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plotting

You have an idea for a novel. It’s been floating around inside your head for months. It’s all you think about. You eat, sleep, and dream it. In fact, you feel like you’ve already lived it. Surely you must be ready to start writing, right?

Wrong.

Creating some two hundred plus pages of a story is no easy feat. Trust me, I know. My first novel went something like this: Get idea, open laptop, start typing. And what happened? I wrote myself into a corner on more than a couple of occasions. Sound familiar? Of course it does. That’s why, before any writing commences, we first have to plot.

I’ll be honest, I never used to be a believer of this method. And to back-up my argument, I always referred back to a Roald Dahl interview I saw (now decades ago), where he also admitted he never plotted. He just ‘kinda made it up’ as he went along. What better author to quote?

So, armed with just my laptop, off I set on my journey to write my first novel.

One thing I am a big believer in is that you have to learn my your mistakes… and boy, was this ever a learning curve for me.

Now, before I start to explain the art of plotting, let me make one thing clear. I am NOT dictating that this method is a one size fits all. As I said previously, Roald Dahl tells a different story, and if you Google ‘authors who don’t plot‘, you’ll find this quote:

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity or real creation aren’t compatible.”
-Stephen King.

One thing I am certain about, though… For me, plotting was a life-changer.

What Is Plotting?

Plotting is your entire story from start to finish in ‘note’ form.

How Do I Plot?

There are many ways to plot your story. Some people bullet-point the entire story from beginning to end. Others split their plotting into the 3-Act structure. Regardless of the method you use, if done correctly the outcome for writing your novel should be, as Kristen Lamb puts it, like painting by numbers.”

For this post, I’ll go with how I plot.

Scenes within the 3-Act Structure

First, a quick explanation of what a 3-Act Structure is.

Act One – The Beginning
Act Two – The Middle
Act Three – The End

Simple, but for a more in-depth look at the 3-Act Structure, see Part Eight.

Okay, back to plotting. Now, although plotting and the 3-Act structure go hand-in-hand, we’re just going to concentrate on the plotting side of things for the time being.

First, I break each scene down into three parts that I like to call ‘Scene Structure’. These three parts involve the Character’s Goal, the Obstacle they have to overcome, and how they Resolve it.

Then, when actually plotting each scene, I work with a table. Within this table, I have four columns:

Column 1 – Chapter Number, Day, Time.
Column 2 – Location, POV, Brief (Quick glance) Scene Outline.
Column 3 – Scene Structure (Goal, Obstacle, Resolve).
Column 4 – Scene Description.

Column 1 and 2 is purely for my own information as saves me from having to scroll back through my novel every time I need to check who did and said what, why, and when, etc.

Column 3 is my scene breakdown, which I explained less than a minute ago.

Column 4 is the all important description.

scene structure

The scenes within each Act should be as detailed as possible. Writing – *Girl works, *Girls gets attacked, *Girl survives, and *Girl is in danger, may do the job but it is the quick and lazy option and won’t help you much when the time comes to writing your novel. Instead, write in-depth scenes. Include character feelings, any dialogue you would like them to say, mannerisms – basically anything you don’t want to forget later on. By using this method, (or something similar), it enables you to easily change and alter earlier events if later events call for it, and vice-versa.

Plotting Mistakes

  • Research – With the wealth of information that is the internet, there is no excuse not to know what you are writing about. Good research equals a more realistic story.
  • Coincidences – Every character needs a valid reason to do what they do. Coincidences are convenient. Using ‘Just because’ is lazy and will annoy your reader and spoil your story.
  • Large Cast – Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many characters ruin the story. Asking your reader to remember every character and their cousin, from postman Pete (who appears once), to the little boy fishing by the stream, will confuse your reader and give them brain-ache. Cut those little darlings.
  • Plot Diversion – Don’t let your story drift off course and disappear into a one way street. Stick to the story. Ignore those road diversions.

So, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot or do you fly by the seat of your pants? If you already plot, what kind of techniques do you use? Do you use in-depth tables and graphs, or do you bullet point simple points?

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paul walker3

Saturday, 28th November 2013 is a day most will never forget.

Images of a wrecked Porsche that took actor, Paul Walker’s, life spread around the world like a virus, dominating news channels, the internet, and especially social media. Family, friends, co-stars, and fans joined together to cry, grieve, and attempt to understand how something so devastatingly horrific like this could happen to such a decent guy.

But beneath all the mourning, it leaves one unanswered question. What will happen to the Fast and Furious franchise?

FAST 6, which was released earlier this year, earned a reportedly $800 million worldwide, and FAST 7, already 3 months into production, was tipped to top that, leaving Universal with one hell of a decision to make. How do we continue?

The Crow

Or, do they continue? How does a movie survive when they lose one of their main stars halfway through filming?

When The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus lost actor, Heath Ledger, one third of the way through filming, production was temporarily suspended and Ledger’s role was eventually recast using three actors: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell.

After the accidental death of Brandon Lee, co-star, Sofia Shinas no longer wanted to film The Crow and went back to Los Angeles, leaving Paramount to pull out from having any involvement altogether. It was only after Miramax stepped in and invested a healthy $8 million that the film was completed with the help of CGI, flashbacks, and a stunt double.

Hmm, now there’s an idea. After all, CGI is better than it has ever been, and Paul Walker’s brother did stand in for him while making the movie Running Scared. Could he do it again and finish filming the 7th FAST instalment?

Of course, the studio could just kill Walker’s character off altogether. But this whole franchise is about street racing, fast cars, and lot’s of crashes. Maybe not the moral path to take considering the way in which Walker’s life prematurely ended in reality.

Then there is the good old rewrite, which the script will undoubtedly go through. But to what extent? Will Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, be written out completely? Or will a mash-up of footage be re-edited to finish those all important scenes?

One thing is for sure. No matter how shell-shocked and saddened studio executives and director, James Wan are at the news of Walker’s death, the FAST franchise is one of the studios biggest earners. FAST 7 will be made, distributed, and inevitably become one of the biggest grossing films of all time – it’s just a case of how and when.

Paul founded the charity, Reach Out Worldwide.

Cast members taking a (funny) break on the set of Fast and the Furious 6
(Warning: There is the use of bad language in this clip)

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James Lipton and the Actors Studio did it for fun with the actors…..Now, I’m doing it for fun with the writers.
piper and Holmes
It’s been a while, but I’ve dusted off the 30 Second Interview for a second outing. And who better to kick start it than belly dancing, fiction writer, Piper Bayard.

But first, what do we know about this post-apocalyptic author, who happens to be my critique partner, and a very good friend? Well, she’s a recovering attorney, who has one or two university degrees under her belt, and kinda rules Twitter. (Seriously, I guarantee you a reply – even a conversation – if you tweet her).

Piper grew up in New Mexico, and during her teenage years, worked summers at a Rock Mountain dude ranch (in a State she refuses to name), as a horse wrangler. Why the unnamed State? Because there was this one time when a group of New Yorkers wanted to see an elk – and there wasn’t any elk to see. So, to get over the problem and give their tourists a good time, Piper strapped an ornamental deer ract to the head of a bay horse named Bucky. And, unbelievable as it is, it worked!

So, how did this cowgirl become a writer when she was actually studying law? Well, it was when a job offer for her to sell insurance landed at her feet. She’d hit a cross-roads in life, and her chosen career path boiled down to one thing: What could she not live without? Selling insurance or writing books? We all know how that one turned out.

Apart from Piper’s debut novel being a dystopian  thriller, she also writes spy novels with fellow writer, (who also happens to be an Intelligence Agent and real life James Bond), Jay Holmes. Together, they have just finished the first in the seven part ‘Apex Predator’ series, which will be published by Stonehouse Inc., in the near future.

Oh, four other random things you need to know about Piper… she taught me to shoot a gun, she makes me run for EVERY plane we have to catch, she can ride an ATV like no one else I’ve ever seen, and she is one heck of a cool room-mate!

Right then, let’s see how she did with the feared ten questions:

1.  What is your favorite word?  Serendipity

2. What is your least favorite word? Globule

3. What turns you on?   Laughter. Laughter is the closest thing to sex besides sex

4. What turns you off?    Malice

5. What sound do you love?   Bells

6. What sound do you hate? Fighting

7. What is your favorite curse word?   Fuck me Agnes! (Blame Holmes for that one.)

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?   Host on Mythbusters

9.  What profession would you not like to do?  Nursing

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? “Good job”

firelands cover

‘Firelands’ is an amazing read, and available on amazon in digital and paperback format.

And, watch out for the first novel in the ‘Apex Preditor’ series. Release date to be confirmed shortly.

Contact Information

For more information regarding Piper Bayard, please check out her websiteFacebooktwitterblog.

If you want more of me, I can be found on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Linkedin

 

page

Page from J.K. Rowling’s, ‘Harry Potter’

I’ve been writing for a few years now and it still amazes me at how much I don’t know. This week I was going through the edits on my novel when my good mate and fellow writer, Piper Bayard, pointed something out to me about new scenes and paragraphing. She, too, only discovered this ‘must-do’ last year.

So, I thought it would be helpful to layout some of the things I have learned over the last few years that writers must know when writing a novel.

First things, first.

The Basics

The below points are what publishers and agents expect to see from writers.

Font: Always use Times New Roman. It is easy on the eye and makes it easy for the reader to read.

Size: Although it’s commonly said that size doesn’t matter – this time it does. 12pt is the size everyone wants.

Line Spacing: Some use double line spacing, most want one and a half. This allows room for any notes and editing.

Margins: Leave one inch for both the left and right margins. Again, this space is for any notes or editing.

The Cover Page

The cover page is a blank sheet of paper that, when asked for, usually lists the title of your book, your name, contact details, and the word count. When submitting your novel you must read the guidelines as sometimes agents and publishers require different information.

Headers and Footers

It is imperative that you use your header to display your name, novel title, and page number. Without this information, if your novel is dropped how will the reader be able to put it back together again?

The Layout

Chapter Heading: Space down six (one and a half) lines. The heading can be in capitals or underlined.

Sub-Title: If you want to add a sub-title of a place, time, year, etc., then add it before you begin your story. This can be underlined, typed in italics, or in bold. There is no indentation.

First Paragraph: For the first paragraph in a chapter, there is no indentation.

Further Paragraphs: Following paragraphs are indented one inch throughout the scene.

Justification: Never justify your work. Aline your type to the left.

For example (and due to formatting issues with wordpress *bangs head on desk*, I have added in … to show the spaces):

CHAPTER ONE

Almalfi Cathedral, Campania. Italy – Monday.

The uncomfortable harness cut into his groin.

……….The thief shifted position, tried to ignore the dull ache as best he could, and listened.

……….Three bloody hours he’d been hanging here in the dark, just listening.

N.B. New Scenes: If starting a new scene in a chapter, then as at the beginning of a chapter, no indentation is needed.

For example:

……….Eliza rest her head back against the pillow. Her head hurt and she no longer had the energy to argue anymore. The young boy nodded and disappeared from sight. Her father waited a second, as if to bask in his triumph and remind her who was boss, then also left the room.

It was just before lunch when Nate made it to the records office. He parked in the unusually empty car park and got out. Removing his sunglasses, he strolled along the brick paved path to the front of the building and pulled the doors where they shuddered and remained closed.

Well, these are the basics to laying out your novel and enough to get you started.

And now it’s your turn. What are your pet hates? What is the worse mistake you’ve ever made when typing and submitting a manuscript? Maybe you have a question to ask about the manuscript you are currently writing, so feel free to type it in the comments.

If you want more of me, you can also find me on FacebookTwitterGoogle+GoodreadsKloutand Linkedin

Wow. Has it really been over a month since I blogged? Man, I am slacking… and way too busy!

And now here we are in 2013, making all sorts of resolutions from promising to blog more and sticking to a more healthier diet, to reorganising our desks and determined to make more time for ourselves – HA! Yeah, right…  So, what have I done so far?

Diet and Health: Well, I purchased the ‘Insanity’ DVD. Not sure if this was a wise first step but I am determined to finish the course before it finishes me :-)

Reorganise the desk: Done. I’ve rid of two laptops, tidied that messy pile of paperwork, and put all the pens back into the caddy. Now my desk is tidy.

More time for myself: Hmm… I am putting 45 minutes to one side every day to work out to ‘Insanity’. Does that count?

To blog more: Well, you’re reading this so that proves I’ve started on that goal, too. Although, I may have cheated just a little. Today’s blog is an interview I did last year with awesome writer, Julie Glover.

Hope you enjoy.

Over to you, Julie.

Jess Witkins, Me & Donna Newton
at DFW Writers’ Conference

At the DFW Writers’ Conference back in May, I had the pleasure of hanging out with two fabulous Brits, Nigel Blackwelland Donna Newton. Over the weekend, a few phrases they used had to be translated into American English. As George Bernard Shaw asserted, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” In a previous post, I pointed out some British words that we Americans don’t often recognize.

But today it is my pleasure to welcome Donna Newton to my blog to help us clear up a few British slang words and phrases that we Yanks don’t have a clue about.

Julie: Welcome, Donna! This blog idea occurred to me after you offered to let another conference goer “bung his bags” in your hotel room. After hanging out with romance authors all weekend, some of us wondered what on earth that could possibly mean. What does it actually mean to “bung your bags”? 

Donna: LOL. ‘Bung your bags’ means exactly what it says…. To bung (put) your bags in my hotel room. Looking at it now, I can see how it made me look like a dominatrix mistress.

Julie: Keeping in mind that this is PG-13 kind of place, I have noticed that body parts are not always called the same thing in England. What should we know before we travel to England and put our feet in our mouth? (Feet and mouth are the same there, right?)

Donna: The term is ‘foot in mouth’ and we’re not talking about the cow disease. Okay, body parts. Arms and legs are the same regardless of what side of the Atlantic we live. I think you guys call a ‘bum’ a ‘tush’? In fact, what we call a ‘bum bag’, you call a ‘fanny pack’, which is funny because a ‘fanny’ to us Brits is a ‘mooey’ (front bum to put it politely).:)

Julie: Another interesting phrase you introduced me to was “pissed as fart.” Around here, “pissed” means angry, but what does that phrase mean in England? And do y’all have any other colorful words or phrases for that state of being? 

Donna: Ah, yes. ‘Pissed as a fart’.

Somehow, angry as a fart doesn’t sound quite right. Do farts get angry?

Well, in the UK pissed means drunk and fart means… er, fart. I’m not quite sure why we all think of ourselves as stale body air when we’re drunk, but hey-ho. ‘Pissed as a fart’ means you are really, really drunk.

Now, other terms? Let me think. Okay. I do have a funny story that happened to me a year or so ago. I was storm chasing with a group of Americans. Now, I must just explain that when you go storm chasing you are advised to go to the toilet whenever the chasing vehicle stops – you never know when it will stop again! So, gas stop = toilet break. Every time we pulled into a gas station and chasers got out to visit the loo, I’d say, “I’ll see if I can squeeze one out’. I repeated this phrase four or five times a day from Monday thru Thursday. Finally one of the girls asked what I meant. I explained that ‘squeeze one out’ simply means to go a wee wee (or tiddle). I then find out that to you Americans, ‘squeeze one out’ means going ‘number two’. I was horrified to think they thought I was doing number twos five times a day for a full four days. That I had one hell of a diarrhea spruge, no doubt.

There is also the comment “you couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”, which basically means you are crap at organising. :)

Julie: A few streets from where I live are neighbors with two donkeys in their yard. Sometimes I can hear them braying (the donkeys, not the neighbors) in the morning. What was that phrase you used that included the word “donkey”? And what does it mean?

Donna: Donkey? Oh, you’ve got me thinking now. We say ‘Donkey’s Ass’, meaning you are a fool, but I don’t really use that one. That’s all I can think of.

Oh, was it ‘Donkey’s years’? I use that term all the time. It means absolute ages. Like, “I was twenty-one donkey’s years ago.” :)

Julie: What about foods? Where do we Americans go astray with British terms for common foods?

Donna: Ha ha. Oh, this has caused many problems. In the U.S. if we ask a waitress for chips, we get crisps when we really wanted fries.

Your crisps are potato chips.

Jam is Jelly.

Jelly is Jello.

I once asked for a buttered roll. Nobody knew what I was talking about. I explained that it was like the cheese and tomato roll they sold… only without the cheese and tomato in it. That really confused them.

My husband once tried to order a cheese and tomato pizza. Now us Brits pronounce tomato as ‘t’muto’. You guys pronounce it ‘to-mado’. The poor girl on the end of the phone just could not grip what we were asking for until hubby put on a really exaggerated American accent. We got our pizza. :)

Julie: What about you? Did you find us Americans to be confusing at times? What phrase or phrases did we use that struck you as odd?

Donna: There isn’t much, really. I think we have had American films and TV for so long in our lives, we just know what you guys are saying. We do have to be careful when talking about cigarettes. In Britain, they are called ‘fags’ for short. We got quite a few looks when my friend once said, “I’m going outside to have a quick fag.”

Julie: Finally…you came to Texas and did some shootin’ while here. Rumor has it that you are a great shot. What does a British lady yell when she hits her target?

Donna: “&@#%! Did I just do that?” I guess I have just lost the title ‘lady’.

I was amazed at how well I shot. Piper took me out on Kristen’s ranch this year – the second time I had ever held a gun. I did okay that time, too. She’s nicknamed me the ‘Spawn of Doc Holliday’.

[For evidence, head to Donna’s blog post about the week’s adventures HERE.]

Julie: What else, Donna?!!! Is there anything else I should include?

Donna: Here are some Cockney rhyming slang terms used in London. They were born donkey’s years ( :) ) ago, but are still used today.

Apple and Pears = Stairs
Dog and Bone = Phone
Jam Jar = Car
Rub-a-dub-dub = Pub
Quid = One Pound
Score = Twenty Pounds
Nifty = Fifty Pounds
Ton = One Hundred Pounds
Adam and Eve it = Believe it
Trouble and Strife = Wife
Ruby Murray = Curry
Hank Marvin = Starving

Julie: Hope all is well in the UK. I’d love to cross the Atlantic and spend some time in my ancestors’ homeland someday. Cheers and all that good stuff!

Donna: Thanks so much for this, Julie. I really enjoyed it. I take these terms for granted so it is funny to see you guys so confused when we use them.

And, it would be so cool for you to come to London. I can show you around!

****

Okay, now it’s over to you guys. What stories do you guys have where the language barrier has caused a problem? What is your favorite rhyming slang? Come on, you know now I love to hear your stories.

If you want to read more of Julie’s post, head over to her blog.

If you want more of me, you can also find me on FacebookTwitterGoogle+GoodreadsKloutand Linkedin

Now, I must just clear this up first. My sister and I are both animal lovers. As children, we always had animals which included dogs, cats, terrapins, gerbils, hamsters, fish… the list goes on and on.

So, we were talking the other day about pets and how, unbeknown to my nine-year old son, he is getting a guinea pig for Christmas. My sister, who already has a guinea pig, advised me against it. Simply because of the mess. “It was easier when we were kids… Mum cleaned them.”

Yes, now we are the skivvies, er, slaves, er, mums.

But being a know-it-all, I have ignored all her advice. My son, Jamie, has been begging for an animal for the last few years, and he doesn’t care what kind. So, the elimination process began.

First, hubby is scared stiff of dogs, horses, and parrots (go figure!), so they were first off the list. He is also allergic to cats. Strike two.

Fish? Na. He can’t cuddle a fish… although I wouldn’t put it past him to try. Rabbits? Nope, I could not leave them outside – it just feels wicked. So, that left rodents. Now, gerbils are too quick, and trust me when I say I know this from first hand experience. Hamsters are really blood chomping vampires in disguise, and again comes in the first hand experience. So I opted for an adorable, cuddly guinea pig. Sorted.

But, and the whole point of this blog, was the story my sister told me during this conversation. It was about her fish, who is now like Jaws. She had gone away on holiday and while away, the fish tank pump broke. When she returned, the water was green and the fish was lying on its side. She grabbed it, lay it flat, and proceeded to give it mouth to mouth. The story went like this, “I breathed into its mouth then dipped it in the water. Breathed into its mouth, then dipped it in the water. And it lived.” It is still alive today, and now bigger than ever.

Apparently, this isn’t an isolated incident. Check out this news story.

So, my question to you is – how far would you go to save a pet, or an animal? Is there a line that even you would not cross. Have you ever done anything like my sister? Let me know.

If you want more of me, you can also find me on FacebookTwitterGoogle+GoodreadsKloutand Linkedin

Have you checked out yours truly being interviewed over on Julie Glover’s blog? Well, go read it…. now.

I heard on the news this morning that with the prices of petrol soaring through the roof, more and more people are turning to hitch-hiking.

This sent a shiver down my spine. I mean, has nobody seen C. Thomas Howell‘s movie, ‘The Hitcher’? No? How about the remake with Sean Bean?

If you haven’t, then you should.

I remember back in 1980, I was holidaying with my family in California. My parents, who are supposed to know better, picked up not one, but two hitch-hikers. Together! What was they thinking? They’re parents. They’re supposed to know better. Luckily, these two men were not psychotic serial killers and we lived to tell another day. In fact one looked like David Soul… Maybe that right there should have convinced my dad not to stop and to drive straight past them.

Would you trust this man?

I pass many people, usually always men, thumbing for a lift along the motorways. Do I stop? Never. Do I feel guilty? Yes, of course. Especially if it’s hammering down with rain. But, here’s the thing. I write gore and creepy for a living. My imagination on the scare factor scale is right up there with Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino. Between me first seeing the hitch-hiker, and the hundred yards it takes to reach him, I’ve already played out the scene where he gets in the car, drugs me, and I wake up, hands and feet tied, in the boot. Believe me when I say you really don’t want to know what happens after that!

When you pick up a hitch-hiker, you are putting a lot of trust in your judgement. Contrary to popular belief, not all hikers look like killers. Some actually look like nice, normal, trustworthy fathers and boyfriends.

Just look at Ted Bundy’s high school Yearbook Picture.

A few years back, I lived in Drymen, Scotland. To get there, I had to drive through a remote, barren area where there were no houses and I had no phone signal. One night, I had to stop on this dark, country lane, at a temporary traffic light. I saw no workmen, no ongoing road works. I was surrounded by thick, dense wood, with no cars in front of me, and no cars behind me. I was all alone. My headlights lit up little of the road in front of me but everywhere else was pitch black. What did I do? Started thinking about the movie, Urban Legend.

I just cannot help myself. I am my own worse enemy. Half the time it’s not my surrounding that make me nervous. It’s my own imagination!

We’ve all heard the legend. A driver is made to stop her car. While the car is stationary, an axe murderer climbs onto the back seat. Waits for her to drive off and then WHAM! Slaughter and blood on the wind-shield … I sure as hell wasn’t going to wait and see if my future ended with me being gook on my window, I can tell you.

Nope, I keep my doors locked and my eyes peeled. I’m afraid when it comes to hitch-hikers, there is no way in hell I would ever pick one up. Male or female. Those crazy killers can stay where they belong… on the road and in my rear-view mirror.

Although, I did pass a woman once by a broken down car. I pulled over and asked (through a slightly wound down window) if she needed me to phone someone for her. She thanked me and said someone was already on their way. Phew. Total relief.

So, now it’s over to you guys. Would you ever pick up a hitch-hiker? Have you ever picked up a hitcher? Have you ever hitch-hiked yourself? Do you have good experiences, or bad? Maybe you hitch-hiked and it was the driver who was creepy. Let me know. You know how I love a good story… funny or scary :)

If you want more of me, you can also find me on FacebookTwitterGoogle+GoodreadsKloutand Linkedin

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