Every writer has a trick. A secret short cut to hack their brains and tap into the creative juices that help their fingers fly across the keyboard or their pen scratch across the page and frees the characters and stories into the real world.
Mine just happens to be music.
I've always loved telling stories through different mediums, and a well cultivated and structured playlist is a way to do just that. I took a lot of notes from High Fidelity when it comes to creating the perfect playlist, and I like to think that I use that power for good, and not evil, when it comes to structuring stories and fleshing out characters.
During the initial phases of story planning, even before the first word is tapped out on the screen -- I usually have already made a full book playlist. Certain songs are the soundtracks to certain scenes. Certain bands or artists just have the right "voice" to match with a character. And there's always that one instrumental track that carries the emotional heart of the manuscript.
The process of musical playlist storytelling often means applying the principles of the basic three act plot structure to your song choice. Don't believe me?
THE THREE ACT STRUCTURE: IN SONG FORM
Things start out good -- you've got groovy, feel-good music playing. You're setting the scene. Maybe there's a little romance, maybe something a little dramatic or upbeat. It's all intriguing and filled with hooks and rhythm.
And then the darkness descends. The struggle, the conflict -- the music turns a little eerie and twisted. There's conflict and struggle. And when it finally seems as if all hope is lost -- the HOPE TRACK EMERGES. Something REALLY emotionally punchy and inspirational. And then you hit 'em with some smooshy love jams, dotted with more inspirational tracks. A few weird or quirky bits because you're coming to the finale.
Finally, FINALLY you tack on the banger/bad-ass track to the end -- the one that wraps up the whole emotional journey in a neat little bow and carries your listeners out with a sense of comfort and ease. Life is tricky baby, but it will all be OK in the end.
HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
This process evolved over time with the writing of the three books for the Metal Heart trilogy. The first draft of Metal Heart came before the official playlist, but Radiohead was ALWAYS lurking in the background. And with Radiohead serving as the emotional lynchpin, everything sprang out from there.
As I *hopefully* got better at writing books, I also evolved in my ability to map out the music that inspires them.
1. Pick your instrumental/emotional track
This is going to be the bedrock foundation of not only your playlist, but of the whole damn story itself. Every time you push play on this track, the entire heart of the story should unfurl before you and you should FEEL THAT SURGE OF EMOTION. The passion and drive to tell this story is buried deep in the music and lyrics and it should inspire you to write. This track is your lighthouse in the storm, the true north of your story. Love and cherish it and listen to it as often as you need to in order to feeling inspired and emotionally connected to your writing.
2. Pick your scenes
This *might* require you to know just what those scenes are -- this is best done when you have some semblance of an outline or at least a one page synopsis of your story and know the general direction of where it's going. For Rosita -- I know I needed music to heist to. I knew the crew would be stealing money so the early version of the playlist featured that theme -- money, stealing, robbing -- quite heavily.
3. Pick your characters
Once you have the main book playlist sussed out, you can start to use individual playlists to explore the emotional interiority of your characters. I usually character build and create character playlists in tandem. I start to sketch out who the character is on paper and then I find songs to match their moods. This process of weeding through character-related songs also helps me find the one true artist whose music reflects the soul of that character.
Once you have selected all the elements of a solid playlist: your "theme song," your pivotal "scenes," and your "main characters" -- you should be well on your way to constructing an instant mood/brain shifter/booster that can help you immerse yourself in the music of the story that you've either yet to craft, already crafted, or are in the middle of re-crafting.
For me, and likely a lot of you, writing is an emotional process that can be tricky to turn on and off, even though I'm often required to do so because of my various life responsibilities. Having these songs playing in the background helps bypass that transitional phase and quickly delve right back into the interior of the story.
It's not a trick guaranteed to work for everyone. But for those of us who utilize this trick? It's so, so important to the process.
And guess what? You can check out many of my book related playlists on my Spotify profile. What do you think? Does music help or hinder your writing process? Why or why not?
After decades of only having a vague idea of a story and then diving in to the novel writing process with little to no planning on my part -- I've evolved into a more refined writing creature. Somewhat. Not even really by choice. Heh.
I've had the bones of a new WIP rattling around in my head for the last few months and decided this week to sit down and actually structure it before a single "word" ever hit the page. I might have had about ten pages of notes already written. Maybe. Mostly because this book features heists and heists require planning. So writing a heist book naturally ALSO requires much more planning than I'm used to.
To that end, I dusted off my copy of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and created two writing tools that have been incredibly helpful in outlining my next book.
THREE ACT BEAT SHEET
One of them is a Three Act Beat Sheet (in table form) complete with demarcations for each section and descriptions of what should be included. It works for my brain, and hopefully it will be useful for yours! I should mention that Jessica Brody also has beat sheets available on her website as well.
The most important aspect of any main character is what they want and how their desires and actions effect the story. That hasn't always come easily to me (I usually come up with the concept before the character want), so in plotting out my current manuscript, it felt really important to fully know and understand who my main character is and how their flaws and desires will wreak havoc on everything and everyone around them. You know, the good stuff.
So I created another Character Sheet (in table form). It's primarily for the main character, but any good story features more than one character with their own unique motivations, so it's a good tool for understanding any character you're writing.
Now fill these tables out and get to writing! ;)
I am pleased to announce that Iron Curtain, the fantastical sequel to Metal Heart and Tin Road, is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook formats. For those who loved the first and second books and want to experience the epic conclusion to their saga, you don't have to wait any longer!
Iron Curtain is the third book in the Metal Heart series that follows the exploits of young women and men conscripted into "national service."
Eleni Garza and Rabbit Santiago reunite after their cross-country adventures to attempt to develop and distribute a cure for the nanovirus. However, in order to save Rabbit's life, Eleni must sacrifice their easy shot at the cure and merge him with the Alpha System, the artificial intelligence she secreted away from the KERN lab. Together, she and Alpha rescue Scarlett Buford from the Mexico City war zone and travel to New Orleans, Louisiana to save her brother Logan. But when those efforts are all thwarted, their final destination will take them beyond earth, to the last refuge for the cure: the Iron Curtain.
This is the third book in the series to be included in the Multnomah County Library ebook collection.
PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to purchase a copy, shoot me an email at: email@example.com and for those local folks, I'm happy to sign and hand deliver. Just let me know your preference!
Purchase your copy today!
We've all been there. You're about halfway through the first draft of your current novel. Or maybe you've even finished the rough draft and you're sitting down to revise and you're just... a little lost. You're not sure what to tackle first and you're not even sure who your characters really are.
Maybe this isn't as much of an issue for the Plotters out there, but for us Plantser/Pantser set, it can be a little more challenging when trying to tame an unruly first draft or whip a second draft into shape.
Here is one tried and true strategy that I've leaned on in the past, and has helped tremendously in rekindling inspiration, or just better understanding who I've created on the page.
What are character sheets?
Character sheets aren't a new concept, and many folks might even sketch these out before they ever put a metaphorical or literal pen to page. But again, for those of us who start with a vague outline, but then tend to wander wherever the creative winds blow, this can be a handy tool for steering back onto a smoother course.
This particular exercise is best to do AFTER you've already completed one draft, or perhaps if -- like me -- you're stuck about three-quarters of the way through a first draft and have had a bit of hiatus from the work and are now struggling to reconnect with characters who suddenly don't seem so crystal clear anymore.
It's a simple series of basic questions, derived from the writing craft book What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. I love the concept of writers knowing more about their characters than they perhaps need to know. Is all of this information necessary for the book? Likely, not at all. Is it important for authors to know it? Maybe. And even if it isn't essential information, it's allowing you to play with your imagination and approach your creative work in a different way, to view your characters through a different lens. Experimenting with your characters and learning more about them simply cannot be a bad thing.
Here's the basic character sheet that I would suggest writers work up for each one of their important/named characters.
The Basic Questions: Who Are You?
1. Character Name:
2. Character Nickname(s):
4. Sexual Preference:
8. Social Status and Money:
9. Relationship/Marital Status:
10. Family, Ethnicity:
11. Diction, accent, etc.:
13. Places (home, office, car, etc.):
15. Recreation, hobbies:
19. Sexual History:
25. Character Flaws:
26. Character Strengths:
28. Taste in books, music, etc.:
29. Journal entries:
31. Food Preference:
Of course -- you'll probably have more to add to this list! After all, you know your characters best and you know what specific plot points might generate more of these biographical questions.
So, you know a bit more about who your characters are -- and now to answer the big question: What do they want? Not knowing the answers to the following questions is very likely why you're stuck where you are. Discovering what each one of your individual characters really wants to achieve in this exciting new world you've created, can help you whip plot bunnies into shape or spackle over plot holes or maybe shift your book in an entirely new direction.
The Tough Questions: What do you want?
I would argue, that knowing what your characters want is the single most important aspect of writing a book. Not only do you need to know WHAT they want, but WHY they want it. And, of course, is that the thing they really need? A character can want more than one thing of course, and often the thing they want is layered.
For instance -- my current work in progress (WIP) Astrid vs. the Asteroid has a first person narrator -- Astrid Moore -- who truly wants people to believe in the visions and predictions she makes about the future. But the underlying theme is that of acceptance. She truly wants acceptance from her parents and her peers for what she perceives as her differences. And a tertiary want is to find a home and family where she can feel safe.
She wants to protect the world, but she also wants to find a place to feel protected. It's OK for your character to want more than one thing, and in this example, I've attached those wants to PLOT A and PLOT B. Astrid wants to save the world by sharing her visions of the asteroid (PLOT A), but she wants to save herself within her circle of family and friends by being BELIEVED (PLOT B). Layers! Writers and readers love 'em.
I like to answer these two series of questions together in a single character sheet, because not only do I get a stronger sense of who the character is, but combined with their true motivations in the story -- a fully formed person begins to emerge on the page. This is especially exciting if they were being unruly in a current draft. This is an individual with their own hopes, dreams, and beliefs and they WANT something. This truly helps with "side characters" with whom you might be struggling to understand their role in the story.
In Metal Heart, in my first few drafts I wasn't really sure who Rabbit Santiago was and what he really wanted for himself -- aside from a budding relationship with the main character, Eleni Garza. Until I sat down with his character sheet. Every single character in your story WANTS something, and often times that is different from what your main character wants. That's where exciting conflict comes in! That's where story and plot and character interactions really get interesting.
Now, get out there and flesh out your lovely, amazing, unique, and engaging characters. And then see what happens.
Dialogue can make or break a story. Dialogue can infuse excitement and intrigue into your novel or it can fall dull and lifeless onto the page. It's so crucial to storytelling and characterization and world-building and it's such a tricky balance to have it achieve all three at once.
But the mechanics -- the punctuation, spelling, and grammar of dialogue -- is just as important as getting the voice and characterization right. If the reader is spending time stumbling over the nitty gritty details of the dialogue, they're going to miss all the work that went into crafting the exchanges.
Dialogue just might be one of the trickiest elements to punctuate properly in a book, so here are five easy tips to remember when you're writing, revising, or editing those ultra important dialogue scenes. This helpful list was compiled in conjunction with my good friend, and former Copy Chief of Ooligan Press, Olivia Rollins who is an amazing copyeditor and proofreader now accepting clients.
Five Quick Tips For Punctuating Book Dialogue
NOT A TIP BUT:
You can/should always consult your Chicago Manual of Style if you're really feeling stumped about making a dialogue punctuation decision. Most of the major guidelines around dialogue covered in this list are available in the CMOS via these sections: 6.114 and 13.39–13.45.
For more tips on editing dialogue, read this previous blog post.
FIRST STEP: OWN YOUR MISTAKE
Not every writer or author is forged with the basics of the English language. We all grow up learning the rigors of grammar, but sometimes, our training falls to the wayside. We read books, we write, we talk, we listen to the patterns of normal human speech, we read more books, and we pick up bad habits along the way. I sure did.
But it turns out, at least when it comes to book publishing, mechanics and grammar still matter. Quite a lot. If you want to sell a manuscript or become a pro copyeditor, the best way to achieve either objective is to get back to the basics.
Sentence structure is one of those key basics. And one of my most common sentence structure errors was the dreaded comma splice. At some point along the way I picked up this nasty habit. In my writing brain, the one rushing to get all the words down on paper, it just sounds right. It sounds better and makes the most sense coming from my fingertips. But what sounds correct in our heads, isn't always what reads well on the page. So I'm here to confess to my comma splicing ways and help everyone else guilty of comma splicing to learn the error of their ways before it's too late. Just kidding. It's never too late to learn something new or re-learn something old.
SECOND STEP: RECOGNIZE AND REPAIR
A comma splice is the result of a writer using a comma to connect two independent clauses. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a finite verb, and an independent clause is a clause that can stand as a complete sentence. This means comma splicing is piecing together two separate sentences using only a comma. It's not the end of the world, but it is bad grammar.
Even with all that description a nasty habit can be hard to recognize at first. It needs to be seen for what it is.
EXAMPLE: This is a comma splice, it can be hard to recognize if you aren't looking for it.
Now, how does something like this get fixed? As with most writing faux pas, there are usually several solutions to revise.
THIRD STEP: RESOURCES
In the hot heat of writing, especially in the rush to meet a deadline, it can still be challenging to find those pesky comma splices hiding among the shining pearls of those otherwise perfectly formed sentences. And maybe, like with me, those are the grammatical issues you are most blind to -- the sort of natural error that your editorial or revising eye just glazes right over.
Luckily, there are resources to help hone that editorial eye. There are the obvious ones like The Copyeditor's Handbook and The Chicago Manual of Style to relearn all those pesky sentence structure rules and refine them.
Once the studying is complete, then it's time to move on to testing. There are several online quizzes that satisfy the requirements, but the best of the bunch were created by:
Other options include online and digital grammar checkers like:
Being guilty of using comma splices doesn't make you a bad writer. But knowing how to recognize and revise them, especially before an editor gets ahold of a manuscript and points them out anyway, will definitely make you a better writer.
This was written for and originally appeared on the Ooligan Press blog.
As a springboard from a previous blog post on writing "show AND tell," I'm in the midst of the arduous process of surgically editing the language in the Iron Curtain manuscript. Yes, I'm to the point where the major plot elements are locked in, and now I'm cleaning up and refining all the over-used phrases and terms to make the words sing off the page in order to evoke emotion and empathy in the reader. Gotta paint those mind pictures!
This the part where more of my "telling" becomes "showing." Nearly every writer has this stage of the process where they're taking a serious stock of the language level issues in their own writing and figuring out how to make it better. Or maybe that's just me? Whatever the case, do your thing, writers!
Find Your Weaknesses
By far, the biggest issues for me are touch-related sensory elements. I spend way too much time on lingering glances and hands/fingers DOING THINGS. But I didn't initially know that. It's a leftover from taking two terms of screenwriting and TV scriptwriting. There's a lot more "stage direction" involved in that writing style and once mired in it, the bad habits were hard to shake when it came to novel writing. It took some poking, prodding, and carefully analysis of words/terms in my manuscripts before I realized just what my biggest crutches were.
You've got to spend time with your manuscript. I suggest printing out a paper copy, busting out a red pen and highlighting, underlining, or circling words that you know are "weak" or that you see popping up over and over again. It also might help to "listen" to your manuscript read by someone else or out loud to yourself or with the aid of technology. The cringe phrases will start to pile up. Right them down, make a note or a list, and vow to return for another pass.
How To 'Fix' Filler Words
Once you know what your filler words are, you then have to spend some time figuring out how to fix them. I started with honing in on repeated words/phrases and using the "search/find" function in my word processor to spit back a tally, and then I'd determine what seemed like a more appropriate number (let's shoot for 50 instead of 100). After that, it was just a matter of clicking through each use, analyzing it in the context, and creating better phrasing.
And once you start to see the tally decrease, knowing that you're swapping in more creative descriptions and phrasing in their stead, it gives you a better overall feeling about the manuscript itself. You've got solid plot and characterization and setting and pacing and structure... and now you have THE WORDS to match the beautiful, amazing, wonderful story you've put your heart and soul into crafting.
I'll also often look at the "spread" of the words too. Readers are INCREDIBLY SENSITIVE to overused words, terms, and phrases and they'll become especially attuned to them if they're used close together. You absolutely MUST mind your gaps. Unless there are reasonable/extenuating circumstances, try to separate at least two or three pages between each instance and see how that feels.
So, what phrases and terms should you be on the lookout for when you're getting down to the third or fourth revision pass on your manuscript and you're ready to put on the spit-polish?
Common Words To Lose
Everyone has their different and unique writing quirks, so my specific language edit lists tend to be longer and filled with more of my usual suspects (eye, heart, hand, mouth, face, lip, smile -- I love you guys!). I told you. Stage direction is my weakness and my first love and it takes an actual effort and labor of love to reel it back in.
I was surprised, as a writer with nearly four decades of experience under my belt, to learn during my MA program, mostly through discussion and reading that creative writing programs are often peddling some BAD writing advice to their students. And this same bad writing advice is repeatedly offered as legitimate critique in all writing mediums.
You know you've heard it before. The infamous and chronically over-rated: Show, don't tell.
So, what do people mean when they say this? And why is it important for writers to understand this concept?
What it means to "show" the reader.
Showing a reader a scene, often means investing the reader in the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) that the protagonist is using to experience a scene. It's inspiring and appealing to the reader to invest the same level of emotion and sensation in the imagined experience as the protagonist. It engages a readers empathy muscles. This is an important feature of writing, to be sure. Many scenes are often heightened by just sprinkling in a few sensory details and descriptions.
For Example: Jane edged her toe across the threshold leading into her new seventh grade homeroom, but hesitated to enter. The drab colors of the room and the sterility of the desks made her stomach clench as bile climbed her throat. She swallowed back the acid on her tongue with a sense of dread. She missed the bright colors of Mrs. DeSouza's classroom, paneled with rainbows and motivational posters. This room lacked any kind of sparkle or personality. It seemed almost designed, with it's traffic jam of desks and chairs, to trip someone up. How long before she made a spectacle of herself?
It wouldn't be long now. She was certain everyone around her could smell the acrid sweat clinging to her shirt. She tugged on the straps of her backpack and chewed the soft inside of her cheek in contemplation. What if she tripped on her way to her desk? What if she accidentally brushed too close to someone's papers and they scattered everywhere? She only had one chance to make a first impression here and there were so many opportunities to mess this up. The school bell rang on the wall near her head, startling her out of her reverie. Here we go, she thought. It's now or never. Consequences be damned.
By touching lightly on many sensory details and diving closely into the mindset of the protagonist, the writer has fully activated the empathy engine in the reader. "Showing" boosts empathy, and that's one of the more common ways that a reader begins to full immerse themselves in the world a writer has created.
What it means to "tell" the reader.
That's when an author is imparting information, usually crucial and important data that the reader needs to know in order to understand the context of the scene, or properly parse out what's happening on the page. It often sits at one level of remove from the reader, as it relays important details, but doesn't allow the reader to fully invest themselves in a scene.
For Example: Jane walked into her seventh grade classroom. It was the first day at a new school and she was nervous. She missed the comforting sights of her colorful elementary school classroom. She felt sick to her stomach and was sweating profusely underneath her jacket. She paused at the door, worried she might trip or crash into someone on the way to her desk and embarrass herself in front of everyone. She heard the sound of the school bell ringing, and realized she couldn't wait any longer to enter. She had to take her seat.
The reader is still accessing all the most important and crucial details of the scene, but we feel somewhat removed from the situation. We can't fully invest ourselves in the character. We can sympathize with her plight (many folks have been nervous on their first day at a new school), but we're not yet fully walking in her shoes. Telling is writing shorthand, and it does work on some level. It's crucial to use this tool to relay data that is not critical for readers to "experience." It's often the way that writers move the story along to get to the next scene or chapter or bit of critical dialogue.
What does it mean to "show AND tell" then?
When writers receive feedback about their work, claiming that they were "telling" instead of "showing" that often makes them feel inadequate or that somehow, "telling" is to be avoided at all costs. All "show" all the time, right?
No. Not at all. All writers should be doing some combination of the two. Showing AND telling, in order to give the reader the fully immersive experience that they so desire.
The combination of these two is most easily noted in journalism feature writing. Journalists will start out a feature story, hooking the readers in, by "showing" them a scene. When a journalist interviews a celebrity at their sprawling mansion -- they might describe the sights, the sounds, the feel, and the smells of the estate. Or in a sports article, they might "set the scene" by describing the pitcher on the mound, about to throw the most important ball of their life (the sting of sweat in their eyes, the smell of freshly cut grass, the gritty taste of dust in their mouth, the glare of the spotlights, etc). But then, in the next few paragraphs, they bust into the "telling" aspect of the story. They give you the facts and data, the logistics you need to understand WHY this scene is so important and crucial.
The bias against "telling" is similar to the constant derision of exposition. The reader NEEDS exposition in order to understand the plot and narrative. Do they need all of it at once in a large chunk at the beginning of the book, or at the end? Nope. Exposition works best when it's sprinkled in and woven throughout the text, usually in a way that compels the reader to keep turning the page because they just NEED to know what happens.
Does the reader need to be CONSTANTLY experiencing all five senses at once and accessing all information only via being "shown" rather than told. Also, no. You can "over show" just as easily as you can jam excessive amounts of exposition or scenic description or bantering dialogue into your writing.
Think of "show AND tell" in the same way that good writers know to vary sentence length and structure. Readers crave variety. We like short sentences juxtaposed against long ones. We like over-description to set a crucial scene paired with description that provides just enough detail to move us on to something more important.
"Showing" and "exposition" are often the worst enemies of another major element at play in writing (especially books): pacing. Books rely on pacing to keep readers engaged. Sure, we love a good flashback and a strong immersion experience (especially in an action scene fraught with peril), but we also need time to cool down. "Showing AND telling" is a way to respect the reader, and serve the pace of a story, without bogging it down in needless details or immersion that feels good, but goes nowhere.
How do you "show" when you've already "told?"
The best part about writing is that you can always fix it and make it better. To boost your writing (or even to add to particular scenes where you really want to punch things up), you should review your crucial scenes for the use of the five senses. It's really THAT simple. And of course, the sixth sense is not to be overlooked either. Characters in your book SHOULD have an awareness of themselves. Being allowed into a character's internal world, where they are reacting in thought to the scene is also a crucial element of showing. Characters have things to say when big stuff is happening to them.
Writing Exercise: If you're getting the constant feedback that you're "telling" more than "showing" then grab your favorite scene and inject sensory detail. Add all five senses (plus a bonus sixth sense) to the scene, just for funsies. Too much? Scale it back. Not enough? Get internal with your characters.
How do you "tell" instead of "show?"
The biggest indicator that you're over-relying on telling is by doing a simple search for the following terms: is, was, are, were, have, had. For example: Jane was nervous. She was sweating profusely. She had to take her seat. The more you can eliminate those terms in your writing and pepper in colorful verbs instead, the more enjoyable it will be to read. It will evoke more emotion in the reader. Those terms are functional, to be sure. But they are also lifeless and dead to a reader on the page, a simple means to get from one part of the sentence to the next.
Another important note: "Telling" can also over-use key sensory words in an attempt to seem more like "showing."
Writing Exercise: If you're still worried about an over-reliance on "telling" you can also do a search across your whole book for terms like "is, was, are, were, have, had" and tally up the results. While you're there, also search for terms like "feel, see, hear, taste, smell" and see if you can rewrite sentences without those sensory indicator words, while still evoking the sensation and immersion.
It's the difference between: The taste of bile was on her tongue vs. acidy bile lurched onto her tongue.
And in conclusion...
The thing is, neither sentence is inherently wrong, and both get the reader to where they're going. And, depending on the importance of the character or that moment to the scene (context!), you might choose to "tell" rather than "show." The point is, most books function with an interplay between those two styles. Pick any book off the shelf and I can guarantee you that no writer is "showing" you 100% of the time.
And you probably wouldn't enjoy a book written in that style of prose either. Or maybe you would? If so, enjoy!
"Show, don't tell" is just lazy critique/review short hand that actually means a lot more than just the simple phrase, but reviewers/critique partners are often ill-equipped to provide writers with the tools needed to improve. "Just show me don't tell me" is feedback that is often SO DAMAGING to writers because it's nonspecific. Those leveling it often don't really understand what elements are at play and how to help the writer improve. They just know, something is missing and they want "more." The good news is, writers CAN improve their writing if someone is willing to, you know... be more specific and empathetic in explaining their reasoning behind deploying that statement.
The more you hone in on shedding some of your tendency to "tell," the easier it becomes to "show." Or, to add the "showing" parts in the revision. You'd be surprised at how many first drafts feature more "telling" than "showing." It turns out, a lot of us go back and add the good stuff in later. But you should never, never discount the need to "tell" in a story just because someone once gave you this lazy piece of feedback.
After the great Nanowrimo November writing bust of 2020, I am somewhat hesitant to lay out my writing goals and resolutions for the New Year. However, I am coming up close on completing at least one of my larger writing goals I'd set in place for 2020 (another editorial pass at Iron Curtain) and it seems like the best time of the year to hunker down and plot the course for the next year.
In terms of writing accomplishments, 2020 had a lot to offer. I submitted Tin Road and it was accepted into the 2020 Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. I graduated with an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where I served as Managing Editor at Ooligan Press, helping to usher half a dozen books through the editorial gauntlet. I am now working as a full-time editor AND doing freelance editing gigs on the side.
Perhaps the biggest 2020 takeaway, was the print publication of both Metal Heart and Tin Road. Are they completely perfect? No, not really. Would they both benefit from some professional copyediting and proofing? Probably. But I kind of love them for all their imperfections and I'm pretty emotionally attached to these stories and not really willing to turn them over to anyone else at this point. I'm never going to make a million dollars on this simple little trilogy, but for the sake of my love of these characters, I'm excited to see these books through to conclusion and to have them available in print for posterity. ;) Especially for those out there who love my imaginary friends as much as I do.
So, what's next for 2021?
Resolution #1: Publish Iron Curtain (Spring 2021)
While I am loathe to say a final goodbye to my favorite idiots, the Universe is telling me that...it is time. I've been working on these books and these characters for a decade, and so it seems fitting that 2021 is when I finally write "The End" and part ways with them. I spent summer 2020 writing the ending to the trilogy, and now, after getting notes back from my beta readers, I'm doing an editorial pass where I write fun notes to myself like "This scene has entirely too much blocking. Fix it, it sucks." I even took out the entire first chapter because I usually always start the story just one chapter off from where it needs to be.
Once this round of editing is completed, it goes back into the willing hands of my beta readers (who I made cry last time around, I MADE THEM CRY) and then, after another copyediting and then proofing round, it will be submitted to the Library Writers Project collection for 2021. No matter what happens (whether it is accepted into the collection or not), the book will go into print publication by mid-to-late Spring 2021.
Resolution #2: Finish Astrid vs. the Asteroid (Winter 2021)
My burning secret and shame is that I still haven't finished my first lovely little stand-alone, Astrid vs. the Asteroid. It needs an ending and I guess maybe I'm bad at endings or I just avoid them because I know it means I am saying goodbye to the dear, dear characters I spent months and years creating. Whatever the case, they are most deserving of a good ending and I want to do good by them, so I will be giving Astrid the send-off she so richly deserves very, very soon.
Resolution #3: Draft Rosita Ruins the Heist (Summer 2021)
A memory stealing bank robber. This one has been kicking around in my brain for a few years and I've been itching to put her down on paper. I figure if I can log 1,000 words a day for three months, that should put me around 90k words which would be a very sweet spot indeed for this simple little caper.
Resolution #4: Draft Untitled Horror Novel (Fall 2021)
I have a handful of different horror novel ideas, and it's about time one of them floated to the surface and saw the light of day. My biggest beef with most haunted house stories is that they take place in these GIANT labyrinthine mansions with endless spooky corridors with doors that open to giant dusty rooms. They're almost always situated on huge sprawling estates with tunnels and trapdoors and haunted greenhouses or something. I say thee nay! Give me seedy, creepy little houses in a neighborhood littered with needles and condom wrappers and graffiti and poverty. I want a story set where the bus line ends and drug dealers hang out on the street corners and everything smells like weed.
OR I might end up drafting a book based on this dream I had the other night about a girl who quits her job on her birthday and adventures with a coworker (named Michael Anthony, a very specific dream detail), which just so happens to be the first night of the apocalypse. You know me and a good apocalypse story. ;)
Those are all the writing goals fit to print at the moment. As always, they are probably loftier than their practical and realistic application. I will be lucky if I get Iron Curtain published, finish Astrid, and draft Rosita.
And that's, of course, not counting any of the other goals I have for my editing gigs and we can't forget the writing workshops and critiques and social media marketing, blog posts, eventually putting out that newsletter I keep teasing/talking about, maybe some book club appearances, and maybe a digital reading of some kind plus thinking about converting some of the books to audio...
There is always a lot to do. But without the writing first... none of that other stuff matters as much.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson mingled fantasy, horror, and grief in a contemporary tale of raising the dead. The focus on the witchcrafting elements was what hooked me at first. Mila Flores has a strong voice and a chip on her shoulder, and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. But at the same time, she has a soft marshmallow side that she mostly only reveals to her long-time crush Xander.
It was a great Halloween-time read, but the end mystery kinda fizzled for me because it came out of left field. Even when I looked back on the killer reveal, I don’t really SEE it. Readers want to be in on the fun and instead I felt a little gut punched. Luckily the humor and the unlikely camaraderie between the witch and her zombies carried the book through its somewhat rocky conclusion.
I honestly wouldn’t mind spending another book in Mila’s world.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.