WFMAD Day 28 – Question Day One

As we wind down the 3rd Annual WFMAD Challenge, I figured I should probably finish answering some of the questions you guys have asked this month.

Without further delay…

How do you find dependable research for your historical novels?

I find out which academics have done the most current research, I read their books, and use their bibliographies to get me started on the path to primary sources. I also look to see if there are other academics who disagree with the first writer’s approach. There are as many interpretations, it seems, as professors. But finding the primary sources and reading and interviewing enough to understand the context and significance of the primary sources is the most important thing.

When the characters demand that you write on a topic that you’re not comfortable with, how do you find the courage to not stifle them? In this case, it is important to the story, but it makes me squirm. Furthermore, how do you find the courage to show it to others, let alone ponder the possibility of publishing it once it’s polished?

You have total control over this. It comes down to this – which idea makes you more uncomfortable: the notion of not telling the story or the idea of telling the story and getting distressing feedback? If you are spending a lot of time worrying about feedback, I don’t think you’ll do a great job with the writing. Work on a different project until you are feeling stronger.

I hate my first 10 pages! I’ve rewritten them a few times, knowing that they’re aren’t working. The last time, I liked what I did (and my friends @ the LA Schmooze did, too) but my critique buddy, who’s read the other 100+ pages of the novel, passionately believed the new opening didn’t live up to the rest of the novel.

I left it alone for awhile, concentrating on later scenes in the book, but the revisited the opening because I thought I’d enter it in the Ventura/Santa Barbara Writer’s Day contest in October. And now…I hate it. I absolutely see what my critique buddy was talking about before. Problem is – I have NO idea how to fix it. Any suggestions?

Laurie? Anyone??

Have you written all the way to the end of the book? If you haven’t, stop fussing with the beginning and finish it. There’s a good chance that what happens at the end will let you know how the book should open.

In my experience, trouble with opening chapters usually means they can be cut. What adjustments do you have to make to the first third of the book if you lose those ten pages completely?

Ready…. “Write only what you want to write. Please yourself. YOU are the genius, they’re not. Especially don’t listen to people (such as publishers) who think that you need to write what readers say they want. Readers don’t always know what they want. I don’t know what I want to read until I go into a bookshop and look around at the books other people have written, and the books I enjoy reading most are books I would never in a million years have thought of myself. So the only thing you need to do is forget about pleasing other people, and aim to please yourself alone.” Philip Pullman

Set… how many hours can you stay away from the Internet today?

Today’s prompt:

Characters are put in motion by outside events. They also determine their path through a story by their internal and external reactions to outside events.

If you are stuck at the “what happens next” stage of writing, this one is for you:

1. Brainstorm twenty (yes, I said twenty, veinte, vingt, ishirini) external things that could happen to the character. F. Ex, in SPEAK, Melinda pulls the assignment of “tree” in art class. In WINTERGIRLS, Elijah takes Lia to the diner after the wake. Complications ensue.

2. Pick the five most intriguing ideas.

3. Write your character’s reaction (internal and external) to the outside events. HINT: if your character does not have a strong feeling, this is probably going to be a boring scene. Does matter what kind of emotion, it just have to be at least a little intense.


17 Replies to “WFMAD Day 28 – Question Day One”

  1. I tried tweeting this but it needs more explanation:
    I have two WIPs, one with some good characters and a fairly clear story arc, and the other which has characters I absolutely love (good tension, worry dialogue ) burnout clue of the story.

    Should I focus on getting the one done that has the clear story? Or work on figuring out the story of the characters I prefer? Or switch back and forth?

    Right now I’m stuck making no progress on either!

  2. I’m back! I was in forced exile in the dry (hooray for low humidity!) city of Lubbock for ten days, trying to entertain three kids in a hotel room while my husband spent time with his dying father. Needless to say, nothing more than a few pages of journaling was accomplished.
    Now the laundry is caught up, phew! I wrote nearly 500 pages after the kids went to bed last night and I’ve got my critique group this morning.
    So, I answered my own question I posted on FB yesterday….
    How do you get back into the groove after two weeks away?

  3. Did you just speak in Swahili? That made my day! Anyway, thanks for the advice for me it’s normally the end I have issues with because I’m nice and calm until the end and then at the end I get excited and write everything in a page or two, no details, basically like a plot for the last two pages. That or I never finish which happens so often. I found the research thing very helpful because I assume that not only your historical fiction require a lot of research. I think Wintergirls especially, looks like it required a lot of research.
    Now, I have two questions.
    1. How does music help your writing process?
    2. What if your stories seem to resemble what you’re reading at the time or what you read before?

  4. My question is: How do you keep writing once you’ve come up with a story idea?

    I always end up writing the first few chapters of my rough draft, then sending the entire thing to my computer’s Recycle Bin.

  5. Here’s a question: You are an unpublished, aspiring author. You finally get an acceptance letter that is very close to an acceptance–the editor says they don’t want to take it yet–but if you wanted to consider doing a few specific things she would love to see it again. And she invites you to send anything else you’ve got. Her ideas for changes are great and you plug away. Now is your chance. So how do you get to the point where you feels it’s good enough to send back? You don’t want to blow your one real chance.

  6. The above should have said you finally get a REJECTION letter that is very close to an acceptance.

  7. I had no idea what to write today. So I sat down at the keyboard and fifteen minutes later, I had a completed poem about happiness. It made me feel good and question what I think happiness is really about. 😀

  8. Thanks for answering my question, Laurie! I wouldn’t be thinking about the first 10 pages at all if it weren’t for the little contest at V/SB Writer’s Day. The contest is free anyway – it’s really the other Writer’s Day stuff that matters – so I’ll do a little work on them before submitting an then forget all about them until much, much later.

    Happy writing everyone! We’re in the home stretch of WFDAM!!

  9. So far, I’ve written for at least 15 minutes every day of August. The real challenge comes on the 31st, when I go back to teaching for the semester. But I wanted to tell you how helpful it was to me to actually sit down and draw the maps for my fictional town. Simply thinking about the geology that create a hill in a town that is on a large lake and a river that feeds into that lake was useful in helping position specific buildings. Now I’m seriously thinking about relocating where one of my characters lives, because her current house is a bit too posh. Or I may leave her, because that’s another source of tension in the family.

  10. I’ve been absent for the last three days because of going back to school before the kids come week. The end of summer, ah. Today was a day to be outside weeding and deadheading my front garden. I found my first ripe tomato.
    Your answer to the first pages question was great. I sometimes get stuck revising a section and then remember that I just need to get to the end, which is plotted out but not written and then revise.

    My question is do/ did you have an agent? What tips can you give about query letters?
    I am off to write.

  11. Just thought of another question while writing. Any advice on how to juggle writing and working full time? I love summers where I set my schedule. During the school year I tried to write before school. Doesn’t always work. Thanks.

  12. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. You’re absolutely right. You put it into focus. Now it seems so simple that I feel silly for having fretted over it to such a degree.

    On the day that I pushed myself to “allow the characters to speak freely”, I did produce writing that I’m proud of. The interactions were dynamic with clear emotional reactions to what was revealed. The speech patterns were loose and natural. Even the more subtle forms of communication that are so important in the real world but which I have a horrible tendency to overlook when writing dialogue, such as body language and the degree to which one person is actually paying attention to other, were present, though I think I was a bit too heavy handed with it. (That can be fixed in the next revision.) I made so many breakthroughs in technically good writing, that I was eager to share it with my writing buddies, but shot myself down when I realized the subject matter might offend certain sensitivities. I fretted so much, that I haven’t been able to continue with that project ever since, and even my other writing has suffered.

    I’m not convinced there’s any real loss to letting that particular WIP sit. It’s just another escapist fantasy story the likes of which have already flooded bookshelves. However, the biggest story scaring me silent is one that I will regret never finding the courage to tell. It’s rooted in a real world experience that I’m proud to have lived, but that carries a major social stigma in many communities. I’m currently at the stage where the fear of judgment outweighs the desire to tell the tale. I agree, I should leave it simmering on the back burner until I’m ready. Even revealing in a public place that I have such a story to tell indicates that I’m moving closer to that day. Until then, I’ll continue to hone my skills through writing exercises and perhaps even complete a work of speculative fiction.

    Thank you for your time, and THANK YOU for leading all of us through WFMAD.

  13. I wrote the twenty things that could happen quite quickly, which surprised me. Words poured out and I was suddenly looking at twenty different ways I could take the story, though a number of them would be quite hard on my heroine, which is what you want.
    For fun, I went in the different directions and was reminded how brave this child is, and how, no matter how much I throw at her, she keeps fighting and believing.
    Whenever I have doubts about my writing, I think of Savannah and how brave she is. And this makes me stronger.
    So I follow her example, cast away the doubts, and keep moving forward.

  14. Amen on writing to the ending. My pattern for a story is to write the inciting event, then write the ending. With my early (failed) novels, I got lost in the middle, and the plot suffered. I find that by writing the ending, I know where the story is going. That makes it much easier to write the middle and also, to revise the beginning, which causes me to revise the end, which causes me to revise the middle, which causes me to lop off the old beginning, which causes me to…

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