If you're working on a story that depends on expert information, but you're no expert, you'll need to do some research. Many writers don't want to spend the time digging up information on technical details. They'd rather be writing. This writer feels the same, but no one wants to read a misinformed tale.
Let's not waste time. Here are five plus one great sites with more information than you need to create a flawless story.
Color - a jam-packed website with everything you want to know about color. Did you know that more males than females experience color-blindness? If you have a violent character thrown in jail, how might he behave if the cell is pink?
Medical Conditions - find every medical condition imaginable (and those you can't pronounce) in this abundant ABC list of diseases. How might acupuncture cure your protagonist's nausea? If your character has asthma, could he eventually outgrow it?
College majors - discover the many college majors offered at American universities. How about a Fisheries and Wildlife major to send your character on the road to saving the planet? If she's better suited to being a doctor, could her undergraduate degree be religion?
Gardening - learn the difference between an annual and a perennial. What might happen if your character mistakes a dandelion bulb for a shallot and ingests it?
Weather - understand the difference between a gale and a gust. When is hurricane season? How will your character prepare for one?
Here's the plus one: Author Fiona Quinn dishes up everything you need to know for your crime or mystery novel. Prepare your heroine for a bold escape, or plan your villain's accidental demise. Fiona has it all.
What are your favorite sites? Share them here.
You've taken the time to plan the key plot points of your story. You know where it's headed. You understand the conflict, and you even have a good idea of how it will be resolved. There's only one problem.
You are stuck. I've previously offered a list of ideas for what to do when you hit that block. This is different. Right now, your story needs energy, a shot in the arm, an interesting stepping stone to move your plot forward. What you need is a scene to pop in and add fuel to your story.
Here are a three simple exercises to add spice to your plot.
1. On a clean new page, record what you just did. Employ your senses. Write down what you saw, heard, smelled, felt, tasted. Really get into it. Forget your story. Write about you and your world. Next, go back into your story, and see how your world fits into its world. If you just took the dog for a walk, what if your hero happened to step in some dog mess? Where would that lead him? Who might he run into?
2. Take a break from your writing desk. Get your iPod and headphones. Sit down on the couch and randomly select a song on your playlist. Relax and listen. What story images appear in your mind as you listen to this song? What emotions arise? Go back to your writing desk. What if your character gets in the car, turns on the radio and hears this same song? What might the song bring up for her? What might it remind her of?
3. This one's good for describing a character. Again, leave your desk. Go into the kitchen and find something to eat. Don't make a meal, just grab a piece of fruit, handful of nuts, a cookie or a glass of milk. Sit down at the table, close your eyes and enjoy this snack. Go back to your desk, on a new page, record your taste experience. Was it juicy or dry? Was it messy? Was it salty or sweet? Record these details then return to your character. How is your character like a chocolate chip cookie? Does he have a sweetness? Does he crumble at the first moment of stress? Is there a subtle quality to him that's a bit nuts?
I actually use all of these exercises when I'm stuck. These little detours invigorate my story and take it down an unexpected path. For a moment, I lose a bit of control, and the story starts to write itself.
Try it. Choose an exercise and see where it takes you. Create a collection that you can refer to when you get stuck. Your future self will thank you.
Share your own ideas here for adding spice to your story.
I love my editor, but she scares me. Here I sit at my desk, manuscript before me, staring at columns of blue comments.
I’d told her that I'm an English major and work with struggling readers, what I really needed help with was story not the little grammar things. I’d told her she wouldn't need to worry about my grammar or my spelling or any of those “little” issues.
Ha. I didn't know I was a comedienne.
My dear, sweet editor (the fabulous Jane MacKay), not only returned my manuscript with her editorial suggestions for story, but she included several markings regarding misuse of language, punctuation and spelling rules. That's not all. She provided several links to helpful writing tools (The Chicago Manual of Style, for one).
Know what, though? I actually cried tears of joy when I read her email and notes. I cried not because I was hurt or frustrated or worried this book was a load of cr!#. I cried because in the beginning of her email, she said this story was "very well written...warm...sweet...", etc. She even made note about a passage that brought tears to her eyes.
I knew that if she said all that, she believed my story was worth revising.
Most stories are. Hey, revising is part of the writing process, right?
YA Author Shannon Hale says: “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
I couldn’t agree more. So here are my top three sites to help you build sandcastles.
Chicago Manual of Style – easy searches for information about style, grammar, usage and more.
Merriam-Webster – my favorite online dictionary site. When in doubt, look it up.
Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips – if websites could be dog-eared, this one’d be in tatters. It’s my go-to page for exactly what the title says. (BTW: the link takes you to my biggest grammar trouble spot)
And if you still haven't read Anne LaMott's "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" or Stephen King's "On Writing," what are you waiting for?
Please read my new and improved opening chapter for my YA WIP. Tell me what you think. Share your favorite sites for cleaning up – or preventing - the mess.
Happy sandcastle building.
Just when Dorothy discovers the yellow brick road and her purpose to find the wizard, she stumbles upon three pathetic characters in search of their own miracles.
When Alice is looking for the white rabbit, two silly characters send her off in opposite directions. She must choose a path.
Few stories follow one road. Skilled writers find creative ways to take their characters off the beaten path and into the figurative (and literal) woods. Characters must make critical choices to move the plot along, that force them to deal with story's central conflict. (Here's a great article on Nigel Watts' "8-Point Story ARC".)
If your main character is going to transform and grow, he needs a challenge. He needs his worth and values tested. In order to succeed at this, as the author, you must invent some forks in their road. They need to make choices to turn left or right, bring friends along or go it alone, eat the cake or drink the bottle.
Here are some sample critical choices where your character can make a change in direction and perhaps discover a world or information about himself that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.
1. meets a girl or boy - a love interest
2. receives an invitation
3. forgets something and must turn back or veer off course
4. doesn't do something that's a main part of his routine
5. gets injured
6. loses something
7. breaks something
8. loses someone - a death
9. has to deal with a sudden change in weather - natural disaster
10. gets kicked off a team, fired from a job
11. gets on a team, hired for a new job
12. gets a good or bad grade
13. encounters a stranger
14. must move to a new town (someone gets a job, loses a job, starts college...)
You can see this list could go on and on. Forks in the road can appear out of nowhere. You don't need to warn the reader that an earthquake is coming and the family must prepare. It simply hits, and whole worlds are shaken.
Consider your story, the plot, theme, your main character.What critical choice might they need to make that could take their path in a whole new direction?
Please share your ideas for more 'forks in the road'.