Unfulfilled Needs

I am Writing

Without conflict, there is no story. We’ve all heard it a million times. But what fuels the conflict? The unfulfilled need of your protagonist, of course. The need of your protagonist must be deep enough to get you through your entire story. It also has to be something the reader can relate too, otherwise even if it creates tons of conflicts and you can pump out 100,000 words, your reader won’t care and will set the book down.

How do you come up with a need that is relatable? Pick something that is basic to all people. Take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, according to Maslow’s theory people have five levels of needs and if one level is not satisfied a person is not going to be able to move forward in their development.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

Physiological needs: food, water, warmth, rest

Safety needs: security, safety

Belongingness and love needs: intimate relationships, friends

Esteem needs: prestige and feeling of accomplishment

Self-actualization needs: achieving one’s full potential including creative activities.

If your character doesn’t have food, water, warmth and rest, it will be difficult for him to focus on the next level, although they may have needs there as well.

Life is not as straight forward as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would like us to believe. Most people are addressing needs from three or four of these levels at the same time and your characters should be the same.

The protagonist of your story may have physiological needs, belonging and love needs, and self-actualization needs. Having various levels of needs is going to supply you with lots of opportunities for conflict and growth in your character’s arc. Just as important, your reader will be able to identify with these needs and feel strongly about what happens to your protagonist and any other character you supply with a need (and you should your minor characters should have needs just like your major characters).

Identifying your characters needs will make creating a back-story and understanding your character easier for you as well. The more you know about your character the easier it is to keep their actions and responses to conflicts realistic and true to who they are as a person or whatever they happen to be.

Creative Head Space

I am Writing

Many writers are able to schedule time to write at the same time each day of the week. Having a set time prepares your mind to be creative and to get into the mood.

Other’s create a space in their home or office where the magic happens. Their brain kicks into creative mode when they sit down.

Still other’s listen to a particular type of music and warm their fingers around a mug of coffee or tea, to stir the muse to life.

Is all of this necessary to get into that creative head space? No, but routines such as these can be helpful setting the stage. All these routines tell our body and mind, “Ok, it is time to focus on this creative thing we do.”

Even with all these preparations and cues to set us up to be creative, at times we sit there staring at the blank page with a dismally empty mind. Then what? Should you get up and walk away or sit there waiting patiently for something to come to you? I walk away. If the words won’t come and the movie isn’t playing on the screen of my mind, I find something else to do for a while.

There are three things I do that are helpful to me at times like this, first, I can go for a run. Running wakes me up and gets me to focus. My mind is free to wander and let go of any stressors that may be clogging the creative drain. The second thing that I find helpful is listening to podcasts on the writing craft. This spurs new ideas and new perspectives on old ideas. The third thing is similar to the second, I read books on the craft or blogs.

I never just sit there trying to come up with something because all I manage to do is become frustrated and produce total crap that will be deleted the next time I look over my work in progress. I always have more than one project going at a time, so if I’m just not in that creative zone needed to produce new scenes, then I turn to editing, researching or outlining.

 

Point of View

I am Writing

When you craft a scene in a character’s POV, every line in that scene has to feel as though it is being processed, chewed, and spit out by that character. Everything that happens in that scene is witnessed, experienced, felt, and reacted to by that character. And so, even the narrative must have “voice.”

CS Lakin

When I first read the above, I had to sit with it for a minute and process it. I loved the way it was written and the knowledge behind it is worth really considering.

I found this in an article about voice, but it is equally important when thinking about which POV to choose for a book and to make sure that you have not head hopped during one scene.

POV, point of view, is one of the most important decisions an author will make about a novel. First person, third person limited, and third person omniscient are the most frequently used POV’s. There are costs and benefits to each one of them.

First person, allows the reader to get to know your character and bond with them. It can make the story come to life in a real way. First person POV typically, has one POV character and would be confusing if you changed characters. First person, can be difficult to write because you know what is going on in everyone else’s head and sometimes it slips in. You have to catch those slips in editing and find a way to give the same information from the first person perspective.

Third person limited can be as intimate as first person if you stick with one or two character throughout the novel. Third person can be difficult because you run the risk of head hopping during a scene because you do write from other characters points of view. Third person limited POV is the most popular choice for authors.

Third person omniscient allows you to write from every character’s POV. The reader can see inside anyone’s head. It gives you the option of having as many POV characters as you would like. You write from a god like perspective. You can tell the reader what is going on in anyone’s head at any time. This can be confusing to readers unless each character has a distinct voice. True Omniscient POV is not used very often.

As hard as we try as writers, some lines or whole paragraphs slip into our scenes that are from the wrong POV. That’s why I love the quote above. It reminds us that every aspect of the story must be told from the one POV.

Doing so increases the bond between character and reader and reduces the possibility of confusion.

Choose Words that Characterize

word rain

Trying to convey how we feel with words can be difficult. You sit with the feeling and think about the words that attempt to express it. Nothing really does though. They come close, but something is always missing.

I’ve spent hours trying to find the right words, construct the right sentence, and make other’s feel the way I do with my words. But that’s backwards. You can’t make other’s feel what you feel. You have to call out the proper emotion from within them.

Isn’t that the same as making others feel how we feel? It’s the reverse actually. Instead of trying to make you feel how I feel, I want to bring out a particular feeling in YOU. This is all very confusing, you say.

If I am trying to get you to feel a certain way at a particular spot in my story, I automatically go to every aspect of the story to get you there. I use the setting, the weather, the body language of my characters, and dialogue. The words I choose to describe all of this call out an emotion in you.

If I want you to feel joy, I’m going to find a detail of joy in the weather that I can bring forward. I’m going to have my character notice bright and beautiful things in the setting and not the cockroach lurking in the corner. The words I use to describe the actions in the scene are going to be bouncy and colorful.

By doing this, I don’t have to tell you that my character is happy or joyful. You already know because it is in everything that is going on around the character. Even if the setting is ugly and dark, if your character notices the one beautiful element it tells the reader how your character is feeling and that your character is more of the optimistic type than pessimistic.

Get your thesaurus and dictionary out and have them ready while you are editing your first draft. If they are easily accessible, you are more likely to use them. As you build your story, chose words that do more than define and describe, choose words that characterize and color.

 

The perfect couple

perfect couple

Running and Writing sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g,

First comes love, then comes marriage,

Then comes baby in the baby carriage.

I may be a little biased, but running and writing are the perfect couple. They rarely fight or argue. The weakness of one is the strength of the other.

Writing requires a lot of butt in chair time, fingers whirling over keys, and brain checking off plot points and character arcs. Butt in chair, adds up to a lot of butt. That’s where running comes in, to work off the butt. Running does a lot more for writing than just working off all the crap you shove in your face while you agonize over what’s happening in your character’s lives.

Running increases creativity and problem solving through clearing stress and flooding your brain with oxygen. Writers block? Lace up and head out the door for five miles. Let go of the writing and let your mind wander. You could see something that will get your muse back to work or something may just pop into your head. Running also helps with sleeping, as writers sleep is the time when we do our best work.

Running can take you physically and emotionally to places you have never experienced. It teaches you to dig deep, stick to a schedule, and build slowly, which are important lessons for writers who sometimes think they can only write when they feel like it. As a runner, there are days when you would rather stay in bed than go out in the cold and run 800-meter repeats (which suck if you’ve never had the experience).

Writers have the tendency to hole up and not socialize much and running with a group or training for a race can get you out the door and around people who don’t inhabit your head. Runners come from diverse backgrounds and their stories of running adventures may fuel your next novel.

All right, so how does writing help running? Runners by their nature like to push themselves to their limits. This is a good thing, when that’s what is on the training schedule, but rest is equally important. Sitting in front of a computer or pad of paper is excellent rest.

 

The Catcher in the Rye and Coffee

pile of books

As I drove to Barnes and Noble, I knew I had to have a plan and I went in with determination and a plan. I was getting a copy of Catcher in the Rye, a coffee, and leaving. No browsing, no other books.

I needed a classic book written in first person for ideas on sentence structure for the memoir I am working on along with the two others I have in progress.

The scent of books and coffee assailed me as I passed through the doors. I could easily spend hours here, drinking in coffee and words. But I have my plan Catcher in the Rye and coffee. Focus.

I stopped at the biographies, looking at covers, font choices, and title length. Before I knew it, I was flipping books over to read the back and perusing snippets from chapters. I totted a couple books around to the next shelf and noticed a book, I knew was at home yet to be read. Hmmmm.

Focus, damn it, Catcher in the Rye and coffee!

I hung my head in shame and placed the two books back on the shelf, caressing the cover and whispering next time and a long sigh escaped my lips.

I took the long way around the store to the fiction and literature section. Dangerous I know. I ran my fingers over some covers, stopped at the new release table, and flipped to the back cover to read a bit. Nothing really sang to my soul, so I gently placed them back with their brothers and sisters. I breathed in the aroma of the coffee and glanced at all the free souls sitting at tables sipping and turning pages.

I found Catcher in the Rye and was heading toward the coffee counter, but to get there I had to go through the fantasy and sci-fi section. Like a drug addict, I had to walk the isles. I smiled at the new book covers on Terry Brooks, Sword of Shannara. I loved those books. I looked over the new books in the Dragonlance Sagas.

Books appeared in my hand and I was obligated to read their covers and flip through sampling their words. Reluctantly, I returned them to the shelf and committed their titles to memory for further exploration later. The cover art on fantasy novels usual depicts the protagonist in an epic battle against some beast or the antagonist. Some of them are taking a more cartoonish or animated look, which I don’t especially like. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series does not do this. The cover is very simple the hilt of a sword, a crown, or a goblet. It is not flashy but catches your eye because it is different among the color of the other covers.

I look down, more books are in my hand. How did that happen? Hmmm. The pile of books to be read in my bedroom is rather higher than I would like, if you add in the ones on my kindle, it really is a sad state of affairs, which I must address before purchasing more.

I get in line for coffee and continue my mantra Catcher in the Rye and Coffee. As I left the bookstore, there was an emptiness inside. Maybe I should find a book anonymous support group…

Three keys to keep the creative flowing

keys

There are three keys to keep the creativity flowing, the boys in the basement active, and the muse at the quill. First is to read, read, and read. Second is to learn as much as you can. Third is to write even when it sucks.

Reading in the genre that you write in is important. You learn new tricks of the genre. You keep up on what is trending. You understand the themes and structure of the genre. It is also important to read outside of your writing genre. By reading outside your genre it flexes your creative muscle. New ideas pop into your mind because it combines with the ideas you already have going. It adds a special twist in your novel. I’m not suggesting you combine genres, but you could. What I’m saying is that different genres do certain things better than others and you can learn to be better by reading outside the lines.

Continue to learn about structure, characters, dialogue, and every other area of writing. Strive to improve over your career as a writer. I have found that I need to keep a notebook near at hand when reading about the ins and outs of writing. Ideas for new stories and current ones spring into my mind as I discover new ways to look at things whether it is scenes or sentences.

Write as often as you can. For some this is every day. For others it is every other day. Whatever it is for you, keep doing it and do it regularly. It might be total crap that you are writing, if it’s a first draft it is total crap, but keep doing it. You will get better. However, if you stop you will not get better. Quitting is the end of the line. The chance of success drops to zero. Write all kinds of things. Don’t box yourself into one type of story. Write poetry, short story, novels, non-fiction, fiction, and in any genre that calls to you. I find it easier to have two projects going at the same time, that way, if I get sick of one I can still be productive on the other.

The balance between the three keys ebbs and flows, depending on where you are in your journey. Stagnation and loss of creativity is a sign that you have misplaced one of your keys.

I need a freaking doggie door!

My writing tip of the day: If you are a writer with dogs, get a doggie door.

Meet the slave drivers, Annabelle (black)  and Ignacious (brown). dogs 3

Adorable aren’t they? Yes well they are the first three times I get up to let them out the door, but after the fiftieth time, they are no longer adorable. In fact, they are hell-spawned demons.

You see, Satan, let them outside three times too, and then he was fed up with their cuteness and sent them packing.  You can only open a portal from hell so many times a day after all.

I sit at my computer happily typing away. I glance away from the screen to consider my options in the story and rest my eyes a little and there she is. Those floppy ears and big brown eyes, she knows their power. boot

She gives her tail a little wag and you think, “Oh how sweet.” No! Stop right there. She is the queen of the damned. Everything she whispers to you makes perfect sense, and then you realize you have fallen into her trap and you are completely under her spell.

She gives a little chirp and you stand up. She waddle to the door and you open it. Five minutes later, she barks and you stand, walk back to the door, and open it. She waddles in and grins up at you with her perky ears. 213

She waddles toward the couch and checks to see if you are following her. You are. She stops in front of the couch and gives a little bark, you bend over, and put her on the back of the couch so she can spy on the neighbors through the window.

She lies there content for a while until her brother hears something outside and then there is raucous barking and dancing little feet. You stand, walk to the door, and open it. Blurs of black and brown fur fly down the stairs and around the corner of the house. Their friends are outside next door.

My much wiser neighbors make their little beasties come in the house after ten or fifteen minutes of them flying along the fence barking like maniacs. I’m sure they hate me because I’m a well-trained human, who lets the beasts run, tongues lulling, and smiling ear to ear to their hearts content.

Lilly stares at me from across the room.

lilly “I told you not to bring them home, but do you ever listen to me?”

Annabelle  is the smarter of the two. She has a variety of chirps, barks, and whines she uses to tell you what she would like you to do. Once she has you on your feet, she will lead you to what she wants. If she goes to the kitchen, she wants a treat. If she goes to the door, she wants outside. If she goes to the couch, she would like you to lift her little butt up so she can spy on the neighbors out the window.

Ignacious is content snuggling you all day long. Of course, he wants his ears rubbed while you think about the next sentence you are going to write, or a treat when you get up to refill your coffee, but if you just let him curl up right next to you, he is a happy green eyed fur face. He really likes it when you throw his dinosaur so he can get it and bring it back for you to throw again, and again.

I got home from my run at 7:30 am. Now, it’s 10:30 a.m. and I have honestly let them outside fifteen times.

Shhhh, They are sleeping now. So maybe I can get some writing done.

dogs 1

Text to Speech

AI

A useful strategy for editing your manuscript is to read it out loud. By doing so, you focus on each word more and can catch mistakes in your writing whether it is a missing comma, a misspelled word, or an auto-correct that is not correct.

Another tool that writers can use is text to voice programs. NaturalReader is a program that will read your manuscript back to you. They have a free version with a male and female voice, and they have a paid version where you get two more, higher quality voices and a few more options for $69.50 U.S. One option I am interested in is turning the book into an MP3 audio file giving me the ability to listen to my manuscript as I do other audiobooks. Granted the electronic voice is a little weird, but if you can get over that issue, having your manuscript read to you is a great way to find extra sneaking mistakes. NatrualReader has multiple languages options such as German, French, and Spanish.

I’ve looked at the IVONA text to speech program too. It’s an Amazon product. IVONA has a thirty-day free trial of their program. You can buy different packages of voices. It’s $59.00 U.S. for one voice and the ability to convert into an MP3. You can get three voices for $119.00 U.S.

yWriter is a free writing program that you can download. It helps with structuring your novel and keeps track of location, time passage, characters, and any other object you put into the program. You can input as little or as much information as you want into the program. It also has the ability to read the scenes to you (you have to be in the Scene page).

Another way of having your manuscript read to you is by changing it to a PDF document and emailing it to your kindle and having your kindle read it, which makes it more portable than a laptop.

Having another voice read my manuscript adds another layer of objectivity, at least for me. Separating myself from my memoir has been difficult. I’ve waited four month before going back to edit it, and I still find it hard at particular points to step back and experience the book as a reader.

Has anyone else tried any of these programs and have a favorite?

 

Structuring Your Novel: Part Three

Structuring-Your-Novel

The motivation-reaction unit (MRU) helps writer’s structure sentences and scenes alike. It is a way of thinking about the cause and effect relationship of incidents within your story. Many writers place the effect before the cause, which makes readers slow down and think about what happened. Even a seconds slowing can distract and/or confuse a reader, so it’s best to keep things in the right order.

Here are a few examples:

Effect then cause:

The cat scratched Simon’s face because Simon pulled it’s tail.

Cause then effect:

Simon pulled the cat’s tail, and it scratched his face.

Effect then cause:

Gertrude slammed the front door, after seeing a man with a shotgun running across the lawn.

Cause then effect:

A man with a shotgun was running across the law. Gertrude slammed the front door.

Each of these examples is more powerful when the cause comes before the effect. The reader has to think less about what just happened when the motivation (cause) come before the reaction (effect).

Sequencing your reaction in the right order is also important. A person reacts to a stimulus in a very specific way. When you get things out of order, it slows the reader down. Reactions occur in the following order:

  1. Emotional and thoughts
  2. Action including involuntary actions
  3. Speech

If you stop to analyze how you reaction to various things in your environment, you will see that you have an emotional response or thought first, followed by an action, and finally speech. Keeping things in the right order helps readers suspend their disbelief and reduces the acrobatics their brains have to engage in to understand what is happening with your amazing characters.

If you want to learn more about structuring your novel, I highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel (picture above).

Part one of this series can be found here.

Part two of this series can be found here.

Happy Writing!

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