Saturday, 27 July 2013

Character Arc and Revised (Again) Goals

Image courtesy of Gracey at
I was away last weekend at a workshop so I didn't get a chance to post on my (lack of) progress. Writing progress, I mean. I'm making progress in other areas of my life, though. So... Woo Hoo!!

I used to have no problem writing. Back in 2003, when I began to take writing seriously, I would write every single day, often for two or three hours at a time. I loved it. I got stories written. I started writing something that meant a lot to me and enjoyed what was happening in each session. It was relatively easy.

It's not that easy any more. There are a number of factors that have probably led to this - being a mother (which is the BEST job in the whole wide world even while it's demanding); lack of sleep; not as much down-time as I'd like (or need) - you know, the time to just switch the brain off; something I'm calling highstandardanxietyitis; tying myself in knots with everything I've learned about structure and arcs and plots and plots points; needing to adjust to all the life changes and find a new writing process that works with how my life looks now.

With this in the back of my mind, I read with GREAT interest this post on Jodi Henley's blog. (And if you are looking for information on character arc, then she is your go-to person!)

Like Jodi, I also enjoy character-driven stories (it's my preference, in fact), but it somehow escaped me that it might be a good idea to start my pre-planning with the character arc and not the external plot. I know the ins and outs of the main plot points in the external arc, but after reading the post I can see that the external arc is the means by which the character changes and so it doesn't make sense (in a character-driven story, anyway) to plot the external arc first. Knowing where my character is at the start of the story and, even more importantly, at the end of the story and then filling in the gaps in between with ideas for story events that might cause the character to change is what will help me to put the external plot together. So character arc first, plot arc second. :)

With that in mind I did a bit more research looking for articles on plotting character arcs, the stages of change and anything else that could possibly help me to plot the internal character arc.

These are the most helpful resources I found:
And so, with these resources in my toolbag, I'm going to revise my writing goals (AGAIN!) for the following week.


Writing Goals:
1. Meditate before each writing session
2. Work on my novel for at least 15 minutes each day
- Working through the characters' arcs is my focus for the coming week
3. Check in with ROW80 and leave comments on at least 5 other ROW80 blogs

Non-Writing Goals:
4. Create a new habit of getting to bed by 11pm at the latest every night
(I'm doing pretty well with this one, and it's making a huge difference to my energy levels and mood.)
5. Find a way to have some down-time each day
6. Practice one technique a week from "Just One Thing" by Rick Hanson
(The first technique has been going well, so I'm moving onto a second one as of today.)

In other news, I'm still reading through Jodi's "Practical Emotional Structure" and Buffy Greentree's "Five Day Writer's Retreat" as well as Dara Marks's "Inside Story" and they are ALL helping me stay motivated. Yay.

I wish all my fellow ROWers the very best with their goals for the next week. :)

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Bug, a Book, 4 Barriers and Mindfulness

Toddler and I have been sick since the middle of last week. Whatever we caught, it didn't want to let go... So no writing done, but lots of learning going on instead which means I still feel like I'm moving forward, even it I can't show something tangible for my efforts.

1. Brandon Sanderson classes on YouTube
I loved watching his first lecture all about writing habits and goals and discovering whether we're the Gardener or Architect type of writer. A pantser's first draft usually has strong characters but a weak ending; a plotter's first draft usually has a fantastic plot but wooden characters. There was a bit of worldbuilding and how to make it interesting... Yeah, lots of insights and things to mull over. GREAT.

2. Craft books
I'm reading Dara Marks's "Inside Story: The Transformational Character Arc" and I'm just blown away by it. Especially by Chapter 5, The Fatal Flaw: Bringing Characters to Life. Let me just quote a couple of the lines I've highlighted that had me putting the book down to ponder the enormity of what I'd just read and how it applied to my own life.

But what truly makes a person independent is not just the acceptance of his or her obligations, but the acceptance of his or her true nature, which is much harder to come by. 

Loneliness, emptiness, despair, anger, rage, and apathy are our nursemaids; they care for our souls and are ever-present when we abandon our true nature to the illusion of an idealized self. Were it not for their vigilant presence in the form of discontentment, depression, and self-destructive behaviour, we might be forever lost. Therefore, if we want to capture the full essence of a character in our stories, it is essential to paint this pain and turmoil into his or her portrait. 

This is a treasure of a book and I'm finding that it's so deep, it requires a thoughtful reading to fully understand the concepts and teachings.

3. What I've learned about plots and subplots
The Plot, of course, is the external story arc. The GOALS the characters are trying to reach. They want to gain something or avoid something.

Then, even in a fairly simple story, there are usually two subplots; Subplot 1 is the protagonist's internal arc and Subplot 2 is the relationships arc (the romance, for instance).

I found a couple of articles on romance arcs, one of which could double as a handy (if sketchy) template: and
And if you're writing a YA novel, then this article describes the teen romance arc very well:

And I came across the most fascinating blog while I was researching subplots and romance arcs. The writer - Ingrid Sundberg - is obsessed with plot structure and has created some amazing posts about every type and variant there is. It's worth checking out just to see the sheer number of story structures that she's researched.

4. The Four Thinking Barriers
I'm not sure how it happened, but I was reminded of something I learned in Holly Lisle's 'How to Think Sideways' course in Lesson 1. In it, she explains the 4 Thinking Barriers to success and how to overcome them. And wouldn't you know, I have all four of them. Bleh. So I'm going to work through her techniques to break them bit by bit. (And that links to point number 5 below.)

5. Becoming Mindful
I came across "Just One Thing" by Rick Hanson a couple of days ago and this has led me to a new goal: To become mindful not just in my writing, but in how I live my life, too.

I've read the first exercise in Hanson's book (Be For Yourself, which means Be Your Own Best Friend) and whenever I catch my mood dipping or thoughts becoming bleak or I find myself struggling with something, I take a moment to pause and say something encouraging or loving to myself. Things like, "You're doing a good job" or "Time to sit down and have a cup of tea" or "How can I make this (task) easier for myself?" What a sense of relief that brings instead of berating or criticising. It really does lighten the load. :) So, I'm practicing each technique for a week before I move onto the next one. It'll be interesting to see where I am a year from now. (There are 52 techniques.)

Ok. Time to check in with my fellow ROWers.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Revised Goals for Round 3

Things haven't gone according to plan and I've had to revise my goals for this round.

Novel Planning

I came to the conclusion that I haven't sorted out enough behind-the-scenes details to really ground my story in the story world and to people it with characters that jump off the page (or screen). I've been reading various articles by other writers to see what their plotting process looks like. I'm happy with some of the things I've developed for my own writing process (the storyboard and the island brainstorming list, in particular) but despite the preplanning I did for CampNaNo in April, everything feels very dusty and vague. Just ideas rather than strong story elements.

This morning, my husband very kindly took our toddler out for a long drive and I dragged my writing table into the sitting room in front of the gas heater and sat down to put together a writing blueprint-workbook-template thingummy with the aim of creating something that will help me to get a better handle on the three elements that go into creating a story: character, location, and events (events being the plot, the external action).

The Novel Template

Over the years since I decided to take writing seriously, I've read a countless number of books and online articles. And I've found it difficult to keep track of all the approaches; you know, what Successful Writer A suggested, and how Successful Writer B kinda contradicted that with a different suggestion.... (Of course, there are as many different processes as there are writers. I know that NOW...)

But this morning, I put all the craft ideas and techniques that resonated with me into one 16-page template. It means that techniques I've learned and liked won't be forgotten. They'll be right there in the template, waiting for me to read them, get inspired, and capture the results on paper. And as I learn new techniques and approaches, I can incorporate them into the template as well.

Here are a few resources that inspired me when putting together my template:

So, onto my revised goals for this round.

New Goals for Round 3

  1. Put together my own novel planning template - DONE. I did this in small steps over the course of the week, mostly in the evenings, and typed my scribbled notes up in their final form this morning when I had about four uninterrupted hours to myself. Woo hoo!! :)

  2. Get to know my world. What does the landscape look like? How does the magic system work EXACTLY? What EXACTLY happened in the past to cause the political unrest in the country? How does society work in my male protagonist's culture?

  3. Get to grips with my protagonists' character arcs.

  4. Work through my discomfort of where my female protagonist will finish up at the end of the story. This is a biggie as it involves something that is a bit of an 'issue' for me. Issues make the best kind of stories, though, or so they say...

  5. Create some collages of the world and of my characters to help bring these elements to life for me. I'm a visual person, hence my love of storyboarding. It'll be interesting to see if I like making collages. I'm exploring my process with this goal. :)

  6.  Meditate before I settle down to capture my workings on paper. I'm sticking with the idea that quietening the mind will help me be more productive.

  7. Watch Brandon Sanderson's classes each week (starting tomorrow Monday 8th July) and work through the assignment as best I can before the next class session. Even if I can't post it by the deadline for critique, I want to complete the assignment and take a look at what I learned from the class itself and from the writing.

Here's hoping that the first week of Round 3 has gone well for my fellow ROWers. I'm off to check in on some blogs to see how it's going!

UPDATE: I've taken some writing workshops with Jodi Henley in the past and I've always learned so much from her. If you want to know about the character transformational arc or emotional depth or structuring a story (even if you're an organic writer), then she is your lady! There's a tonne of information on her site, which I recommend dipping into, and she's just published Practical Emotional Structure for Kindle. And if you don't have a Kindle, she's said you can get in touch with her via her blog and she'll sort you out. How lovely is that! :)

Monday, 1 July 2013

And we're off! Round 3 ROW80

Image by Jade courtesy of

Goals for this Round:

1. Meditate for 15 mins (at least) before each writing session

 in order to quieten my thinking and become more heart-centred.  I found an amazing guided meditation the other day (The Mindful Writer Meditation by Madhu B. Wangu) and I've listened to two of the meditations over the past three days. I'm astonished already at the result because after a dream near-drought of 2 1/2 years, I've dreamed nearly every night since!


2. Write 25K a month

I think this is an achievable goal. It works out at about 806 words a night. And if I run over, I can treat myself to a night off somewhere during the month. :)



3. Do my homework each week of Brandon Sanderson's class

That's the plan anyway, but I'll have to see what this means in terms of work. If I can use what I'm writing in first draft, great. If it needs polishing, I'll have to give it a miss.


4. Critique two pieces on Wednesday and two more on Friday.

Again, this is for the workshop. We have to critique at least four pieces of our peers' work.


5. Check in with ROW80 every Sunday

Checking in Wednesday and Sunday doesn't really fit my time constraints, so Sunday is a better option.


6. Work on my novel for at least 15 minutes each day

 whether it be a full writing session, or plotting, or jotting down ideas (worldbuilding, plot, characters, backstory, etc.)

And I'm half thinking of writing a future email to myself to arrive at the end of this Round.That could be fun!

All the best to my fellow ROWers!