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Wednesday, March 23, 2022 time writing passage of time pacing
Steampunk clock courtesy 3209107 on Pixabay
Steampunk clock courtesy 3209107 on Pixabay

 

I struggle with time jumps in my writing. My characters travel from point A to point B on a mission. Watch any movie based in large metropolitans such as London, New York, or Tokyo, and they show the characters in a car or on a subway. They get to their destination in no time while commuters familiar with those cities laugh or cry at how easily the MC moves around. Writers engage in time jumps to speed up time. The one exception to this was the show 24, where events were portrayed as they occurred.

Earlier in my writing journey, I wrote every detail of my MC’s journey, which was mind-numbing for readers. No one wants to read about how every meal is hunted and prepared or how the MC didn’t sleep well because they slept on the ground. Okay, okay, okay. You can write about every little detail if you’re Tolkien. I, however, am not Tolkien, and my readers aren’t as tolerant of slow pacing.

It’s okay to put details in if it advances the plot. If you spend time (words) describing a meal, how does that meal deepen characterisation or highlight a conflict? If your MC eats something new, do they have an allergic reaction or get food poisoning? How would those situations advance or hinder your MC’s ability to work towards the book’s goal?

There are many shorthand ways to speed up the pacing of your story. There’s the dialogue slip-in where one character mentions it’s a two-hour drive or a month-long boat voyage. The reader has a sense of the length of travel without being burdened or distracted by it.

Another shorthand is to deepen the POV. Show your MC’s blistered-covered feet and the hole in their shoe from a three-month hike across the country. There are other creative ways of showing the passage of time—adding or losing weight, greying of hair and/or presence of wrinkles, changes in the terrain (the last time the MC was home, there was a river running through the property, now the river has dried to a creek), changes in season, mentioning a character’s birthday (the story starts with a three-year-old-MC and there’s a jump to their tenth birthday), and so on.

All these approaches to the passage of time can be boiled down to one sentence or expanded into pages of details (provided they advance the plot or deepen characterisation).

Here’s an example of a time jump from my western historical romance, Jaded Hearts.

Bertram’s POV and these are the last sentences of chapter 2:

 

Bertram grimaced. Da’s past threatened to rob his future, and it wasn’t even noon.   

 

 

These are the opening lines of chapter 3 in Ruthanna’s POV:

Ruthanna sat in a high-backed chair in the dining room of the Anderson Hotel. The dust from her travels washed from her face, but the fatigue of her journey still weighed on her body. 

 

I used a chapter closing to have a half-day time jump.

 

Here’s another passage of time from Ruthanna’s POV:

Sucking in a large breath, she dug deep inside her to the little Ruthanna, who was dragged from mining camp to mining camp on a moment’s notice without a proper breakfast or full night’s sleep. Twenty-six-year-old Ruthanna found the strength of five-year-old Ruthanna always had and pushed herself to her unsteady feet. Her heel caught the hems of her skirts, and she stumbled backwards, crashing on her shoulder and bashing her head on a boulder.

Something cracked. Bone, brain, both.

Her tongue rolled back in her throat, and she choked. Her mind fled to somewhere dark and throbbing and senseless, but her body rushed to the rescue, rolling her to her side, forcing a sputtering cough from her lungs.

Time passed.

Minutes. Hours. Geological.

Agony dragged her away from death to awareness with a steady pounding beat against her skull.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from Seven Points of Contact:

Dad grunted, the same grunt when he was onto something, but willing to keep it a secret—for now.

By the end of the first game, the colour of Dad’s cheeks had drained to a sickly pallor reserved for dead fish. He hadn’t touched his can of Ensure, but he had settled deeper into his chair and closed his eyes.

Jonas was three years old again, wanting but unable to help with adult problems—offering a cookie when surgery was needed. “You want me to stay?” 

 

I could have given a hand by hand (they’re playing cards) description of how Jonas’ father is waning, but that didn’t serve the plot.

 

Another example from Seven Points of Contact:

 

Miranda finished her reports for the day.

 

 

*

I could have gone into the minute details of a car loan application, but it didn’t deepen characterisation, advance the plot, or add conflict.

 

Shorten moments (fewer words) when nothing of significance happens. Expand moments of time (give them word count) when they demonstrate conflict, strong emotion (characterisation), are a key learning point that the MC might not yet learn or present an obstacle. Well-crafted time jumps ensure good pacing and reader engagement.

 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022 inspiration writing ideas

 

 

I draw inspiration for stories from two main sources: tumblers and plaques.

The first source is tumblers where I playing around with a world. I enjoy building communities, exploring professions, interpersonal conflicts, friendships, families, and economies. I like writing communities because they change over time. People move away, they move into a place, people start businesses, businesses fail. There’s always a push and a pull.

I play around with tropes, professions, and how they interact with the meta-story. I get an understanding of a meta-conflict that can keep a series going, and then I drill down to individual stories.

I love playing around with tropes. I learn about tropes from different sources. The first source is TV tropes(1). TV tropes does an excellent job breaking down the plot points, identifying common aspects of the main characters, and linking the story to the broader genre. If you’re not careful, you can lose a week of your life on that website.

The second is Mindy Klasky’s website(2). Mindy’s website has a variety of romance-related tropes. They serve as touch points to craft a story around. The third is Go Teen Writers, which has an impressive list of romance tropes.

I think in terms of process and structures. Once I have a sense of the story’s structure, I set out to make the characters unique. I create characters with unusual professions. For example, in my upcoming release, Seven Points of Contact, Miranda is a car loan officer, and Jonas was a salesman but is considering opening a sporting goods store. Characters with professions that aren’t normally portrayed in stories are more interesting to write. The characters bring different skills and experiences to the romance (in my case because I write romances) and the non-romance plot (I always include a non-romance plot).

I play around with professions and tropes. What’s more interesting for characters with those professions to do? Is it more dynamic to have an enemies to lovers or a road trip trope? I fiddle around with the dynamics, see which one generates more conflict, and take it from there.

I write long series. I keep a series-long table of the characters, professions, the romance and non-romance tropes (mystery, thriller, action-adventure, etc.) I ensure that each book has a unique combination of these variables.

For my Outdoorsmen Series (contemporary crime romance), the common thread is people who like being outdoors. I ask myself what kinds of jobs they have, what are their interests, what problems do their jobs and hobbies cause. If someone likes fishing and gets up at 4am, that will cause problems with their significant other who likes to stay out late at comedy clubs. 

I played with professions (different environmental law enforcement officers in Environment Canada, the province of Ontario) and different love interests (translater or intellectual property lawyer with a food business). I played around with the crimes they solve. 

Tumblers: romance trope, crime(s), professions. 

For my mines and minerals series, I look at the historical context (western Canada in circa 1885). I think of the hardy souls who would have endured the long journeys and the brual cold and pioneered. I think of the First Nations who lived there for thousands of years and their cultural shock at encountering Europeans. Which dynamics that does this create that can be harnassed for a good story? 

Tumblers: romance trope, non-romance trope (save the ranch, start a business on the frontier, etc.) professions. 

For my Heartened by Sports series, the common thread is sports. What kind of sports do people play, how does that impact their lives, are they professionals or amateurs, what are the dynamics of that community (competitive sports with an eye on the big leagues or amateur with an eye for the beer after the game)? 

Tumblers: sports, non-sports income, romance trope, non-romance plot. 

I call this process a tumbler process. I look at the combinations, see which ones click, and ensure that each combination (a book in a series) is unique. For example, I write western historical romances. One book might have a rancher as a lead character who experiences a friends to lovers romance on an action-adventure trope. If I have a second rancher in that series, they will have an enemies to lovers trope and a thriller non-romance trope.

The second source of inspiration is history. Yes, I’m the person who reads historical plaques. At the beginning of this blog, the picture is the plaque from a statute in Savannah, Georgia. I found it interesting that a regiment of troops of African ancestry from Saint-Domingue was dispatched to support American troops fighting the American Revolutionary War. The regiment was critical in the Siege of Savannah, capturing the city from the British.

I take pictures of statues and historical plaques. Here are two pictures of some of the plaques I've photographed. 

 

 

When I see these plaques, I think of the people who would have first witnessed the event. I think of their lives, their families, the struggles they faced. I think of how would they felt might have felt witnessing the event. 

I tease a story from there. I insert a sliver of historical truth (or possibility) and insert it into the past or some fantasy or contemporary or sci-world. I play with the idea. I run it through tumblers. 

Yes, the chasseurs-volontaires from Saint-Domingue, the seigneurie of L’Orignal, and the opening of Canada's King's Road will have a place in upcoming stories. No, they won’t be incorporated into the same story. No, I don’t have a date as to when the stories involving these two events will be released.

Tumblers and history. That’s where I draw my inspiration.

Which tumbles influence your writing? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron or on FB 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.

(1) https://tvtropes.org/

(2) https://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/for-writers/romance-tropes/

(3) https://goteenwriters.com/2015/12/16/145-romance-tropes/ 

Friday, September 17, 2021 character archetype book writing

Different character sketches

 

Characters are the foundation of every story. If your readers can’t connect with the characters, they’ll put down your story. Some characters change and grow over time, and other characters remain the same. Howard Tayler of Writing Excuses calls characters that don’t change over time iconic characters. Think of a James Bond or a Conan the Barbarian character where the world changes around them, but not the main character.

Before moving on, let’s establish conceptual clarity between a stereotype and an archetype. A stereotype relies heavily on using widely believed characteristics of a person from a recognisable group. In the case of French Canadians, there’s a stereotype that we are all lumberjacks, spend our time making maple syrup, are farmers or work in menial jobs. Think of a group that is “other” than you, and you’ll come up with an image of how they dress, talk, where they live, and their general vocations. Some of those portrays may be accurate to a degree, but most won’t be.

Stereotypes can be harmful to individuals in that group, and the reader can find them boring to read.

Character archetypes are different. Archetypes are characters that share common characteristics across the human experience. People across cultures and time recognise a leader, healer, or warrior (among other archetypes). Archetypes play a certain role in society.

Archetypes are different from stereotypes because all cultures have healers and warriors (and so on). However, how each culture expresses its “warrior-ness” differs. A Canadian soldier in 2021 has certain equipment, extensive training in specialised fields (paratrooper, infantry, tank commander, etc.), and a certain mentality that draws them to work and that particular position. An Aztec warrior has different equipment, different training, and but likely the same motivation to be a warrior.

I was asked by @LouSchlesinger if and how I use archetypes to build my characters systematically. The simple answer is that I don’t use archetypes. The more in-depth answer is that I build my characters from the trope and setting out. For Novella 2 of Heartened by Sport, I decided to write a second-chance romance in which the sport of choice (remember it’s part of the Heartened by Sport series) would be pickleball. I thought this sport was unique enough to create interesting circumstances for the characters to interact while engaging the reader. From there, I fleshed out the characters to understand their deep hurts (the reason why they aren’t in a romantic relationship {at all} and, more specifically, why they aren’t in a romantic relationship with their counterpart in the book).

I strive to make unique but believable characters. I often pick careers that aren’t top of mind in romances. Even when I write historical romances, I strive to give the women plausible means to sustain themselves that remain in keeping with the time and social constraints. If they are upper class, I aim to give them unique hobbies that make them stand out.

Why? The simple reason is that I work to create unique characters that readers will relate to and cheer for.

I don’t write to archetypes, but I play around with the dynamic between conflict, career/occupation, and setting. I explore ways that certain careers (combinations of his/hers) create problems for the individual and a romantic relationship. Perhaps someone is a salesperson who is always travelling. Long-distance relationships can be tough. Perhaps one is an early childhood educator who always catches colds and cases of flu from their young charges and hampers their social life. Perhaps the characters work opposing shifts, which adds complications if they are parents and trying to keep a strong marriage while coordinating childcare responsibilities and staying in touch with family and friends.

Each occupation has certain benefits and hindrances. Certain personalities (archetypes) are likely to gravitate to certain professions. There’s also a push-pull between the characters, their interests, their professional interests, and the relationship (in a romance) they seek to establish. Map out the conflicts between these layers and have fun with them. You’d be surprised how you can make each character, personal development arc, and romance unique.

Sure, certain themes are common in romances, but how each character and couple overcome them makes them memorable (or not) to readers.

When developing characters, I focus on unique events in their lives, how those events lead to decisions, and the consequences of those decisions on the character as they mature. What happens if a nurse (healer archetype) is also in desperate need of healing because of a chronic illness? What happens if the character who is a teacher (college instructor, corporate trainer, university professor, the most senior person on the team responsible for onboarding new staff, etc.) is the one who needs to learn the world isn’t the same and they need to adapt?

There are many dynamics to explore to add depth to your character. I choose to start with the trope, theme, and setting of the book. I drill down to career and hurts, and from there, I sketch their layers of conflicts, personal goals, deep hurts, character beats, and plot beats.

Archetypes are interesting to expand and explore. Delve deeper into a character’s background and occupation to highlight what makes them unique. They’ll be more interesting characters, and your readers will be more engaged.

 

How do you use character archetypes in your writing? Reach out on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation.

 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021 time management writing productivity time

Time

 

A few people have expressed their surprise at my production cycle. I’m going to share with you some insights as to how I maintain production. I’ll touch on making time, time management, time-saving techniques, and neurology.

 

Context

How did I write a 2.5-million-word fantasy series (in need of deep edits), one western historical, one contemporary mystery, one 60k-word collection of romantic short stories from different genres (Heartened by Crime), one contemporary sports romance, contributed to 3 anthologies with more on the way, and have more works in the ways?  (I’m writing a 15k-historical fiction romance short story, a second contemporary romance 70k-word novel, a 40k- word historical western romance, a 35k alternative history supernatural romance, a 70k-cyberpunk romance, and that’s my goal between now and February 2022. All first drafts).

 

Making time

The first thing I did was cut down my television time to a few hours a week. By a few hours, I mean I only watch three to six hours for the entire week, even on days when I’m dog tired.

You would be amazed at how much free time you have when you cut down on television. At first, it seems a bit weird to not sit in front of the television, but the productivity boosts you get from doing more exercise, writing more, and partaking in another activity sheds your mind of dead weight.

Sitting and staring at a television for twenty-three hours a week (the average for Canadians, or thirty-five hours per week for the average American or twenty-eight hours for the average European) drains a mind of imagination, harms the body with aching joints and sore necks, and reduces opportunities for a person to engage in meaningful activities.

Sure, people need to switch off now and then. Absolutely, people need to be entertained. But, in my experience, watching so much television drains a person’s willingness to engage in other, more soul-inspiring activities.

I significantly reduced my television watching time about six years ago, at about the same time, I decided to make writing a part-time job. Do I earn enough from writing to have it considered a part-time job? As of yet, no. But I strive for it, and I feel better about myself when I’ve written than when I’ve only watched television.

Playing computer games is another time sink. Again, you can have fun and enjoy playing them. I recommend you be mindful of how much time you spend playing them. 

 

Time Management

Now that I have more time on my hands (from not watching television), I spend it wisely. I keep a schedule where I build in slack. One of the most comment errors in creating a schedule is being overscheduled. Pad your schedule to allow for slower traffic, time overruns, cranky children that don’t want to leave on time, poor weather, construction, and life’s regular ups and downs.  

I plan slack throughout my day. It’s guaranteed that slack is consumed by answering emails, responding to voice mails, and addressing other concerns. However, I stay on top of things because of the slack.

I build slack in my work life to not carry anxiety after hours. I have a full schedule, but a productive one. At the end of my workday, I can itemise what I’ve accomplished, stay on top of things, and still have wiggle room to play for the next day, week, or month. I also build slack in my non-work life. That sense of control reduces thoughts that crowd my brain and frees space to think creatively.

Sometimes this kind of slack can’t be negotiated. There are, however, other ways to reduce the stress you experience, such as taking up meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong, among other restorative practices.  

While I walk (or drive or grocery shop, or do other activities), I stack my time. I use my exercise time to listen to audiobooks to keep current on what’s happening in the market (or to listen to books on writing to improve my craft). I average one to one and a half audiobooks a week. I sometimes use dead time (such as waiting for a Zoom call or showering or cleaning) to ruminating about what I’m going to write about.

Slack. The more you can build it into your schedule, the less rushed you’ll feel, and the less stressed you’ll be. Stress is a huge drain on energy—both physical and mental.

By the time I sit to write, I’m prepared. I’ve built in enough slack in my day to feel productive and non-rushed. I’m a prolific plotter and have an excellent idea of what I will write before I sit down and write it. If I’m stuck, I have a series of notebooks in which I write word associations, wordplay, and ping the Twitterverse to get me over a hurdle. I write in sprints. Often, sprints are 45-60 minutes intervals in which I write as many words as I can. I average 1,000 to 1,5000 words during that time.

For those who don’t have that amount of time free at once, consider writing shorter sprints on your cellphone or in a notepad. There are always five-minute chunks of spare time or moments where you can dictate the outlines of a scene or come up with the back and forth for some zippy dialogue.  If you’re a discovery writer, you can dedicate that time to think over the first scene you will write.

 

Time-saving techniques

Make batches of food. Plan your meals in advance and have some nutritious meals available in the freezer so that anyone in the house can prepare dinner. It takes just about as much time to prepare a dinner for four as it does to make the same dinner for eight. Use that time to write.

Do other things in batches. If you blog, write a few blog posts one after another. If you have social media posts, create one or two weeks’ worth of content simultaneously. Your brain is already in the mindset to work on it—why not make more?

Get everyone in the house on the same routine. Routines might be difficult to establish, but once put in place, everyone knows the rules, responsibilities, and expectations. Conflict often arises from ambiguity and unclear expectations. Routines help navigate this.

What if your schedule is more rigid? Look for downtime—waiting for medical appointments, sitting in traffic, cooking, ten minutes here and there. Negotiate with your family for fifteen or thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to write. Negotiate for different responsibilities, if not every day, then for a few days a week to give you more time. Before you write, use that downtime to ruminate and know what you’re going to write. There’s nothing worse than having the time to write and staring at a blank screen.

Develop supports to look after the kids, reduce the amount of cleaning (if everyone cleans up just that much more after themselves, there’s less housework to do), and create boundaries around your time. It’s hard at first, but it will help boost your self-esteem, give your more agency, and help create a healthier balance.

 

Neurology

Writing at the same time every day gets you into the rhythm of writing. Patterns help your body and brain adjust. If you think more clearly in the morning, then get up thirty or sixty minutes early to write. If you think more clearly in the afternoon, do your best to adjust your schedule accordingly.

Quality sleep has boosted my productivity. I have at least eight hours of solid sleep a night. I borrowed some time from my television-watching to strive for nine hours of sleep. That extra one hour of sleep has yielded extraordinary results in other areas, including focus, creativity, and over well-being.

Once you have time to write, get used to writing faster. If you improve your baseline skill, you’ll be able to write faster and better. In turn, you’ll need fewer revisions to produce excellent work. I’ll include a list of books at the end of this blog to help you write faster and better.

How do I accomplish so many writing projects? I’ve made writing a priority. I regularly take craft-related courses to boost my craft. I listen to craft-related books.

You have friends and a social life. Yay! It’s important to stay connected to the real world. It’s healthier to maintain genuine friendships and laugh and play and experience life. Is your child at a birthday party? Great! Negotiate parameters. Stay awhile, slip out of the party to sit in your car for fifteen minutes to plot or write on your phone, then pop back into the party. Instead of bumming around an entire afternoon at your friend’s place, say that you’ll be there one and a half hours. Build-in slack for two hours and then get back to your place to do other things.

Find a way.

Maybe you can’t dedicate as many hours per week to writing as I can. That’s okay. You can dedicate thirty minutes or two hours or whatever it is you can per week. Guard that time with your life. Those are sacred hours. Build a fort around them. Have archers walk the parapets to protect your time.

Know your brain. I cannot write one project and edit a second on the same day. That’s not how my brain works. I need to see a project through before I can switch gears to a second. Knowing this, I structure my work to have one writing project (plotting, writing, editing, etc.) done before starting another. It helps my mental hygiene, and I find I write better.

Dedicate some time (even if it’s 10 minutes) every day to your craft. If you’re too tired or rushed to write, find something writing-related. Come up with some social media posts, plot, listen to a craft book, participate in a writing exercise, edit one paragraph. Whatever it is you can do for that day, do it.

Lastly, commit to your craft. It takes time and effort to develop your abilities. I view writing as a work in progress where every day I get better, and I (hope) will get better until I die. I decided to be a writer, and with that decision came the decision to improve my skill. I strive to be better tomorrow than I was today. I don’t see the changes day on day, but I do see them year on year.

Writing is discipline. Defend it. Cherish it. Embrace it.

 

How do you maintain your productivity? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation

 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.

 

Here are some great books on how to hone your craft to write more with less time:

Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron

5,000 words per hour by Chris Fox

Point of View in Fiction by Marcy Kennedy