Friday, October 9, 2015

Getchyer NaNo On

It’s time to get your NaNoWriMo on. I know, I know, it’s still early and you’re busy with other projects. But it’s out there, lurking, and the best way to succeed is to hit the ground running come November one.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is the annual National Novel Writing Month in which you write a book, start to finish. You can sign up and report your daily totals and, if you reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win the right to print a certificate saying you won. For a few bucks, you can even buy the t-shirt that shows the world your writing prowess.

The format of the event is a great exercise for developing writers. The goal is to produce words, 1700 of them a day. I especially like booting that naggy internal editor guy out the door for the entirety of November. It is a freeing feeling to write, write, write without having to perfect every sentence and phrase. You just blast out a book in 30 days. There will be time later to clean up. Besides, it’s only the first draft. It’s you telling you the story. Who knows what crazy paths it’s going to take? NaNoWriMo is all about putting a rough book on paper, not about perfecting it.

I’ve participated in three of them and won last year for the first time. Naturally then, I’m an expert on NaNo. The key is planning. My failed attempts started with a story idea - more of a story beginning. Being a panster at the time, writing from the seat of my pants, I figured I’d work out the details as I went ahead. You know, minor things like plot, characterization, etc. -  they’ll come as the story develops. There’s nothing more frustrating than moving along smoothly only to ground to a halt two weeks into it.

Last year, I spent October debating whether to do it or not. I was in the middle of several projects and didn’t want to start something else. Plus I didn’t have a clue for a story. Finally, a week before November, I sat and kicked around some ideas and managed to come up with something which was surprisingly good. But it was more than just a concept. The secret to success was knowing how it ended. By looking all the way to the end, it’s easier to plan the story to that objective. With the end goal in mind, even a pantser could wear the NaNo shirt in December.

So, now’s the time. Decide if you can commit to a month-long writing marathon. If you can, re-visit some of those story ideas you’ve put on the back burner and figure out how it is going to turn out. Then, either plan if that’s your style, or be ready with the end goal in mind and on November 1st, kick some writing butt. 

(This article also posted at

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Character Arc, part 2: the Lie, the Want, the Need

In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.

Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.

People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.

A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money. 

The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.

Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.

At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.

Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.

Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.

(This article also posted at

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Character Arcs

A question came up in my writer’s group. One of my critique partners asked, would not my main character behave differently in that particular situation? That led me to wonder where the MC is along their character arc, which in turn caused me to ponder character arcs in general.

What the heck is a character arc?

For the simple answer, I turned to a favorite expert, KM Weiland. Her Helping Writers Become Authors site is excellent chalk full of great advice on many aspects of the craft. But Weiland’s stuff on character arcs was not simple at all, rather a fifteen part series on the topic. 

Weiland says character evolution is at the heart of any good story. Whether the protagonist is changing herself or the world around her, character arcs are the whole point of fiction. The journey from one spiritual/emotional/intellectual place to another is the story of humanity. The author’s primary job is to learn how those fundamental changes work in real life, then present them in fiction with enough realism to connect with readers.

There sometimes is a debate among writers as to the importance of plot vs character. Weiland says they are connected. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”

But that is not all. Plot and character are related to theme. The three of them are symbiotic and can’t work alone. Weiland says that the character arc is the theme. 

There are three type of character arcs. In the positive change arc, the protagonist starts with varying levels personal dissatisfaction and even denial of the lack of fulfillment. As the story proceeds, she will question her beliefs about herself and the world until she finally defeats her inner demons. In flat character arcs, the MC tries to change the world around her. She is already a hero operating from high moral ground and are often a catalyst for change in others. The negative arc is similar to the positive arc except the MC changes toward a more darker side.

Writing a great character is more than just a character changing over time. Writers need to learn how to structure a character arc. Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

In the next few weeks, Weiland’s fifteen part series will be boiled down and presented here. Clicking on the above link above will get you to her site where she can explain the whole thing in full detail.

(This article also posted at

Friday, March 20, 2015

Crappy first draft

The joy of a crappy first draft. Can there be joy in such a thing? According to the Publication Coach, Daphne Gray-Grant, there is.

In fact, she says, “producing one is exactly what will turn you into a professional writer.” As writers, we may abhor that crappy first draft. How could such garbage have come from our own fingers dancing on the keyboard? 

If that is you, Gray-Grant says to ask yourself some questions. Who else is going to see the yucky thing? More than likely, no one. If so, then what does it matter? It is called a rough draft, after all. No one does anything perfect the first time, so there is no need to beat yourself up for adhering to human nature.

She list several reasons why crappy first drafts are important to writers. It will help you write faster. One of the things I love about NaNoWriMo is that November is the one month a year I can turn off my internal editor. It is a freeing experience, writing without the agony of perfecting every word and sentence. This is a first draft, a beginning, a place for you to tell yourself the story. Throw up the words on the screen and clean up later. Gray-Grant says there is a momentum that builds by piling up words, and that allows more to flow at a quick pace. 

According to Kathleen Duey, a recent WIFYR instructor, real writing takes place in the rewrite. The best writers don’t necessarily have talent as much as they have a commitment to rewriting. How do you divide up your dedicated writing time? If you could dash out a crappy first draft, that would free up more time to come up with a good second draft and an even better third. 

So, embrace that crappy first draft. It is an unavoidable necessity that is part of the process. Get that first draft out of the way in order to have something to work with. As E.B. White has said, “The best writing is in the rewriting.” 

(This article also posted at

Friday, March 13, 2015

WIFYR faculty, part 2

Writing is a solo affair. It’s pretty much you, your computer, and your imaginary friends.

That makes writing conferences all the more inviting to attend.  Not only can you pick up some great ideas and come out energized, you can get to hang with others, people like you, addicted to this isolated preoccupation. 

There are some great workshops in our area. LTUE finished up last month. Coming up we have Writers for Charity, the Boise SCBWI conference, and LDStorymakers. And in June there is WIFYR, the Wrting and Illustrating For Young Readers conference, WIFYR, in June

WIFYR is the brainchild of Carol Lynch Williams, a fabulous MG and YA writer. Year after year she packs the conference with incredible faculty. Last week we examined some of this year’s instructors, including Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, Julie Berry, Ann Cannon and Dave Farland. This week we will look at Dean Hughes, Lisa Mangum, Natalie Whipple, and end with Carol herself. 

Dean Hughes - Advanced Novel Workshop
Dean Huges has published over a hundred books for children, young adults, and adults. He has taught English at Central Missouri State University and writing at BYU. He spent seventeen years between the two writing full time. He has written CHILDREN OF THE PROMISE and HEARTS OF THE CHILDREN.

Lisa Mangum - Writing the Middle Grade or Young Adult LDS Novel
Lisa taught the full novel class last year and was one of my favorite afternoon presenters. Lisa has had a lifetime love affair with books, volunteering in her elementary school library, working at Waldenbooks, and assisting the publishing department of Deseret Books. She has written four award winning books including THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO.

Natalie Whipple - Novel Workshop
Natalie came to Utah from the Bay Area and attended BYU, earning a degree in English linguistics. She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I’M A NINJA series, and FISH OUT OF WATER.

Carol Lynch Williams - Advanced Novel Workshop
When Carol is not writing or running WIFYR, she teaches writing at BYU. Another Vermont College grad, she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Adolescents. When she is writing, she turns our great works such as THE CHOSEN ONE, GLIMPSE, MILES FROM ORDINARY, WAITING, THE HAVEN, and SIGNED, SKYE HARPER.

Classes are filling up but there are openings in most. Early Bird registration pricing ends soon. You can go to to find out more about this conference.

(This article also posted at

Friday, February 27, 2015

WIFYR faculty, part 1

I don’t know how Carol Lynch Williams does it, but every year, she assembles a staff of top-notch faculty members. This year is no different. 

Nine super writers will run the week-long morning workshops. Additionally, there will be five others one day a week for the mini-sessions. The workshops are the heart of the conference. You and your new best friends spend twenty hours critiquing each others’ work and exponentially increasing your understanding of the writing craft. There are less expensive options for attending WIFYR, but every writer should do a morning workshop at least once.

This year’s faculty members will be examined in this two part post. In alphabetical order, we start with Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, Julie Berry, Ann Cannon and Dave Farland. You can go to to find out more about this conference.

Jennifer Adams - Full Novel Workshop
Jennifer is the author of more than two dozen books, including the board books in the bestselling BABY LIT series, which introduce small children to the world of classic literature. She’s worked as a book editor and works at The King’s English, a sponsor of WIFYR. You can visit her online at: .

Kathi Appelt - Picture Book and Middle Grade Novel
Kathi is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. She is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (Carol is a VCFA alumni and often pulls instructors from there.) She’s won awards for her THE UNDERNEATH, KEEPER, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS, and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAM MAN SWAMP.

Julie Berry - Novel Class
Another Vermont College grad, Julie is the author  of ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME and THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE. She’s also written THE AMARANTH ENCHANTMENT, SECONDHAND CHARM, and the SPLURCH ACADEMY FOR DISRUPTIVE BOYS. Find her online at, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks. I am honored at being able to assist for Julie this year.

Ann Cannon - Trouble Shooting Class for All Genres
I’ve assisted for Ann before and can attest to her grasp of writing, her ease of imparting that wisdom to students. She writes PB to YA and entertains Utahns with her weekly column in The Salt Lake Tribune where she also reviews children’s books. She’s published thirteen books including CHARLOTTE’S ROSE, SOPHIE’S FISH, and CAL CAMERON BY DAY, SPIDER-MAN BY NIGHT. She’s also published feature articles in local and nations magazines.

Dave Farland - Boot Camp
Dave has mentored some big names in children’s literature. That list includes Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, and Stephanie Meyer. He’s an award winning, international best seller with over 50 novels in print, including ON MY WAY TO PARADISE and THE RUNELORDS fantasy series.

All great authors willing to share their expertise with others. Up next week, Dean Hughes, Lisa Mangum, Natalie Whipple, and Carol Lynch Williams

(This article also posted at

Friday, February 20, 2015

WIFYR attendance options

Registration is now open for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, or WIFYR. The week-long event occurs in Sandy, UT of the week of June 15-19.

This is a super writing conference and this year there are several options to fit varying budgets and time constraints. The prices listed below are the early-bird cost which will go up after March 15.

If you’ve only got one afternoon, make it Friday, June 19. Jennifer Nielsen (The False Prince series) delivers the keynote speech. For $18, you can join the book signing, sit in on an agent/editor panel, and can attend the end-of-conference party.

You can choose the afternoon sessions package that gets you in to all the craft presentations throughout the week, including Jennifer Nielsen’s keynote. It is going for $99..

If you’ve only got one day, you could do the mini-workshop package. These four-hour sessions take place in the morning with a different topic and instructor each day. These also list at $99 and will get you in that day’s afternoon session. You can do one or you can do them all. This is the schedule:
Monday, June 15 -  Guy Francis - illustration class
Tuesday, June 16 - Emily Wing Smith - memoir writing
Wednesday, June 17 - Sarah M Eden - YA romance writing
Thursday, June 18 - Matthew J. Kirby - mystery writing
Friday, June 19 - Cheri Pray Earl - writing a series

The heart of the conference is the hands-on, interactive morning workshops. In these sessions, participants spend the week critiquing each others’ works under the guidance of a published faculty member. Most classes are $495 with the boot camp class going for $695 and the full novel class running at $995. We’ll go into more detail next week with these classes, but if you want a quick peek now follow the link.

If you compare writing conferences, you see that you really get a lot of bang for the buck with WIFYR. James Dashner is giving back to the writing community by offering registration for five writers to attend. Applications for the James Dashener Scholarship for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers end March 9th. There is also the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Fellowship Award which can help defray the cost for a lucky writer.

There are several ways to take advantage of this wonderful conference. Dubbed a mini-MFA (Master of Fine Arts) for a fraction of the cost, there are options to meet many writer’s budget and schedule.

(This article also posted at