Monday, November 30, 2009

PFC: Week 7

Sorry for the late notes. Holiday weekend and such.

This class was all about Plot.

We worked around a circular diagram. So, if you want, draw a circle on a piece of paper. At about where the 9 would be on a clock, draw two lines. Label the one closest to 12 "Cage" and the other one (below it) "Home."

You character's journey starts in the Cage - something is confining them, holding them back, keeping them from going on their quest/personal mission/road to fulfillment. This is where your plot beings.

From this point, we move around the circle clockwise. At about 12 o'clock, draw a line and label it "Quest." Now, you can have many markers like this along the path, which are the events moving your plot along to the central conflict. Which means at about 6 o'clock, you need to draw a line and label it "Dragon." This represents the climax/boss fight/revelation of the story. Now, you can have small dragons (smaller conflicts and fights/struggles) along the way, but there should be one event/scene that is the biggest and most important of them all.

From there your plot goes the rest of the way around to Home - essentially, back to where you started, but your character is no longer confined to the cage that was around them when the novel started.

Another thing to remember within your plot is what Pam called the "call the adventure," which is exactly what it sounds like. The moment that the plot gets moving. It can be a phone call or a kidnapping. Your protag gets fired or your hero gets the news that their kingdom is under attack. Something to kick start the action and get your plot off the ground.

This concept (the circle pattern) is based on The Hero's Journey by Joesph Campbell. I found a website that has a diagram - different than Pam's, but the same general idea. It has a few more steps built it, but interesting take a look at.

As you might imagine, our exercise was to write a scene in which your protag (or another character) receives the call to adventure.

Fun stuff. Since I had already wrote Kelder's call to adventure in chapter 1, I opted to work on Telleo's call to adventure. A very fun exercise, and for homework we need to expand it into three pages.

Extra Credit: How to know when you're being "that guy" and should stop.
  • You preface your question by saying "Because I have a Masters in this."
  • You debate each answer the teacher gives by saying "But I learned this another way in my Masters classes."
  • 90% of your classmates are openly laughing and mocking you.
  • The teacher actually says "I don't care what you do" after five minutes of giving you detailed responses, and THEN YOU STILL KEEP ARGUING.

Be kind to your classmates. Don't be that guy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fire in Fiction: Post revamps

I'm working on a new approach to my Fire in Fiction post series. Since my notes are basically summing up what you can learn better by reading The Fire in Fiction book, I've decided to instead show how I'm revising my manuscript based on what I learned at the workshop.

Here's a few places you can pick up The Fire in Fiction:

I'll have a post up about evaluating my protagonist, Kumari, next week.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fire In Fiction: The Maass Workshop Intro

I'm going to make an attempt to convey some of the greatness that is Donald Maass and his teachings on my blog. While I can't possibly live up to the experience of taking one of his workshops or even reading his books, I'm going to post some of my revision notes based on th workshop in an effort to help out people who can't afford to take classes like this.

That being said, if you can afford it, you're cheating yourself by not going. Interested? Visit Free Expressions for information about when Don Maass might be in your area. My experience and recommendation comes from taking the Fire in Fiction class. I was so impressed that I've already signed up for the Breakout Novel Intensive in Oregon next April. Also, you can order his books on writing from - Writing the Breakout Novel and Fire in Fiction. These are must haves for a writer's shelf. I own them both, I've read the Career Novelist (which is really more for published authors, but you can download the pdf for free from his website I believe).

I also want to say that there are two ways to look at these posts. First off, this class really felt like something for people with completed first drafts (at the very least) and more for people deep in revising and trying to add the shine that will catch an agent. Of all the classes, agent blogs, seminars, etc I've ever taken on the web and in person, Don's workshop really felt more advanced to me. This is about taking your fiction to the next level, even beyond just landing an agent. He talks about these techniques as something that makes the difference between publishing one book that does okay, and having a career as a successful novelist.

That being said, the second way to look out these notes could be as a tool box of techniques, and something you can elect to be aware of as you're writing something new. But consider how many people get stuck in the limbo of trying to make draft one perfect, and never finish? Remember that its okay to write your story, have it be a sucky first draft, and then use teachings from various agents, books, blogs and workshops to go back and refine your writing. Trying to do everything at once might not be impossible, but is an alarmingly high bar to set.

Based on my personal experience and where I was at in the this whole process - I'd finished my revisions on HOUND and was planning to start querying, but decided to wait until after this workshop - I really think these are things to apply when you start revising. At least at first. Once we're all cranking novels out for contracts every few months, we'll all learn to do this stuff in two or three drafts instead of ten. And I really am glad I waited to query. I think HOUND would have been marketable and I might have found an agent, but I feel that after this workshop my eyes have been opened and that if I can apply these concepts and techniques to my novel, my chances of success will be significantly higher. At least, one can hope right? But this kind of thinking comes from spending two days with a wonderfully impressive and extremely inspirational instructor.

My thoughts aren't going to give you the amazing experience I had, but I hope they might give you some ideas for your own revisions and inspire you to take one of his workshops if the opportunity presents itself.

So now I've written this huge post, so I'll leave you with this. Here's the basic overview Don gave us at the start of the first day. And don't forget to pick up the full Fire in Fiction book.

Fire in Fiction with Donald Maass

How are we going to get through to the reader and bring them back for next novel? What techniques can make the next book as great and as impassioned as your first? We need to get in and get the tools to make every story great.

Here are the things you need and areas we will talk about:

  • Appeal of protagonist
  • Microtension
  • Finding tools to find our unique voice for ourselves and our story – this can vary between books
  • How to push your story to interesting and dramatic places – and make it believable
  • What is the purpose of our story?
  • How do we hang on to this during the whole long process? How do you find the power and passion buried in the story in draft 10?

"These are the techniques I hope to teach you." - Donald Maass

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


For those of you following the guppy chronicles, you've probably noticed my endless whining about how I've been cutting so many words and was concerned my novel would be too short when all was said and done.

Well, I wrote a new scene for HOUND. Three pages single spaced, 1,716 words.


Good things, good things are happening. Bwha. BWHAHA. /rubs hands together.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PFC: Week 6

Fooled you all! Bet you thought my next post would be about the Maass weekend, hmm? Sorry, not yet. Still digesting and thinking and things.

But, I never put my post about up about my last PFC class, so here we go:

First we discussed the types of stories that are out there:
  1. Monster in the House – scary thing in confined space. Add people to the mix = primal, something everyone can relate to: Jaws, Alien, Panic Room
  2. Golden Fleece – quest myth. Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future, heist movies
  3. Out of the Bottle – cinderlla – want something to save them; scrooge – need to change evil ways, teaches a lesson
  4. Dude with a problem – ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances: Die Hard, Titanic, Shindler’s List
  5. Rites of passage – tales of pain and torment from an outside force, 28 Days, When a man loves a woman – serious movies with serious issues
  6. Buddy Love – actually a love story in disguise – Dumb and Dumber, also any Romance books and movie. Relationship, love is the focus, be it lovers or friends.
  7. Why done it? – who is not as interesting as the why. Law & Order, China Town, the Insider
  8. The fool triumphant – fool is actually wise – Forest Gump, Dave, The Jerk, silent clowns
  9. Institutionalized – common cause, united few for the many, sacrifice the goals of the few for the benefit of the many – MASH, American Beauty, Godfather
  10. Superhero – extraordinary person in an ordinary world – Dracula, Gladiator, Beautiful Mind, Superman, Batman, Xmen

For the first exercise we had to pick ONE of these and explain why we selected the option. By restricting yourself to one of these options instead of trying to fit everything about it into as many categories as possible, you can help find the greater motivation behind the story - the most important thing.

Next, we talked about dialogue. Here's what Pam had to say:
  • Must progress the story forward
  • Not unnecessary chit chat – might happen in real life, but has no place in fiction
  • If it’s a conflict scene, the dialog must carry the weight
  • No repetition
  • Works as hook
  • Use tags/action to show character as they do stuff = define character traits, etc.
  • Never use said if possible – replace with action or don’t have it at all – NOT about replacing with special words and adverbs
  • Watch dialect – use sparingly
  • Distinct voices
  • Each person should have different tones, quality, levels of sophistication and degrees of formality, rhythm and speed
  • Easy method: contractions with or without
  • Remember order is important. Example method: FAD: feeling/thought comes first > followed by the action/rection > then the dialogue

Exercise 2: Write an action scene between two characters. Make the dialogue distinctive. No he said/she said.

Exercise 3: POV and emotion exercise

  1. Pick your POV character
  2. Pick an emotion
  3. What color is that emotion?
  4. Taste of the emotion?
  5. Smell?
  6. Covey this feeling as best you can from this POV – in dialogue

For closing words Pam gave us this to think about:
It is recommended to have three story lines in your novel. Think about how they braid together. They start in different places, but they intersect. Sometimes they are independent, other times events happen that might require all three to come together.

I assume we'll be working on this more when we go back to class next week. As always, homework is to take one of the exercises and expand it into three pages.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Inspired, amazed and a little scared.

The Fire in Fiction workshop was, hands down, the most amazing thing I've ever done regarding writing and my goal of turning my passion for my stories into a career.

Trying to present my feeling and thoughts on this blog in a coherent manner is going to take some work and some time. It will probably end up being a multiple part series. So be patient with me!

For now, I'll say this:

I'll be doing another draft of HOUND with fresh direction and specific purpose, inspiration and eyes that are open to many, many amazing possibilities.

And if this workshop is in your area and you can, go. You will not regret it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Big weekend!

The Fire in Fiction workshop with Donald Maass is this weekend! Squeee!

My PFC update will be late. Tonight I have to print out my entire manuscript (HOUND), but before I can do that I need pick at it some more. And then a little more. And some more after that. And try and get my query letter in decent shape to take with me - just in case. And overcome my fear of how terrible I think my synopsis is and print it out too, so I at least have it with me. Just in case.

Aside from having a bit of nerves (what if Mr. Maass says: You need to do a complete rewrite because this writing sucks!) I'm actually very, very excited! I'm sure I'm going to learn a ton, right from the one of the horse's well known mouths.

I don't have class next week, so I'll fill you in on PFC from this week and my experiences at the Maass workshop this weekend.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, November 2, 2009



I've decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year, being that I'm finishing edits on HOUND and hope to start querying after my workshop this weekend (unless Donald Maass tells me I need to rewrite my entire book, in which case we will have lots of cheese to go with an huge amount of whining.) I'm also working on my new WIP for the PFC class, but I don't really want to rush it. I'm enjoying a more relaxed pace that comes with the class, and still putting out a fair amount of writing - up to 18k-ish so far.

So, good luck to everyone doing NaNo this year! My advice?

  • Have fun!
  • Write extra words on the days you're on a roll. Don't stop just because you hit the magic number. You'll thank yourself when you have a crappy day and don't get any writing done.
  • Let yourself have a crappy day if you need it. One day of no writing doesn't mean you've failed. Don't get discouraged, and don't feel like you have to give up your whole life for this.
  • Get one of the neat spreadsheets from the NaNo site - it helps! It's awesome to see the little graph fill up with your progress.
  • Find the time and after November is over, remember how EASY it is to write 1,666 words a day. You can always make time for that.
  • Play around on the forums. I hooked up with my first critique group for HOUND from the forums.
  • Forgive yourself typos, plot holes and other unpleasantness. After all, this is a first draft and we all know first drafts aren't perfect. (I've now reached a full year since I started HOUND, and I'm still putting some final tweaks on it.)
  • That me say that again: this is a first draft. It is NOT okay to query December 1st. Please see every agent blog under the sun for proof.

For those of us not doing NaNo, the Intern is posting a series called NaNoReVisMo and offering up some great advice for those pesky revisions. For those of you doing NaNo, bookmark it for some December reading. :)