progress and the finished manuscript. I keep working at each sentence until it feels right to me. So, it makes me a slower writer and it takes me much longer to finish a piece, but it’s so worth it.

By the time I finish a chapter, it has gone through at least three to four “drafts” and is nearly ready to share with my writer’s group. Sure, there are mistakes, and things that need to be touched up. However, I try to make it count the first time instead of waiting until I’m completely finished to go back and change it.

At the same time, the best place for me to write is actually at lunch during work. No internet, no kitty, no bed—NO DISTRACTIONS! I find myself getting the most work done when I physically have no other distractions or ways to procrastinate. I think the most rewarding part of my process is that the product is well worth the wait. I end up with a fantastic chapter after a few weeks or a month of work.

Who’s Next?

Her authorial name is K Orion Fray, but I know her best as Rion. She is one of the most imaginative, focused writers I’ve ever met. Let me break down how stellar she is:

Maxed out twice during 2013 NaNoWriMo with two novels in progress, one of which is currently being published on her website as a serial. Rion has successfully become an audiobook reader, cosplayer, moderator (not sure about the exact title) for NanoWriMo, blogger, published author, and many more. I could effectively write an entire post about how much I adore my dear friend because well, it’s easy to find great things to say about her. In the workshop where we first met, Rion astounded everyone (especially me) with the sheer amount of quality content she was able to write during our ten minute prompt. It was at least three full-sized pages if I recall. Nay my friends this was no exaggeration or fluke; she is the real deal full of wonder and geekery that blows my mind every time I talk with her. Plus she loves all the cool shows like Doctor Who and Supernatural. I wish her luck on her version of this post, it was a blast! Now you must check her out!

Happy reading and writing!

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