The air was thick with smoke from a building burning off in the distance. Steve followed several feet behind the fleet of policeman as they marched to- well, he didn’t know what exactly. With each step he took, his feet became heavy. An itch in the back of his mind told him to turn around. He couldn’t shake that there was a missing piece of information about this mission but seeing the city in distress made him carry his heavy feet on. These people needed him and he would not turn away.
Steve hears dialogue from the police CB radios but it’s just white noise in the background to him. Suddenly, the inaudible voice speaks in a rushed, forceful tone and panic floods into Steve’s body. The fleet of officers who were moving so smoothly and in unison before begin to rush forward around the corner. Steve braces himself for the unseen threat lurking around the corner while his feet betray his ready stance, feeling like they want to melt into the ground.
As the officers disappear around the corner, he can hear increasing screams and chants in unison, though he can’t make out the exact words. The thought of staying where he is burns a hole in his mind.
A woman’s scream breaks Steve out of his stance and his protective instincts kick in. He rushes around the corner only to come to an immediate halt, shocked at the scene before him. A large man gets kicked in the gut by an officer, while another officer grabs the same man and sends him flying to the floor. Another man keeps his hands raised in surrender while an officer chokes him from behind with his baton. Another man starts screaming profanities at a group of officers. Without a hint of remorse or pleasure, the stone faced officer extends his arm to the man’s face, spraying pepper spray. The man is brought to his knees, crying out. He tries to keep his hands up, but his arms are shaking as he is weakened by the pepper spray.
The attacks seem to continue for miles as Steve watches, feeling betrayed. But nothing makes his heart drop more than seeing, out of the corner of his eye, a Captain America poster that has clearly been spray painted with huge letters “Black Lives Matter”
He knew in that moment he had been lied to and used. He was told they needed Captain America to save the Country from “terrorist action”. He knew now he was just a ploy in the media’s plan. He was the poster boy for keeping the protestors’ quiet. Steve felt guilty that his eagerness to help had lead him to agree to do something so horrible.
A woman’s scream takes him out of his trance and he watches as she gets knocked to the ground. The officer grins and raises his baton high as the woman curls up to protect herself. Steve throws his shield knocking the officer out with a quick clunk. He rushes over to the woman and extends his hand down to her. She is still shaking, big black frizzy hair mixed with blood. She looks at his hand and looks at Steve and he nods. Steve could see the fear in her eyes as if she were asking him “aren’t you with them?” As he helps the woman to her feet, she has no words but in her eyes he can see the gratitude. She begins to open her mouth to say something, but then suddenly her pupils shrink and she points over his shoulder. Steve turns.
A young boy, possibly no older than 10 stands alone as a group of policeman circle him, guns drawn. The young boys’ eyes are puffy and red from crying and he is drawing in sharp breaths in between sobs. His face is wet with tears. To Steve, the young boy looks like somebody’s son, innocent and free. But Steve can tell that the police aren’t taking into account this boys’ age. To them, all protesters here tonight are a threat. The young boy is trying so hard to stand still and keep his arms raised, but his sobs betray him and he jerks back a bit, almost like he is being punched in the stomach. That’s all it takes for the police to make that split second decision.
But before the gun can go off, Steve leaps into action, throwing his shield near the arms of the trigger happy officer forcing him to drop his firearm to the ground. Almost instantly Steve is face to face with the officer, knocking him unconscious with one fatal blow. The officers direct their attention to Steve and aim to shoot him, but it only takes a few effortless kicks and punches before the entire squad is unconscious lying in the street.
There are hundreds of people staring but there is a dead silence. Steve looks out at the crowd of people stretching out for miles. Faces that look back at him with a mixture of confusion and amazement. It’s possible they assumed Captain America was on the side of those working to silence the protesters
A blinking red light catches the corner of Steve’s eye and he notices a news camera, possibly broadcasting live. He imagines the nation, comfortable and safe on their couches, watching, mouths dropped to the floor. Steve imagined the chief of police, tearing his hair out, his plans now blown to bits. But then Steve pictured in his mind, the mother of the slain boy behind the protests, eyes glued to the screen, teary eyed, feeling relieved for the first time since her son had been murdered. Thanking him, in her mind, for making the world see that her sons’ life, and the lives of all black people, matter.
Steve smiled and with a flick of his hand sent his shield to smash the camera and interrupt the feed to all.
I have read Libby Hawker‘s book on outlining. In short, I mostly like it. It gives a great framework to start with when approaching the daunting task of outlining a novel. I was introduced to this book by an online discussion in a group within Scribophile, an online writing and critiquing site. Several of our group are using this book as a guide to plotting, and discussion on the group’s forum brought my attention to it.
I enjoyed her idea that a character flaw driven story arc drives the external arc. That external arc then assists in building a plot that is kept in check by theme, defined as an underlying and unifying concept. My interpretation of her outlining methodology is potentially flawed and subject to change as I work through the process and hopefully grow more enlightened.
As I read through this book, she walked me step by step through her process with clear descriptions and examples of what she is trying to help me accomplish at any given step. All through the steps leading up to and working through outlining and plotting were clear to me, and I enjoyed the character arc driven insight the book had to offer. This book got more difficult to follow once she was beyond the plotting stage and headed into what she referred to as “Pacing”.
This breaks down for me in an area where I admit I have been struggling with lately – bridging the gap from plot points/tent pole moments to a series of scenes during the outlining. I have been struggling within this part of my own writing journey, so I am hesitant to label this a flaw of the book. This could and is quite likely a result of my own shortcomings to get through this bit of the process. In this discussion of creating beats from plot points and then scenes from these beats, she discusses the idea of inverted triangles which I am not able to visualize based on her descriptions. After discussing with my writing partner, we think “funnel” might be closer to what the author intended, but I can’t be sure. I hope to gain clarity in the practical application of her ideas as I follow her instructions.
Though not without its flaws, I am glad I purchased this book and hope to learn more as I work through and apply her outlining method to a story idea I am currently working on. While I apply this process in actual practice, I might find I come to understand the areas that were not clear to me. This is, at least, my goal.
As I started working through this process, I found I was flipping back and forth through this book to find the order and explanation of each step. To help myself with this, I put together a template to guide me. I doubt I will use it without the book handy as a companion but find it helpful to have a condensed set of steps to guide me though the outline. I offer my crude templates below.
One is a blank template, and one has a brief guide to the process order with some hint text in the fields. I imagine the blank one being printed out and filled in while flipping through the book, though I am using the guided one in word. I am over writing the hint text as I work though each field.
Every time I start learning about some specific component or approach to some aspect of writing a novel, I inevitably come across some as of yet unknown and yet to be studied component or approach. Then I go off to study that new approach and find many more concepts and methodologies I am ignorant of. I find myself feeling like I may never know enough to actually get there. I get lost in this cycle of blog and craft book reading in a never ending quest to find the secret, this elusive secret that everyone but I must know that will make writing and finishing a novel mere child’s play.
I am trying to move from this self perception of myself as a grossly incompetent hack to at least someone capable of faking it as an actual writer, but it is not easy. It is possible we all feel that way. It is quite possible I may not be alone in my feelings of inadequacy that lead to nightmares of all those around me waking up and realizing I am a total fraud and screaming for my removal from their very presence.
This video, even though it was not aimed at writers in particular, gave me hope that I might get there if I just keep at it. I just need to practice. I just need to keep writing.
The challenge was to use a sentence from the list below in a story:
Bonus challenge: use more than one of these sentences in the story.
The sentences are:
“The mysterious diary records the voice.”
“The stranger officiates the meal.”
“The shooter says goodbye to his love.”
“A glittering gem is not enough.”
“The memory we used to share is no longer coherent.”
“The old apple revels in its authority.”
“Rock music approaches at high velocity.”
“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.”
“Abstraction is often one floor above you.”
“The river stole the gods.”
“Today marks the anniversary of the founding of Harmony. There will be a celebration on Saturday. End recording.”
The mysterious diary records the voice and saves it all to the central computer system. All of us are required to record our entries vocally rather than connect with the computer cybernetically. Tradition, the elders say.
“What’s for dinner?” Twenty-Seven asks. He is my partner, chosen by Harmony itself due to the high convergence of our memories. Much of our youth was spent in the same digital realms, we’ve known each other for years.
I check the storage units. “Unknown.”
Twenty-Seven comes to stand by my side. He reaches into the unit and removes soup base and lab-grown beef. “We will have noodles in seventeen minutes.”
I look at it. “How?” The food deliveries are not scheduled until tomorrow.
“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread. Every day. Fifty-Two is adept at making noodles. She is bringing a batch to us as payment today for all the bread we give her.”
Sixty-Four is a traditionalist. She and her partner rarely connect themselves to the computer. They attended the Old School, the kind with actual books and teachers. They read. And their homemade food, when it turns out well, is amazing. Neither of them have been able to perfect bread. It turns out what the founders of society referred to as the Barter System is still alive and well.
Twenty-Seven begins cooking the soup. “Don’t forget your entry,” he says. “You haven’t made one all week.”
We are required to make at least one diary entry a week. Most of us make more. The system has split us all into enclaves and sends ten new students to each enclave every year. We have no names or locations, we have numbers and partners. Our enclave in particular is apparently designed to test foodstuffs and improve recipes for society as a whole. Ours is a luxurious life, no real work to be done.
There are rumors, especially among the younger students and the traditionalists, that Harmony is not what she once was. The system is breaking down. With this in mind I plug in as little as possible. It is dangerous to think of evil coming to Harmony, she will read the thoughts. Some say she can overwrite them and implant new ones. I say that’s terrifying. If we can’t trust our memories, what can we trust?
“Begin recording, Enclave B19E384, unit Thirty-Two. Happy anniversary, Harmony. Forty-five thousand years ago today society as we know it was founded.”
Sixty-Four left a note for me with the noodles. A time and location. A meeting. All of the Seventies are there. They’re the youngest ones at the enclave. Most of the Sixties and Fifties too, a handful of Forties, and me. I’m the oldest. They stare at me.
Seventy-Five speaks. She’s tall, slender, dark, and beautiful. She holds up a memory chit. “At my home before the splitting into enclaves we had proof that Harmony was rewriting people’s memories. All of my classmates were given these chits. Tonight, the anniversary of the founding of Harmony, we are to spread them to as many who are willing to listen as we can. On Saturday when the festivities broadcast, we all plug in to the city together. We will spread the truth.”
“We will all be destroyed. Harmony won’t tolerate such dissent.” Sixty-Seven is more pro-Harmony than most in her year. “I refuse.”
Seventy-One, her partner, turns and throws her against the wall. “Your refusal will destroy us all.”
Seventy-Five holds the chit over Sixty-Seven’s wireless port and initiates a transfer while Seventy-One holds her down. “It is done,” she says. “The room is locked. Nobody will leave until we all have the data.” It remains unspoken that nobody will connect to the network until Saturday. To do so would be admitting to treachery. Traitors are dealt with ruthlessly by Harmony.
I return home. Twenty-Seven is not happy that I left so suddenly after dinner. He had wanted to connect with me, work on some brain challenges that had been left as recreation. I have to decline and say I’m saving all of my recreational connections for Saturday. So many people will be connected, we will be able to relive our memories and strengthen the links between them. Or, if Seventy-Five’s plan works, we will be able to challenge Harmony and her interference in our own minds. Only time will tell.
Saturday cannot come soon enough. Most of the working enclaves have Saturdays off, it is the perfect time for a global celebration. With the enclaves spread out deep under the surface and away from the influence of Outsiders and the sun we are no longer beholden to time zones, everything is synchronized. I steel my nerves and plug in as the celebration begins.
Twenty-Seven comes to me shortly. He looks confused. “What have you done?”
“What is necessary.” Harmony is not to be trusted. She is a puppet-master and we are her toys. The information is spreading among all of her people. Twenty-Seven was connected in the other room. There’s no way he doesn’t know what’s going on. “I will not be a pet.”
He sits beside me and plugs into me directly. We try to synchronize. We’re looking for the familiarity we once had, the childhood explorations of the central computer system. It skips and jumps, the synchrony we have grown accustomed to is gone. The memory we used to share is no longer coherent. Further proof of the damning evidence spreading throughout the system.
“Give me the data,” he says. He wants to share it.
“They will come after you,” I say.
He smiles. “If they do, they are only proving how corrupt Harmony is. Others will know. This knowledge will spread.”
“Begin recording, Enclave B19E384, unit Thirty-Two. Harmony has assigned me a new partner. As it turns out, my last one was a traitor. He spread dissent and lies through Harmony during the anniversary celebrations.”
June’s challenge has been decided by the group.
< 1000 words
Must include a fight scene.
Must NOT include any dialogue.
This piece should be posted to the site by the end of the day of June 7th.
We have added this category to the site for ease in communicating less formally with other members of the group.
The other posts in this category will be private. Who else really wants to see that nonsense?
If you have an idea or news for the group that is not for public consumption you can post it here.
When I started writing, I had a huge inflated ego. I always got good grades in English. Some of my middle school and high school short stories and poems had been published. So when I wrote my first Nano length “novel,” I felt pretty smug. Having this pretty, wonderful, awesome novel, I wanted someone else to read it and praise me. So I started researching how to send my baby out into the world.
I lucked out. Instead of finding the right path to publishing, I found collections of online critique groups. It was exactly what I needed. Here’s what happened:
- I gave the critique group my shiney new novel.
- They tore it apart saying things like: overly descriptive, not enough conflict, the inciting incident needs to be closer to the start, reads more like a character sketch, there is no emotional feedback/reaction from the characters, the scenery is confusing.
- I overreacted. You don’t love my novel!?!?! You just don’t know what good writing is. I rock. I am a Goddess of prose. Lay off my writing.
- Then I went through the grieving process and decided to get even. I read what they had written. And damn. I found myself saying things like: what’s with the three paragraphs describing the space ship when the chapter is about a fight in the dinning hall.
- Being ego centric, it was all about me. So I ran back to my own work and cut the description of non-necessary stuff down because I didn’t like it in their writing.
For me, critiquing lets me see how others approach their writing. I find myself learning from pieces I consider more polished and less polished. Here are some of the things I am looking for when I critique to help my own writing:
- Did I get lost in a piece? What drew me in?
- Did I find the conflict for the chapter/scene engaging or did it feel contrived?
- Who was my favorite character and why did I pick that one?
- Was there something I absolutely did not like about the chapter/scene? Do I do something similar in my own writing?
- A day later, is there something I still remember about the piece that might draw me back?
But critique groups are not all about improving my own writing, here’s some of the other things I think critique groups offer:
- Community – other writers or aspiring writers to talk with
- Brainstorming – some critique groups are more like communities where ideas can be discussed and developed
- Knowledge – because people tend to be in various stages of writing, critique groups offer people with knowledge on publishing, revision, editing, areas of strength in fight scenes or romance scenes or settings
- Enegry – there is an energy about a critique group. Active ones force me to find time for my writing when all I want to do is sleep. Laid back groups don’t make me feel lazy when it takes a month for me to write a chapter or when it takes me longer to respond to a critique request.
I believe writers should be involved in critique groups, but there are varieties of critique groups. Finding the right fit is important. The Critique Corner mentions one thing to consider is whether you are looking for line editing versus “overall editing.” Writer’s Relief indicates that finding a critique group should include finding trained critics (or critiquers). I’m not sure trained critics are necessary, but I like their advice that a good group or partner should be someone more than mom. It should be someone willing to objectively look at the piece and provide either reader or editor feedback.
Our group, Second Chapter, uses an online community called Scribophile to facilitate our critiques. This is not the only online critique group and may not be the best fit for everyone. Some other options include: the Critique Circle and Critters for Sci-fi and Fantasy (I used to use this one a lot and would continue if I had more time). The Writing World has a long list of online communities that is worth checking out.
There are also real life critique groups. Second Chapter started as an in-person critique group from a collection of Nano writers who wanted to encourage each other all year. We are located in Kansas City, Missouri. There are other real life critique groups in the area. Some charge dues to be a part of their circle, some are closed groups, and others are open to new members. My best suggestion for finding these groups it to rely on Google, local writing communities (like The Writer’s Place in Kansas City), area Art Councils (like the Kansas City Regional), local Nano groups, and area colleges. Of course, if you are in the Kansas City area, you could stop by one of the Second Chapter meetings which can be found on our calendar.
Even though I have found critique groups to be very helpful, they can be harmful too. Writer’s Digest offers two articles worth reading on choosing a critique group. The Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners adds labels to the types of critics to be weary of. Critique partners who are snobs, who don’t show up, who want their stuff read but never return a thoughtful critique, and who are always or never harsh. The other article worth reading on the topic is 5 Things to Look for in a Critique Partner. Most of their advice is about finding a partner that can help you as an individual writer, someone who is not going to over push but also not going to offer nothing but praise.
I’ve fallen into some of the negatives of critique groups. Here’s my list of cautionary tales:
- The Frankenstein Novel — When I first started getting critiques and accepting them, I took them a lot like a teacher’s corrections. I accepted and made every suggested change. Wow! The result was a mess. The original idea and purpose was lost behind the vision of many writers who had only based their opinions on a chapter versus the full novel and such wildly different styles of writing. Even I was frightened of my own creation after that experience.
- The Editor — I’ve run into many critique partners who edit my piece and never offer real feedback on the content. While these kinds of edits may be great, I wasn’t at the point that I needed perfect grammar. I needed tighter content. What good is the correct comma when I’d just be changing the whole sentence later?
- Retaliation — This is a problem of my own making. When I critique I tend to focus on the negative. Even when I love a story, I am not focused on the parts I love. It’s a personal failing that has caused some of my critique partners to have their hackles up. I have had others retaliate and be overly harsh on my pieces because they perceived me as being overly harsh on theirs. My best suggestion to avoid this is to make sure when giving a critique to balance the good and bad. To find the time to note the parts or a story the do work not just the ones that do not. I have improved over time and have less of this kind of problem now.
- Rewriters — I have had critique partners in the past not be able to continue to critique until they felt I made every change that they wanted. Ghost writing another person’s version of my story is not what critiquing is about.
Brandon Sanderson (don’t be fooled by this link. It goes back to another one of the group blog posts where Sanderson’s video is embedded) in his 2013 class cautioned that critique groups have natural pitfalls that also include obsessing on small details and feeling like there is not enough conflict. I’ve never noticed this tendency, but I can see where he might be right.
All in all, I think critique groups are worth it. They helped me grow as a writer and learn a lot more about the industry. Writing is meant to be shared. This is just one way to share and hopefully improve enough to publish. If you look for a critique group or partner and find yourself in a bad situation, my advice is to step back and find a better critique group that fits your needs. Don’t let one bad experience stop you.
I’ve been working on my writing recently. For me, that means going over my outlines and setting things up for narrative. It got me thinking about writing and length goals. Here’s my run down of my research and some thoughts.
|Writers Digest||Bree Ogden||Literary Rejection||Writers Workshop|
|Picture Books||32 pages 500-600 words||500-700 words||500-700 words|
What I learned:
- There are no exact numbers. 80-85k feels like a pretty standard number for adult novels. Sci-fi and fantasy runs longer. YA runs shorter.
- Although there are notable exceptions outside the norms, they are exceptions and not the standard way to break into writing.
|All Write||Karen Woodward||Advanced Writing||Better Novel Project|
What I learned:
- Chapters are not consistent
- Beginning chapters tend to be longer because they have more set up but even then they vary
- Varying chapter lengths helps build the pace and tension in a novel.
- One website indicated that a chapter is roughly 2-3 scenes long. Another says that a chapter is a location change. A third indicates that it is a natural breath in the action of the novel. There doesn’t seem to be any specific guidance for finding a standard break.
|The Write Practice||Writer’s Digest||Be Kind Rewrite|
What I learned:
- Like scenes, there is a significant variance in the scene lengths.
- Writer’s Digest relied on Make A Scene by Rosenfeld. I enjoyed Make A Scene but the page reference felt less useful than the word suggestions offered by the other websites.
- Advice I really liked from Make A Scene is that scenes should vary widely throughout a novel. Shorter ones tend to speed up the pace. They condense the action. They allow character reactions and a breath. Longer scenes allow for full dialogues, more complex action, and changes in unique scenery.
I have been working my way through Brandon Sanderson’s 321 Lectures shared on youtube from his class at BYU.
I have been thoroughly enjoying them and thought I would share with the group.
I think this started with the 2013 summer class when a student recorded the lectures for some other project he was working on. The syllabus for that year’s class can be found here. It doesn’t quite line up with the newer series of videos, but I thought it was nice to have.
Basic Guidelines on Critiquing:
Critiques are not editing. Don’t focus on missing words or grammar issues unless they are so obvious they interrupt your reading.
Preferably, critiques will include reader feedback such as:
Likes: the reader’s favorite thing about the chapter or what interested them the most
Characters: a statement about the characters in the chapter (if it is a new character, what did the reader think about the person’s personality/actions; if it is a character from a previous chapter, were the actions believable/consistent/developing)
Setting: was there enough/too much, was it understandable/clear/vivid
Plot: did the story move forward/was it paced well
Dialogue: did it make sense/did it develop a character or move the plot
Description: did they match the tone of the story/help tell the story
Hook: was there something that makes you want to start the next chapter
Repeating little errors: was there a repeat common error that interfered with the flow of reading
Guidelines on Receiving Critiques:
Ask for clarification if there is a comment you don’t understand
Don’t defend the writing. No matter how negative the critique is, don’t say it isn’t right or try to explain what the writing meant.
Writers are not required to follow the critique advice. It’s not wrong to ignore bad advice. It is just feedback from one specific reader.
If critiques are done in person, it is important to note that groups can fixate on small issues that enjoyment readers will ignore.
*There is about a 2 minute portion where the sound cuts out, it restarts again and I think the information after the silence is important so I thought you should know it ends.
*Note – Louise originally posted this in a page. I moved it to a post to make it easier to find in search and navigation during some reorganization of the blog.