Tag: Bob Mayer (page 1 of 4)

Traits of Successful Authors I— Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Patience And Self-Discipline

It takes a long time to write a novel. No matter how fast you are, it takes a while. In fact, while some things like NANOWRIMO has people writing at a furious pace for a month and is a good way to get the writing down, it is also negative in that quantity is not necessarily quality.

The amount of time I spend writing a novel has actually increased the more I learn about the craft. Rather than making it easier, more knowledge makes it more difficult to write, as I try to make the book the best possible product I can.

Writers are often asked what their daily schedule is. I think it’s important to have the discipline to have a daily schedule and/or goal. It’s too easy to let the writing go and take care of everything else if you don’t force yourself to face that daily goal.

It’s different for many writers but here are some from writers I know:

5 pages a day; 2,000 words a day; 10 pages a day; six hours a day.

I think an external goal that can be measured is the best to go for. It’s a tangible goal and you know when you’ve accomplished it.

Beyond that tangible writing goal, I work seven days a week, anywhere from eight to fourteen hours a day. It’s hard for me to say how many hours a day I work because I am almost always ‘working’. If I’m not sitting in front of my computer, I’m researching or watching the news for interesting facts or simply thinking about my story, playing it out in my mind, watching my characters come alive. I have many of my best plot ideas while driving or riding my bike. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, which is why I have my iPhone with recorder next to my bed ready for instant use.

My cable bill is very high, with every channel, on-demand, and DVR. There are writers who say ‘kill your television’ but I disagree with that. There’s some very good writing in that medium. I watch movies and shows the same way I read books: analytically to see what the writers did and also what were the possibilities that weren’t explored. The #1 thing a writer must do other than write is read and watch movies and shows. It is work. It will take away some of your enjoyment of things as you can get good at predicting what will happen next under Chekhov’s rule of ‘don’t have a gun in act one unless you use it by act 3’. But note that I say ‘use it’ not ‘fire it’. That’s the key to great writing. To take what is expected and do the unexpected.

Thumb_Nail_Novel_WriterWriting is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. If you write only when excited or motivated you’ll never finish. You have to write even when it’s the last thing you want to do. Just put something down. You can always edit it later or throw it out (you’ll do a lot of throwing out and it hurts but it’s the sign of a mature writer; also, it’s one reason you don’t edit yourself to death on the first draft). I eventually average 500 to 550 pages of manuscript to produce 400 good pages in a final draft. A recent manuscript was 126,000 words long and then I cut it back to 90,000 words. To sweat over that many pages and then “lose” them hurts but not as much as getting the manuscript rejected or not sell if self-published. The longer I’ve written, the more I’ve become a fan of rewriting and editing. I’m also a fan of outlining and doing a lot of work before I write the first sentence of my manuscript, including doing extensive character development.

Overall, I’ve developed an inner “writing clock” that works in terms of weeks and months that lets me know how much I have to produce and how quickly. It varies its pace depending on the project at hand and it took years of experience to develop this inner clock. I force myself to put the time and effort in, even when I don’t feel like it. However, as I discuss in Write It Forward, almost every writer tends to underestimate the time it takes to complete a manuscript.

Experiment and find something that works for you in day-to-day writing. Maybe it will only be for one hour every morning before everyone else gets up—keep doing it. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done if you stick with it. One rule that’s hard for people is to TURN OFF THE INTERNET while writing.

All the thinking, talking, going to writer’s conferences, classes, etc. are not going to do you any good if you don’t do one basic thing: WRITE.

backgroundWhen I taught martial arts, I always found that the majority of the new students quit right after the first month. They came in and wanted to become Bruce Lee rolled into Chuck Norris all within a couple of weeks. When they realized it would take years of boring, repetitive, very hard work, the majority gave up. It doesn’t take any special skill to become a black belt; just a lot of time and effort to develop the special skills. The same is true of writing. If you are willing to do the work, you will put yourself ahead of the pack. You must have a long-term perspective on it. Under Write It Forward, your strategic plan, in essence, is where do you want to be in five years as a writer?

I think a hard part of being a writer is also knowing what exactly ‘work’ is. For me it was hard to accept that kicking back and reading a novel was work and I wasn’t being a slacker. Sitting in a coffee shop and talking with someone is work. Living is work for a writer in that you can only write what you know, so therefore experience is a key part of the creative process.

Ultimately, though, as the late Bryce Courtney said, you need a large dose of bum glue. Gluing yourself to that seat and writing.

The Ability To Organize

As those pages pile up, you’ll find yourself weeks, months, maybe years away from having written that opening chapter. That’s where your organizing skills come in. We’ll cover outlining later on, but in essence, the way you organize your life, is the way you will initially organize your book. So if your life is all over the place, you might have some problems. Yes, there are those natural talents who can just ‘stream’ a book, but they are few and far between. Most of us cannot keep an entire book in our head.

You have to keep track of your characters, your locales, and the action, to make sure it all fits. I’ve used many different tools to write a novel, but one thing I’ve done with every single manuscript is use what I call a story grid. This is an Excel spreadsheet where I can put the entire book on one page, scene by scene (for a really big book it might go to two pages). This spreadsheet is not an outline, but rather something I fill in with a pen each day as I write, to help me keep track of what has been done. Every day I then update the spreadsheet and print it out. It sits to the left of my keyboard (I’m left-handed). It helps when you need to go back and look up a specific part or change something.

I also keep numerous indexed binders with all my research material handy. I spend a considerable amount of time organizing my research material so I can find what I’m looking for. Details drive a story, and the more details you have accessible in terms of research, the more options you have in your plot. Right now I have two four-inch thick binders: one for people; one for events.

Some writers use programs like Scrivener or Onenote to keep track of their research, but I’m still old-fashioned and use Word and Excel and binders.

These practical tools are part of my process as a writer.

What practical tools are part of your process?

#Nanowrimo Conflict: The Fuel Of Your Story

Conflict is the fuel that keeps your story going. Conflict revels your character and draws the reader closer. It gives the reader a reason to keep turning the page. Without conflict, your idea cannot be translated into story.

Conflict keeps a story going and reveals much about your characters. Conflict is the gap between expectation and the actual result. There are 3 levels of conflict for your characters:

  • inner (inside the character) In many cases inner conflict occurs when a person has a disagreement between values he or she holds to be important. By adjusting a character’s circumstances, you can develop internal conflict.
  • personal (between characters)
  • universal/societal (characters versus fate/God/the system)

You have to consider what your main character faces on each of these levels.

There are five major sources of conflict for people (although you can probably come up with more):

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Family
  • Religion
  • Politics

Nanowrimo coverKeep these sources of conflict in mind when developing your characters.

(Three books in one:  The Nanowrimo Survival Kit)

Remember all characters have to have an agenda/goals they want to achieve. That gives them a driving force, even if it is a passive or negative one. Characters can pursue their goals aggressively or subtly. Or they could not pursue their goals, which also says something about them.

What is Conflict?

  • A serious disagreement or argument
  • A prolonged armed struggle
  • An incompatibility between two opinions, principles or interests
  • (v) be incompatible or at variance, clash

Basic Story Dynamic

  • The Protagonist (the character who owns the story) struggles with . . .
  • The Antagonist (the character who if removed will cause the conflict and story to collapse)…
  • Because both must achieve their concrete, specific . . .
  • Goals (the external things they are each trying desperately to get, not necessarily the same thing)

The Protagonist

  • Must be someone the reader wants to identify and spend time with:  smart, funny, kind, skilled, interesting, different.
  • Must seem real; flawed, layered, blind spot.
  • Must have a unique voice.
  • Must be in trouble, undeserved if possible, but usually not random.
  • Must be introduced as soon as possible, first is preferred.
  • Must have strong, believable motivation for pursuing her external and specific goal.
  • We often empathize with a reluctant protagonist.
  • We must see the spark of redemption in a negative protagonist very quickly.
  • The protagonist’s blind spot can be fatal flaw, but at least brings about the moment of crisis.
  • The protagonist, as she is at the beginning of the book, would fail if thrust into the climactic scene.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What does your protagonist want most?

The Protagonist

  • Drives the story.
  • You have one for one main story line.
  • Does not have to be the hero/heroine or even good.
  • If she fails, what is the result? (Stakes)
  • Is the person on stage in the climactic scene, defeating the . . .

The Antagonist

  • Must be someone the reader respects (fears):  smart, funny, kind, skilled, interesting, different.
  • Must seem real; flawed, layered, blind spot.
  • Must have a unique voice.
  • Must be in trouble.
  • Must be introduced as soon as possible, even if by proxy.
  • Must have strong, believable motivation for pursuing her external and specific goal.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What does your antagonist want most?

The Antagonist

  • You have one.
  • Drives the plot initially.
  • You must do the antagonist’s plan and it should be very good.
  • If removed, the plot collapses.
  • Should be a single person so the conflict is personal.
  • Is the person on stage in the climactic scene, fighting the protagonist because . . .

Their Goals Conflict

  • The reader must believe both will lose everything if they don’t defeat the other.
  • Their goals are difficult to achieve because of external barriers, primarily each other.
  • Their goals are layered, usually in three ways . . .

Goal Layers

  • External:  The concrete object or event the character needs.
  • Internal:  The identity/value the character is trying to achieve via pursuing the external goal.
  • Relationship/communal:  The connections the character wants to gain or destroy while in pursuit of the external goal.
  • People want to achieve their goals because of their . . .

Motivation

  • The reason your character needs his or her goal.
  • Everyone has an agenda.
  • Every character has a primary motivator; Frankl’s ‘One Thing’.
  • Some motivations stem from key events in a character’s life.

More on Motivation

  • The reader must believe that your characters believe all will be lost if they don’t achieve their goal.
  • Motivations, like goals, come in layers that are peeled away as the story escalates in conflict and the character is under more and more pressure.
  • The motivational layers are all present in the beginning of the story, but the character is often not conscious of the layers.
  • Thus the motivation and goals shift as the story goes on and we peel away layers…

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What is stopping your protagonist from getting what he/she wants most?

What is stopping your antagonist from getting what he/she wants most?

The Central Story Question

  • Will the protagonist defeat the antagonist and achieve her goal?
  • When the reader asks that question, the story begins.
  • When the reader gets the answer, the story is over.

Central Story Question Examples

  • DON’T LOOK DOWN:  Will Lucy defeat Nash and save herself and her family?
  • AGNES AND THE HITMAN:  Will Agnes defeat Brenda and keep Two Rivers?
  • This question leads us to the . . .

The Conflict Box

The Conflict Box is a tool that is used to diagram visually your protagonist’s and antagonist goals and conflict.

You can either have conflict because

  • Protagonist and antagonist want the same thing.
  • Protagonist and antagonist want different things, but achieving one goal causes conflict with the other’s goal.

The Conflict Box

The core conflict based on goals that brings the protagonist and antagonist into direct opposition in a struggle that neither can walk away from.

Conflict Box:  Same Goal

  • Agnes wants to keep her house, which she bought from Brenda.
  • Brenda wants to steal back the house she just sold to Agnes.

To see if your conflict is inescapable:  Draw a line from Agnes’ goal to Brenda’s Conflict.  If Agnes is causing Brenda’s conflict, you’re halfway there.

Then draw a line from Brenda’s goal to Agnes’ conflict.  If Brenda is causing Agnes’ conflict, you have a conflict lock.

The key to the conflict box is one character must cause the other character’s conflict. You have that, you have conflict lock.

Conflict Box: Different Goals:

From Lost Girls.  Gant wants to find out who is kidnapping and killing young girls.

The Sniper wants to continue killing the daughters of those he feels betrayed him.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

Go to the below box and fill it out for your book.

Slideshare of the Conflict Box:

Video of Bob explaining the Conflict Box

WRITE IT FORWARD!

Three Benefits of Catastrophe Thinking, Planning & Preparing

Shit Doesn't Just Happen

From Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure

As a Green Beret, I was focused on two main reasons for catastrophe planning and preparation. As a writer, I learned about a third, more subtle benefit of catastrophe planning, in order to have a successful career in a field where 99% of those entering eventually fail.

You Catastrophe Plan for 3 reasons:

  1. To avoid the catastrophe. Since at least one of the six cascade events is human error, if we plan and prepare adequately, we can delete the human error cascade event from the situation, thus avoiding the final event.
  2. To have a plan, equipment, training etc. in place in case the catastrophe strikes. If we project out possible final events, we can prepare for their eventuality. I am adamant that preparation is critical, even more so than actual actions during the final event. It is too late when we reach a final event to prepare for it. Even the best-trained individual will be overwhelmed by a final event if they have not prepared for it. In the last catastrophe we cover in this book, you’ll see how the fact someone planned for possible catastrophes helped avert a terrible final event.
  3. To give you peace of mind in day-to-day living so you don’t constantly have to worry about potential catastrophes because you are prepared for them. This allows you to experience a higher quality of life. You’ve done your best to avoid the catastrophe, making the likelihood that much less. And you’ve done your best to prepare for the catastrophe, so you can focus on other things. Too many people worry about potential catastrophes without preparing; this is a fundamental failure and fuels fear. Fear feeds on itself and is debilitating. Often, extreme fear can bring about an event that would have never occurred otherwise. Confident people are prepared people.
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