Write from the Heart | Write your Story

Heart

Two things have really struck me over the last few weeks and I felt I needed to blog about them. Both lead into the same subject but from different angles. The subject that has been niggling at my conscience: (Warning: this will be a long post.)

Write from the Heart

For the past 6 weeks I have been working on the final edits of my current WIP. Let me tell you…when I say “working” I mean just that. Anyone who says that writing a novel is difficult has obviously never got to the editing stage. For me first drafts are simple. The words, plot and characters flow out onto the page like opening a tap. Why is writing a first draft simple for me? I am a pants-plotter. I am not 100% a pantser nor am I 100% a plotter. I like some form of an outline but I it is just strong enough to light the next 500 words of each scene. But I am a night owl. Which means that I don’t write by day….In a way you could say that I drive at night if my driving is my novel, my headlights are my plot and my time of day is ruled by the light of the moon. I write like a driver who takes a journey at night. I can see just far enough ahead to know I am not going to crash into anything but there is still enough darkness and mystery that I can still be surprised by what turns the journey can take me on. 

I would say that I plot 30% and free-form write about 70%. For me the story has to be written as it comes to me. If I plot too much I tend to lose that emotion that fuels my writing. I plot myself out of the story if I think too much. So, yes, viscerally it is vital that I write that first draft from the heart. I don’t subscribe to writer’s block. I think you write the story as it comes to you. But I do think you can out-think yourself out of the story and ultimately out of the writing which would in turn lead to a brick wall: the notorious writer’s block.

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

There are so many writer’s books, writer’s classes and workshops out there both online and in real-time. The information network through these channels as well as social networking can be wonderful but adversely can also be really overwhelming. Information is freedom. Or is it? Can too much information be overwhelming? Like the wise people say, too much of a good thing can be overkill. Yes, sign up for writer’s classes, attend conferences, read craft books and network with other writers and mentors…but when push comes to shove, you have to stop the information overload long enough to shut out the world, open the heart and start writing. To be a writer you have to write. To be a novelist or short story author, you need to finish a novel to a short story. Nobody said it would be easy. In fact, I guarantee you that most people love the dream but fear the reality of being a writer. But you knew this when you decided to write. You have to write because otherwise this story and these characters will not let you rest: they haunt your every hour, day and night. Yes, you must write. So the birth of a first draft starts. 

First draft is just that. Your work is not done when you have got to those magic words “The End” of your first draft. Pat yourself on the back for finishing that story or that novel. Unfortunately though, now the real labour pains of the birthing process start. Writing the first draft was just your pregnancy. It may not have been the smoothest pregnancy and you may have had morning sickness but overall you know your “baby” is growing, changing and getting ready for entry into the real world. Your first draft is just like pregnancy in that it is really something intimate and the writing is for you. It is your chance to get to know this story. It is something that nobody else can do for you. Your real work has not even started until the “9 months” is up and your water breaks. Writing “The End” on your first draft is that water breaking. 

But the real guts and glory are in the labour pains of birth. Writing is not easy but editing is painful. Editing a first draft should not be easy. It should be pain-staking, heart-wrenching and pure “work”. 

If writing is sitting down and opening a vein…Editing is sitting down and cutting the vein.

I always thought that if you write from your heart, you must edit from your brain. In theory this is accurate. But can you out-think your first emotions from your first draft? Can you over-analyze to the point of killing the heart in your story? 

I have realised that unfortunately you can over-analyze a story. I talk from very fresh experience. Funnily enough, I am usually my own worst enemy when it comes to critiquing my own work. However it is also true that like all writers, I can also miss certain elements that need to be corrected in my own work. This is when writing partners and beta readers come into play. If you have good writing partners, they are honest and forthright with you at all times. They are your headlights in the editing journey. But say now you get through that first and second edits (your second draft) with your mental health intact and your manuscript looking better for the cosmetic surgery…What now? 

After both you and your writing partners are satisfied you have done all you can to edit your story, you start submitting and pitching it. If you are lucky enough to get an agent or editor to love your first pitch and they request a partial or a full manuscript, you have to put your hard hat on again and enter the final edits. Of course I am not even mentioning the edits that take place after a manuscript has been accepted by a publisher. No, I am just talking about the edits that may be required of you by the agent or editor in the initial request. 

How far do you take those comments on your manuscript? Do you do a complete edit and rewrite again? Do you tweak only a little using both your intuition for the story and the advice you have been given by agent/editor? When does too much change become overkill for your story and your characters? 

From very fresh personal experience, I can tell you that you can over-analyze your story into overkill. You can also change and rewrite your story so many times that after a while you wake up one morning, look down at the screen or the page and wonder who wrote this story? Too much editing and following too many pieces of advice, no matter how well intentioned, can cause you to fall out of love with your own story. You become an amnesiac and the story that you first wrote has disappeared into the ether of too much editing. If you get to this point, you must stop! If you try to push through determined to follow advice and to get that manuscript just perfect, you will start to feel like you are taking dictation and not creating. You become a secretary and stop being a creative writer.

If the advice you are getting is making you change your story to the degree that you are hating your own story and wanting to put off working on it, you must stop! You need to stop and recognise that your cosmetic surgery is becoming ugly and morphing your story into something unrecognisable. If you have fallen out of love with your story because of over-editing, that lack of emotion will come through and stain the story for any readers. 

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” ~ Robert Frost

There comes a point where you have to follow the initial stirrings of your heart. At the end of the day you are the writer and this is YOUR story. These characters came to YOU. The story’s idea may not be original in that isn’t every romance like any other or a thriller just a thriller. What is unique and what is special to your story is YOU and YOUR heart/ YOUR emotion. Great emotion that is tenderly written into the spaces between the words is what makes a story a great story. 

Ultimately advice is just that: advice. You choose what information to use and what to throw away. Ultimately YOUR story has to be YOUR story. You have to write from YOUR heart and you have to write YOUR story that you feel. Let that emotion come through and your story will be the better story for it. So yes: write the first draft with your heart, edit the second draft with your brain but the final checks need to be with your heart and your emotion. Be true to that initial emotion and that initial excitement when you first met your characters and heard their story. If you are true to your story and your characters, the story will be true for your readers. Essays come from the brain but stories come from the heart.

Write from the Heart .

Write Your Story.

Edit with your brain but let your heart be the final check.

Editors and agents are not writers. They are salesmen who help you polish up your story, promote it and market it to sell it. Don’t ever forget YOU are the Writer. It is YOUR story. If you feel strongly enough about keeping something in your story, then you MUST be true to that. It is called instinct. It is called creative license. It is: You writing Your story. Be true to it! Be true to you!

“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.” ~ Arnold Bennett

Have you ever over-edited the heart out of your story? Or have you ever been told to remove something / change something vital from your story? What did you do in the end? 

Puzzled by Plotting? | #1

Free Stock Photos - Final Piece© Photographer: Dana Rothstein | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Writers tend to belong to one of two main story structure camps:

Plotting vs Pantsing

There are of course those writers who are hybrids and use the best of both worlds. For myself, I am for the most part, Pantsing is the camp I align myself to. But there are benefits of plotting. Sometimes when you get to a midway point, pantsing can simply run out of steam.

At the beginning of the year I signed up to a class offered by Savvy Authors. I found it incredibly useful for that midway point in a WIP when my pantsing just runs out of steam. The class offered a number of questions that basically help you flesh out a synopsis/plot line.

So if you are more of a panster but sometimes could use some form of plotting, this may help you. These 12 questions really helped solidify my story line for me and helped me flesh out a synopsis. Try it out. Afterall, you have nothing to lose. You may just find those elusive last pieces of your WIP puzzle.

  • What’s my idea?

Without an idea, there is no foundation, and the idea has to have some solidity to it.

  • Where does my story take place?

This sets the tone and mood of the story, an old dilapidated Victorian mansion gives one connotation while a skyscraper gives another and a space station quite another.

  • When does my story take place?

You need to establish a time period. Is your story contemporary, historical, a few years back, a few years forward, etc.

  • What is the timeline?

If you leave this to chance, you might find yourself a hundred pages into a story and still be on the first day of the story. This is great if that was your plan, but if you’re writing a generational novel, you’re in trrrrrrroooooouubbble!

  • Why is this happening?

There are only so many ideas and stories out there that can be told, you need to know your particular bent or twist that will make your story stand apart from all the others.
Who are my characters?

  • What’s my point of view?

You need to know who will be telling the story. First, decide if it is in first person, third person, objective, or omniscient and then decide if it is multi-perception or told by just one character. Even if told in first person, you can switch POV by placing a character’s name at the beginning of a scene.

  • Who are my characters?

Protagonist – main character(s)
Antagonist – villain(s)
Secondary characters – (all others)
At this point you don’t need to know the fine points of your character, or even their name, but you do need to have a sense of them, male or female, strong or weak, their impact on the story.

  • How will I begin my story?

The beginning Introduces the protagonist/s and tells the reason the story.

  • What is my plot?

This is the basic structure of the story. For example, boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy doesn’t give up, girl begins to respond, her dog bites boy, boy sues, and then falls in love with his lawyer and drops the girl and the lawsuit, girl opens a kennel for wayward dogs, and they all live happily ever after.

  • What is my complication?

The wrench in the story. It is what moves the story along and aids the plot. Like nails in a coffin. The corpse might pop out if ya don’t nail the lid down.

  • What is my climax?

The climax is the point of the story where everything comes together. This is it, the moment when Indiana Jones picks up the Holy Grail while the Gestapo stands by to claim it , when Scarlett realizes she’s in love with Rhett and he already walked out the door, when Dorothy presents the witch’s broom to the Wizard and he says come back later. It’s not the conclusion. It’s not the end. It’s the high point, and the point when the protagonist could lose it all.

  • What is my resolution and anti-climax?

This is when the main character/s solve the problem and the story winds down. It comes quickly after the climax and you must resolve all the issues, untie the knots , bring home the bacon, put away the horse, bring in the hay….

Questions courtesy of Savvy Authors.

Synopsis: Are you in or out of Sync?

Unique Selling Proposition / Unique Selling Po...

Recently I completed an online workshop run by Savvy Authors. The course was called Pass the Shovel. In this course each lesson was about breaking down your story, your plot, your voice, your dialogue and your characters. I found the whole course very worthwhile but the lesson that I found the most enlightening was lesson 1. Lesson 1 was about breaking down your book into a summary or what the writing industry calls a synopsis.

synopsis |səˈnäpsis|noun ( pl. -sesˌsēz|)a brief summary or general survey of something : a synopsis of the accident.

• an outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or episode of a television show.

DERIVATIVES synopsize |-ˌsīz| |səˈnɑpˈsaɪz| verb

ORIGIN early 17th cent.: via late Latin from Greek, from sun- ‘together’ + opsis ‘seeing.’

synopsis – noun

the synopsis was so intriguing that I just had to buy the book summary, summarization, précis, abstract, outline,

digest, rundown, roundup, abridgment.

Then on my writing groups that I belong to, there have been various discussions about the horrors and necessities of the Synopsis. So I thought today’s post should be about the topic of the month: Synopsis ~ Are you in or out of sync with your synopsis?

So why is a synopsis necessary?

  • A synopsis is needed when you write your query letter and you pitch your book.
  • An agent does not have the time to read the first 50 pages of every manuscript that lands on their desk. They need a “taster” to see if your book is going to be featured on their menu. Cue in your synopsis.
  • An editor does not have the time to read the first 50 pages of every manuscript that an agent lands them. They also need a “taster” to see if your book is up their alley. Cue in your synopsis.
  • Your synopsis is your billboard advertisement that gets the passing agent’s/editor’s attention on the highway to a sold and published book.
  • Your synopsis is the clincher in getting your book from your bottom desk drawer to the hands of an agent then an editor and finally your reader.
  • Your synopsis is a SELLING TOOL. It is a way to convert your manuscript from a story to a published and saleable book.
  • To write a successful synopsis you need to think with a sales mind and not a writer’s mind.
  • The synopsis is your SPIN-DOCTOR for your book.

So we have just a few reasons here to tell you that a synopsis is vital to the success of you finding an agent, an editor and a publisher. So now we come to the crux of the matter:

How do you write a synopsis?

How do you get “in sync” with your synopsis?

One of the tips that I have learnt about over the last few months has been the value of being able to write a maximum 50 word synopsis. This will encapsulate the Hook of your story. Then from there build that up to a paragraph long synopsis. Next try building that up to a page long synopsis. Finally try building that up to a 2 page synopsis. Now you may still be reading this and scratching your head in consternation. You are still stuck with the idea that you have to hone down a 70 000 – 100 000 word novel into 50 words then finally into 2 pages. Well here are some questions that may help you break down your novel into synopsis form.

  • What’s my idea?
  • Where does my story take place?
  • When does my story take place?
  • What is my timeline?
  • Why is this happening?
  • What is my POV – Point Of View?
  • Who are my characters?
  • How will I begin my story?
  • What is my plot?
  • What is my complication?
  • What is my climax?
  • What is my resolution and anti-climax?

The main points that should be in your synopsis are:

  1. The HOOK – This is your USP or UNIQUE SELLING POINT. This is the part that you want to put front and centre and at the top of your synopsis. This is going to be the GRABBER.
  2. The CHARACTERS – Stories are about people. Tell us about your Main Characters. Tug at our heart-strings. The main points here should be: Motivation / Conflict / Goals. What makes this character’s story interesting? Why would a reader want to invest time and emotion in this story/this character?
  3. The BODY of the STORY – Here is where you want to focus on the PLOT of the story. Keep your writing tight and concise. Only put the necessary plot points here. Tie together your plot with your main characters.
  4. The CLIMAX / ANTI-CLIMAX / RESOLUTION – This will pull the whole story together. This is the part where you tie all your different colours of strings into one seamless ribbon. This is where all the questions of your story will be answered. This is where your character will change and grow. These will be the A-HA moments in your story.
  5. Use present tense at all times. Irregardless of whether your book is set in the past or the future, the present tense of a synopsis will put the agent / editor directly into the heart of your story and allow them to walk in your character’s shoes. This will create an emotional pull for them.
  6. Use strong adjectives and emotive language when writing your synopsis. This is your one chance to get the agent/ the editor’s attention. Use your best written skills for this synopsis. Do not waste space or words.

How are you feeling now? Are you feeling more confident with tackling The SYNOPSIS? Are you feeling more “in sync” with your synopsis?

Now lastly, when do you write a synopsis? There is no hard and fast rule that you can only write the synopsis at the end of the novel. In fact, if you leave it til then the nerves and doubt will kick in. Try your hand at writing a loose synopsis at the beginning stages of your novel. You will have the bare bones of your final synopsis. You may even find that your synopsis may be a guiding point for your story. I have written a synopsis both at the end of a WIP and now I have written one at the beginning of my current WIP. In this latter synopsis, I reached a moment of EPIPHANY in the conflict and the anti-climax of my story. Now I can tackle my WIP with renewed vigour and when it comes to the final synopsis, I have already completed half the task by writing my synopsis first.

Now it is time to get IN SYNC with your SYNOPSIS!

© All rights reserved Kim Koning.

Characters and their secrets

Secret Passageway
Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

Have you ever had reticent characters? Many readers and some writers believe that once you have written a book and created characters it gives you an omniscient presence in your character‘s world. For some this may be true. In my experience though, the opposite is true: instead of being creator and puppet master, I – the writer – am the servant and puppet. For me, my characters lead me down the twists and turns of their story. You see they have already walked it and lived it or are right in the thick of it, if anything I am an observer or a recorder of what they want me to tell the reader.

In my interviews on Warrior Wednesdays I always ask the question: What is most important or what comes first in your writing? The Story or the Character. You may wonder why I ask this. I ask this because in my own writing whether I think I get a story idea first or whether a certain character pops into my thoughts and hearing, ultimately it/they come from somewhere. I could say that I am brilliant and have a million and one stories within me but that would be false. I believe that as a writer we are a medium and a vehicle for our characters to tell their stories when, where, how and why they want to.

OK, I hear you say: so are you hearing voices from the deep dark and beyond. This is getting a little loopy! While if your right brain – creativity – rules you then count yourself loopy. Now don’t worry or look all shocked. I mean that yes you are loopy by the definition of a society where left brainers are the majority. I mean you imagine worlds, people, events, places in your head. By left brain definition you are deluded or hallucinatory or in a simple term loopy.

So back to the question: Do I hear voices from the deep, dark and beyond? To be honest, yes sometimes I have and do hear a voice. It pops into my thoughts and starts speaking. I know it is not me because it does not sound like anything I would say. Sometimes the voice is loud and sometimes it is quiet. For me though, I tend to stop and listen. I have tried the ignore button, even tried the mute button but then I end up with sleepless nights and eventually I just learn to respond. All that is usually needed is for me to listen and then a picture forms in my thoughts of who is speaking. Sometimes this is done by showing me a place first and sometimes it is like staring at my reflection in a mirror and slowly see a figure emerge from behind the door that is closed behind me. Then the who of them becomes a basis of their story. They live and breathe so they must have a story. That is when I put the pen to paper or finger to keyboard, whichever is in the closest vicinity, and write. Voila` a story is born and a character is on the page.

But some stories are different. Some characters like to keep secrets. They may even keep their identity a secret. You may be able to picture them but they do not tell you who they are. This may be because they enjoy the game or the control they have over you and your curiosity at this point. It may even be a method they are using to firstly get your interest in a story and then to keep it by leaving you with mysterious threads. For me this is very frustrating. I am a type A personality and like to be the one in control (blame my german roots) and I do not like surprises. If I am being honest here I also struggle with patience. So this character is like a double-dare and a red flag all at once for me.

In my new WIP, new in that I am at the start but not brand new story in that this story and these characters have haunted me for a while now. I knew I had to get this story written no matter how difficult the telling may be but somehow was coming up against a block. Then last weekend I had the epiphany to switch tracks from the German Professor Perfect to the train conducted by the 6-year-old curious and emotional Kimmi. Voila` the flood gates of inspiration started opening. But I still had a major problem. I did not know the identity of the antagonist. I kept on bumping up against this character. I could see the character but could not get a feel for this one like I did for the other characters. So I set it aside for a while and concentrated on talking to my characters in my NaNoWriMo novel and having a lot of fun with them on Facebook.

In the meantime I had also begun work last night on two writing workshops hosted by Savvy Authors. In one of the lessons, I had to write a full-page synopsis/outline via question and answer mode. So I decided to do the synopsis on my difficult WIP. It was late last night when the email had come through with the first lesson. So I looked at it and thought I would sleep on it and write it up first thing this morning. Well, the sleep idea soon turned out to be turned on its head. The synopsis kept on playing over and over in my head like a stuck gramophone. It got to the point that with 2 hours of broken sleep, I decided enough was enough. I would have to get this synopsis out my head and onto the screen. (The Macbook is never far away.) As I started answering the questions and the synopsis started fleshing out, I felt what could only be termed as a CLICK like something had locked into place or been opened. Suddenly as large as standing right in front of me, I met my antagonist. Just by finally knowing who this character was, a myriad of loose ends that had me stumped were tied up and the whole plot revealed itself to me. You see I could not see past the middle to the climax or the end because this story’s antagonist had hidden their identity from me. Suddenly I also knew why the identity had been hidden. This identity is the secret key to the whole story and demystifies both the protagonists as well.

Now I am not saying that I enjoyed meeting this antagonist as the character is the most sadistic and cruel character that I have yet met in my own thoughts. Just by this I know that I have not created this character. I have never actually known someone this… lets call it shadowed  or darkened. But as much as this character scared me to the depths of my soul, I suddenly had the key.

So yes characters keep secrets. Sometimes you find out through clues. But sometimes all of a sudden the secret is unlocked in an instant and it becomes a Pandora’s box. You will not be able to put the secrets back in the box once it is opened. Instead, try to rein in the secrets into one place: Your Characters’ Story. They know who you are. Now it is up to you to find out who they are.

So I ask you now, in light of my character unveiling, what comes first character or story?

Are you – the writer – the creator and puppet master or are you a mere medium and servant?

Ask yourself do you really think you just imagined some of those characters in your head and in your stories? Or are they the Storytellers and you are just a pen and paper?

– Kim

© All rights reserved Kim Koning.