Writing a Novel with Romance Author Patricia Strefling

“Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.” ~ Dean Koontz

Last week I had the pleasure of talking about Writing Romance and Strong Character with Patricia Strefling. This week Patricia returns and we delve into the finer points of writing a novel, the process involved in writing fiction, and we find out how Patricia gets from initial idea to romance book.

Writing fiction is a detailed process and each writer approaches it differently. Do you plan and outline your books before writing the first draft? What is your “Patricia Strefling” writing process?

The only planning I start with is a “video” in my head about what my character is about… what her problem will be and go from there. You are right, we all do it differently.

I make a list of characters, and facts as I create family members, locations, and other details. This is done on scrap paper stapled at the top. That has worked thus far, but while rewriting my third book I learned a new skill (for me). The new process worked better than trying to “find” my place whenever I needed say, a birthday that I know I mentioned SOMEWHERE.

I now keep a few sheets of lined paper stapled together with each chapter listed and two or three sentences about what that chapter is about. Alongside I list a time-line so I know where I’m at. It makes it so much easier than trying to find a certain scene but forgetting which chapter it appeared in.

Unlike many of my writer friends, I do not plan or outline the story because I really don’t know what is going to happen. I prefer to have a few ideas as I begin and let the story write itself.

One question that comes up frequently is about the day to day routine of a writer. How does your writing impact your day to day living and your schedule?

Wonderfully, I am retired and not required to have a certain schedule. But I must say here that I am ADD, which just means things do not hold my attention for any length of time… except when writing a story! The hardest task for me is to START. Once I start, I cannot stop. The story seems to unwind like a long roll of toilet paper… each small square a scene.

I once wrote an entire 60,000 word novel in 18 days!

How long did it take you to write each book and how much time do you feel you spend working at each stage of the novel writing process?

I tend to be a fast writer, but I slow way down when it comes to editing. If I could write story after story, hand it off to an editor and keep on writing, that would be my dream job. I struggle with re-reading the story once it is written.

Some have taken two months to write, some longer if my life gets busy. After I wrote “Edwina” and published it, readers wanted to know what happened to Cecelia and Spencer. They had engaged in the characters.

WHAT? I had no other story in mind. But about a year later, they had their story. “Cecelia” was a lesson I learned from my readers. They want more you give them more.

Patricia is donating a copy of “Edwina” and a copy of “Cecelia” to one lucky winner at The Craft of Writing Fiction in celebration of her visit here. Last week I shared part one of my talk with Patricia and next Monday I’ll share part three, so you’ll have a total of three opportunities to enter. I’ll announce our winner on the 26th of July.

Want a chance to win? Simply, ask Patricia a question of your own, or leave a thoughtful comment, regarding writing a novel and the novel writing process below. Then share this post with your friends.

Make sure you subscribe to The Craft of Writing Fiction in your RSS feed reader or direct to your email inbox so you don’t miss any of the great posts we have coming up.

25 Ways To Work Creative Play Into Your Life

Work Creative Play Into Your Life!Writers in general, and novelists in particular, are creative people, but it can be difficult to find time for creative play when you’re faced with deadlines (even if you’re the one setting them), and everything else you have going on in your life. Here are twenty-five ways you can find time for creative play that will help you keep the ideas coming for your fiction writing.

  1. Schedule time for creativity.
  2. If your projects allow, create in the car while you’re waiting on your kids at ball practice.
  3. Plan your projects for creative play in short bursts of time so you will have time to make progress.
  4. Get up 30 minutes or so early.
  5. Go to bed 30 minutes or so later.
  6. Work on your favorite project on your lunch hour.
  7. If you have a day job and if your project allows, go in to work 30 minutes or so early to work on it.
  8. Stay at work 30 minutes or so late to work on it. (This has the added benefit of helping you miss the worst of rush hour.)
  9. Take advantage of built-in holidays and devote those days to your creative project(s).
  10. Take a look at how much TV you watch in the evenings. Cut out a program or two to free up time for creative play.
  11. Practice delayed creative play. If you’re in the car or at work and can’t stop to work on your project, make notes to yourself so you don’t lose the inspiration/idea when you have time later.
  12. If you can’t make notes (such as if you’re driving), use a digital voice recorder or the voice record option on your mobile phone to leave verbal notes for yourself.
  13. Or, call your house and leave a message on your answering machine.
  14. Keep a notebook & pen by your bed to jot down ideas in the middle of the night and remember to work on them the next day.
  15. Keep a notebook and pen in the bathroom to write down ideas that come to you in the shower and remember to work on them later in the day (or the next day, if you shower in the evening).
  16. On weekends or when school is out, put a movie in for your kids and use that time to work on your creative projects.
  17. Write while your kids play at the park!

  18. When the weather is nice and you have a transportable project, take your kids to the park and spend that time working on your project (while also, of course, keeping an eye on the kids).
  19. If your kids are small and take naps, use their nap time to work on your creative projects.
  20. Invest in your creative projects. When you spend money on something, you generally hate to feel like it’s wasted, so you make time to use the supplies you’ve bought.
  21. Instead of turning the TV on, put a music CD in or turn on your iPod with motivational music (whatever you find motivational, whether rock or classical or country) and work on your creative project while it plays.
  22. Start a blog to talk about your progress on your creative projects. You probably won’t like going too long without posting an update with actual progress, so you’ll be more motivated to work on it.
  23. Take pictures of your progress to post to your blog as additional motivation.
  24. Find a group of like-minded people that meets regularly. Meetings require updates, which will also get you working on your creative projects.
  25. Join an online community (like The Craft or Writing Fiction!) devoted to your area of creativity and answer questions about technique. Talking about what you do and how you did it motivates you to keep doing it.
  26. Give yourself deadlines that you have to meet. You schedule time to work on projects with deadlines. Give your creative play the same level of importance.

Yes, some of these tips are silly. The idea is that you should make time (and you can find time if you really look for it) for creative play and you’ll be surprised at how helpful it can be for you.

How do you find time to play or write creatively? What other ideas would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: 03-13-08 © YinYang
Photo Credit: 06-14-10 © Morten Heiselberg

Piece Together Characters From Family Members

Character Traits Pieced Together From FamilyOne of my favorite aspects of writing is character creation. I usually start my stories due to an interesting character popping into my mind, with a story to share. Often, I’ll know right away what they look like, what their general outlook on life is, and what their goals are.

However, I may not know what their favorite breakfast food is, what nervous habits they have, or their belief system. Some character attributes may not be needed in the preliminary stages of writing, but if I don’t know them up front, it can cause problems later on in the story. If I don’t know that the antagonist killed their parents in a war twenty years ago, then I have no idea why she is so determined to stop his reign of tyranny now.

Borrowing Attributes From Family

If I am unsure of my character’s attributes and motivations, I turn to an unending source of human characteristics – my friends and family. It doesn’t get more realistic than using actual traits and habits that other people have. However, you need to ensure that you don’t make a character who is exactly like your Uncle Bob, and ends up leaving his wife and developing a drug addiction. That could be perceived as slander, and cause ill will and even court cases between family members.

To avoid that possibility, I take observed characteristics and play mix and match. I might take my best friend’s eye twitch, add on my grandfather’s quiet attitude, and place those traits onto my protagonist’s thirty year old love interest. That way, there is no possibility of anyone seeing themselves within one character.

Also, allow the characteristics to change and grow throughout your story. Whereas my friend might twitch her eye when she is angry, my love interest character would twitch his eye when he is lying instead. His silent streak, borrowed from my grandfather, could go away completely by the end of the story, as he opens up and learns to trust the heroine.

Observe People Everywhere

Of course, family and friends aren’t the only possible sources for character creation. Inspiration is everywhere! Take your notebook and go to a crowded cafe, mall, or park. Make notes to yourself about specific attributes that catch your eye. Add these into the mix along with those traits you picked from your family, and you will have a completely different character. Even television, music, and online friends offer more character possibilities.

Once you’ve compiled your character, you might want to write out a character creation sheet, that lists all of the facts about the character that you know so far. This can range from hair and eye color, to identifiable habits, to primary and secondary motivations. Whatever you need for your story, you can outline, and add to or subtract from as necessary.

To further ensure that your character is differentiated enough from your family, write a short story that shows a “Day in the Life” of your hero. Let your family and friends read it, and see if they identify with the hero. If they do, you may need to change a few traits.

Have you ever drawn from real life people to create a character? What are your tips to ensuring you get just the right blend of fact and fiction?

Image Credit: egarc2

Writing While You Drive – Part 1 [Guest Post by Renegade]

Write While You Drive!You’re probably looking at the the title and thinking “What? Writing while I drive? Do you want me to get killed?” No, I don’t wish you ill (unless you cut me off, then I may feel differently).  But I would like to talk about using some of the most unproductive time you have other than sleep: commuting.

When your driving you’re paying attention to the road, but what about those times you’re sitting bumper to bumper and you can feel the minutes ticking away into oblivion.  Why not use this time to write? Now even when you’re bumper to bumper you don’t want to necessarily take out a notepad or laptop and start banging away at whatever project you have going on.  You need to keep your eyes on the road, so you’ll need to equip yourself with the one tool that will open up this time to you: A digital voice recorder.

We’ll go more into what is a good digital voice recorder, but for now let’s talk about what kind of writing you can do on the road.  Here are some things you can do to put this normally wasted time to work for you:

  • Brainstorming: Why not use this time to come up with article or story ideas?  Listen to your radio and let the ideas flow. Although this time, instead of trying to remember it, you’ll have it recorded and ready to go when you reach your destination and hit your computer.
  • Research Notes: You can use this time to think about what you need to complete in order to write your article.  Leave yourself a note that you need to finish research on the world’s largest Kiwi.  Ramble on about possible names you want to find out the meaning of for your serial killer nun.
  • Write Dialogue: Do you have a scene that’s bothering you?  Or did something in a song you just heard inspire a new one?  With your handy voice recorder you can act out the scene from the comfort of your own car.  Try an make your voice sound like your characters.  Don’t worry if you sound ridiculous, you’re alone.  Although I wouldn’t recommend doing this while you have your children/friends/significant other with you. They might think you’ve finally lost it.
  • Write an entire scene or article: If you want to do more than dialogue, go ahead and write the entire scene.  Know what you want to say for an article? Go ahead and talk it through! You can then transcribe it the next time you get in front of a computer.

With your handy voice recorder by your side you can do most anything you could do in front of a computer.  It’s a great way to use this time which could otherwise go wasted cursing at other drivers.  And think of how it would reduce road rage.  You’d be too busy to get mad!

So now you’re ready to get in your car and write, but have you thought about your voice recorder?  Just what do you need to make sure your brilliant article on penguin conspiracies makes it to your publisher?  Because while there are plenty of inexpensive recorders, the last thing you need is to find yourself scratching your head trying to figure out what you said when that semi was idling beside you.  Tomorrow, in the next post of this series, we’ll go into what sort of digital voice recorder you should look for.

R. Alexander Spoerer shares his thoughts on, as he describes it, <cite>”Reading, writing and the search for the perfect cup of coffee.”</cite> I’m not sure if there is any such things as a ‘perfect cup of coffee’ but the search for one is a noble quest. Do you search for ideal cups of tea and hot chocolate too? *grins*

One of Renegade’s latest adventures is Calling Home. He describes this new quest in an entry on his blog, “Calling Home: A Plurk and Twitter Science Fiction Story“. Could you tell a story in a sequence of 140 character digital transmissions?

Book Review: Pumping Your Muse by Donna Sundblad

This Book Review is written by Lillian Brummet. I’d love to feature more book reviews from readers. If you’ve read a book about writing and would like to share your book review please send me an email.

Pumping Your Muse by Donna SundbladPumping Your Muse is a 136-page non-fiction, self-help writer’s manual that is conveniently available in both electronic and print format. The hardcopy is coil-bound – perfect for an inviting workbook.

Published in June 2005, this book belongs on every writer’s reference bookshelf. Donna Sundblad’s goal for her manual has certainly been met, as Pumping Your Muse is able to stretch the readers’ creativity beyond their normal limits by developing skills and focusing creative energies in new directions.

The author focuses on the ability to build worlds through a variety of exercises including reflections, perspectives, balance, using multiple sensory tools and expanding thinking patterns. Readers will learn about tracking implements such as cards, journals and maps that help develop a detailed world for the reader and make the book a whole experience.

Following every exercise like a class will take several weeks and will definitely improve creative writing skills. Pumping Your Muse could also be used as a refresher course, a tool during the proofreading processes of a manuscript, or to get past writer’s block.

Donna Sundblad keeps the continuity flowing at an interesting pace and has allowed space for notes at the end of every chapter. Her useful manual also includes a number of excellent writer’s resource websites.

I recommend that readers review the entire manual and then return to chapter one before they actually begin the program. In this way, the reader will be more familiar with the reasons and goals for each exercise. I’ve been anticipating my return to chapter one since I began the reviewing process of this book and have no doubt that my skills will be improved because of the exercises in this manual.

Author: Donna Sundblad - Pumping Your MuseISBN#: 0970863578
Author: Donna Sundblad
Publisher: ePress-online.com ~ Writopia, Inc.
Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Fs3X8V
~ Lillian Brummet – Book Reviewer – Co-author of the book Trash Talk, a guide for anyone concerned about his or her impact on the environment – Author of Towards Understanding, a collection of poetry.

The Idea Waterfall: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Where do writers get their ideas? The Idea Waterfall

I rejoice under a waterfall of ideas. *

There is a refreshing cascade that captures my breath in iced chill. It washes dirt and grime from my skin. Goosebumps gather as the heat of an Australian summer washes into the pool beneath me.

This is my abundance. This is my Idea Waterfall.

I’ve often heard new writers wonder, “Where do ideas come from?” or complain, “I can’t think of anything to write about.” Do you want to know the secret location of the idea waterfall? Read on and I’ll share it with you.

Acceptance Lane

A closed mind can’t take a chance on getting lost. He’ll never venture off the well worn paths to discover the wonders beyond what he already knows. The first step on the path to finding ideas and the idea waterfall requires you to open your mind and your heart to other concepts and other beliefs. Open yourself to opportunity, luck, chance, and possibility.

Gratitude Circle

The truth is we live in an abundant universe. With various neon signs of wealth all around us we sometimes become too distracted to notice the turnoff for Gratitude Circle. We might have little in an economic sense but in every breath, in every smile, there is a gift. Every thread of the shirt on your back, every grain of sand in the bricks of your home, every drop that flows from your taps, every lesson that taught you to read, everything is a gift from our abundant universe. Be thankful.

Acknowledgment Way

Learn to express your gratitude. Appreciate yourself and the blessings that are already in your life. Take a detour down Acknowledgment Way and share yourself, your time, your experience, or a simple smile. Acknowledge the people in your life. Appreciate the opportunities you find along the way. Look with both eyes at your thoughts and acknowledge them. Tip your hat at a random idea, no matter how strange it might seem. Play with the idea. Let it be and thank it for being.

Organization Street

Organization Street is very neat and orderly. Here we keep track of ideas. I know many writers are messy by trade but I’ve found as I grow more organized my mind shuffles to adjust to my surroundings. There is a sense of purpose and growing confidence. You can be organized in a disorganized way. Keep a notepad and write down each idea as it comes to you. This notebook could simply be a scratch pad that builds up with ideas that you never look at. You may never refer to the notebook but so long as you are organized enough to keep track of all your concepts and inspirations they will continue to flow toward you.

Permission Avenue

Finally, give yourself permission to drive down Permission Avenue. Permit yourself to have ideas and give your them permission to be as crazy, far out, or boring as possible. Avoid censoring your ideas as they come to you and stop looking for reasons an idea won’t work. Any idea is a good one. Each idea are a jumping off point from which you can draw more ideas; welcome them all.

This is the map to an idea waterfall that never runs dry. Ideas flow, unstoppable, unquenchable; they thrum with the pulse of their own life. Cherish the waterfall and you will never be at a loss for something to write about.

Planner or Pantser – Which Are You? [Quiz] (Part One)

Most writers have some idea how organized they prefer to be when writing but the techniques of “Seat of the Pants” writers can differ greatly from “Planners”. You might feel more comfortable with a routine and plan in your every day life but find this structure stifling to your creativity when you write. Maybe you go with the flow from day to day but need to have solid goals and plans to make progress with your novel. Take this short quiz to find out if you’re a Pantser, a Planner, or somewhere between.

  1. You get the idea for a character while washing dishes one evening.
    1. You immediately dry your hands, take note of every detail, branch off, brainstorm and freewrite to explore all the possible characteristics and potential stories this character could be involved in.
    2. You dry your hands and swiftly note down significant key points as memory joggers then return to the suds.
    3. You continue to ponder the character as you wash, rinse, and dry then write down your final findings and concepts.
    4. You think it over but continue with the dishes and decide to write about it at some unspecified time in the future.
    5. You go off (either immediately or after the dishes) and begin a brand new story with this character as the star.
  2. You’re asked to write a play for the Pre-Ks at the local community center.
    1. You stare at a blank page for a few hours (or days) then right before the deadline rush together a few pages the kids will have fun with.
    2. You go to the center, talk to the kids and teachers to get an idea of their interests, abilities, and individual characters.
    3. You head straight home and pull out a dusty script about your pet dog that you wrote in grade school.
    4. You craft an outline and consider the various roles and the ramifications of a moral theme.
    5. You scratch out the first page of a dozen ideas but can’t settle on just one for the kids play.
  3. You’ve just finished reading the final installment of a fantastically detailed trilogy.
    1. You are still ga-ga over the characters and the intricacy of the plot and have been totally swept away by the story.
    2. You allow your mind to play connect-the-dots with the plot and enjoy the intricate and careful crafting involved.
    3. You start experimenting with fan-fiction off-shoots because you’re hooked on the characters and want more adventures for them.
    4. You gape at the astounding beauty of the piece and give up writing because you “know” you couldn’t possibly match it.
    5. You start reading the books again; making notes in the margins and underlining notable passages, dissecting the book to see how the author accomplished it.
  4. Your midway through writing chapter five when you decide you really can’t stand your protagonist.
    1. You stop writing immediately, shelve the manuscript, and decide you’ll come back “someday” when you understand her better.
    2. You stop writing and start examining your mood, the more recent events, and the character to first determine why you no longer like him and then how to “fix” him.
    3. You keep writing and decide to see where she’s headed before you act.
    4. You keep writing but add a dramatic death scene within the next couple of pages turning your focus on a new or secondary character instead.
    5. You spend a short time giving your character an interview to discuss her thoughts and see if you can work out, together, what to do next.
  5. A new family move next door and you hear strange noises at night but see nothing of them during the day.
    1. You call the police to report the weirdos but later discover that the mother is simply a shift worker, the father’s a novelist, and the oldest child is a rap-loving teenager.
    2. You watch from your upstairs office window, trying to see their vampire teeth or wolves fur in the moonlight.
    3. You start playing the “what if” game and generate some great story ideas based on what this family could be if they were characters in a book.
    4. You start writing blog entries or shorts about them, each with a wilder explanation than the last.
    5. You go over, introduce yourself, offer a cup of sugar and hear all about their recent trip to Brazil and her obsession with photography – all fodder for your next book.

Tally Your Points:

  1. a. 5, b. 4, c. 3, d. 2, e. 1
  2. a. 3, b. 5, c. 2, d. 4, e. 1
  3. a. 3, b. 4, c. 1, d. 2, e. 5
  4. a. 3, b. 5, c. 1, d. 2, e. 4
  5. a. 3, b. 2, c. 4, d. 1, e. 5

  • 5 – 7 points [Pantser]
  • You’re a true Pantser. You can fly with any idea and love to leap before you look. You’ve got pages of stories started but rarely finished and love to play around with new concepts, tying it all together with creativity and an exciting flare for adventure.
  • 8 – 12 points [Pre-Pantser]
  • You’d love to throw caution to the winds but often hold back from just diving right in. You prefer to consider multiple options but can go along with any challenge and turn any good idea into a potential story.
  • 13 – 17 points [Middle Grounder]
  • You’re in the safe zone and often struggle to write anything at all. You enjoy exploring ideas but want to find the best ones and don’t like wasting time writing about things you aren’t passionate about. You’ll start stories with some planning but also enjoy the adventure of taking detours.
  • 18 – 22 points [Pre-Planner]
  • You like to do the legwork in your mind. You’ll sometimes plan things out and often have the basic map laid out in your head but keep adding to your plans and are flexible for changes. You generally have a solid destination in mind when you begin writing but aren’t sure of all the roads you’ll need to take to get their. You’re familiar with your main characters but often face blocks caused by being unsure what course they would most likely take in a given situation.
  • 23 – 25 points [Planner]
  • You like to brainstorm and outline every detail before you begin. You know your characters intimately and understand their deep motivations. You can be a little pedantic and often spend so much time planning and researching that you don’t leave enough to actually spend writing. When you do write you know exactly what to expect from every scene and work intricate details across our novel like knitting a sweater.

[Disclaimer: This quiz is not scientific and results may vary. It would be wonderful to share your results with you. What answers did you give and do you feel your result is accurate? Did you enjoy the quiz? Would you like me to put together more in the future? Would you like this one to be more detailed?]

[Note: You’re welcome to discuss the quiz on your own blog/website if you have one. If you do, please link to the quiz rather than copying it and post a comment with a link to your site/blog so we can visit you.]

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