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So, You Want To Write A Novel

So, You Want To Write A Novel

What Is NaNoWriMo?

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo so long, it surprises me how many people out there have never heard of it.

nanowrimo logoThe name stands for National Novel Writing Month. It began as a challenge hosted by the Office of Letters and Light to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. The key was, kill your inner editor and just write, and was intended to spur a lot of wannabe novelists into becoming actual novelists. It’s a no holds barred, mad dash take on novel writing. It’s terrifying the first time you do it, sometimes overwhelming and frustrating, but absolutely exhilarating to win at.

A lot of people ask me, so what do you win? And I say, “At the end I have a first draft of a novel; that’s what I win.”

2 Ways Camp NaNoWriMo Is Different From Regular NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo happens in April and July and embraces the same breakneck approach to noveling with little more leeway. Here are the two ways Camp differs from November NaNo:

  1. Pick your project: Camp Nano is open to more than just novels. You can write a script, a picture book, book of poetry, etc
  2. Variable wordcounts: You can pick the standard 50k or you can set yourself a more personal word goal (from 10k-999k)


Why Should You Try NaNoWriMo?

Back in 2012 I told a friend of mine about Nanowrimo, partially so that she would keep me accountable. At that point I’d been trying to win nano for years without ever succeeding, but this was the first year I tried it during the summer and I hoped that with a less hectic schedule I might succeed.

Anyways, my friend looked at me and said, “I’ve always thought I’d like to write a novel. But I don’t have time.” (She’s a full time teacher and November is a terrible month for adding on extra projects.)

I said to my friend, “Why don’t you just try nano with me? We can keep each other accountable. And then if you win, you’ll have finally written a novel and you can stop saying you want to write one.”

The Duality Paradigm by Lia CooperShe agreed to my proposal and so in the month of June (this was when they were trying June/July as a camp combo) we met regularly, brainstormed, tossed ideas off one another, nagged each other about our word counts and eventually, finished writing 50,000 words each. Neither of our novels were actually complete but this marked a milestone for both of us. We weren’t just people saying we wanted to write a book, we were two people who had written books (or most of 2 books. I have since finished my original nano novel, which became The Duality Paradigm (available on Amazon), and my friend went on to write another children’s books the next summer.)

Camp NaNoWriMo is a great way to ease yourself into writing, especially if November is a bad month for you like it is for my friend.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t wait for the muse to inspire you. That may work in the ideas stage of writing, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of putting a whole novel on paper, you’ve got to be disciplined enough to sit down at your keyboard every day and write. Nanowrimo is a great way to teach yourself how to do that. If you’re just starting out, 1667 words a day sounds like a lot and, believe me, it is a lot. But the feeling of reaching your goal every day and being able to type The End on a 200 page manuscript—well, that’s the whole reason we say we want to write, isn’t it?

The Road To Camp 2014

In March I’m going to be talking about the preparation that goes into writing a novel and getting ready for camp. Then in April, I’m going to share with you updates about my progress. This year, my April camp goal will be 85,000 words and I’ll be writing the third Blood & Bone novel. I’ll also be editing the second book (The Convergence Theory) in anticipation of releasing it in June.

I hope you decide to stick around and see how my progress goes and I hope that if you’ve ever said “I want to write a novel” you take this chance as the kick in the pants to make good on those words.

Planning to write something for camp? Tell me about it in the comments! Or follow me on twitter to chat and stay up to day.

Lia Cooper’s 10 Reasons To Love Scrivener

Lia Cooper’s 10 Reasons To Love Scrivener

Scrivener is a program created by the folks at Literature & Latte for and with writers in mind. Let’s look at the Top 10 Reasons I love Scrivener and why you may love it too.

*click on any of these images to see a larger version

  1. Scene Construction—Scrivener rethinks how we create written documents. You’re probably familiar with how Microsoft Word (and just about every common writing program) formats documents: linearly. If you write books or short stories, you know that they are generally not one continuous scene, they’re composed of many scenes which are perhaps grouped together by chapters and further grouped by parts. Scrivener embraces this structure by turning scenes and chapters into discreet units all within the same document. Click on a scene and Scriv opens just that scene in the main view window, click on a chapter and view every scene in that chapter in a continuous scroll. This allows you to navigate through your story much more easily and quickly than you can through a Word document and lets you rearrange scenes or chapters as simply as dragging and dropping them into order.Scrivener Binder Scrivener Binder
  2. The Binder—This feature (generally the default column on the left when you start up Scrivener) lets you organize your manuscript, characters and research. The manuscript folder is generally listed first, this is your main writing folder in the project. Underneath it you’ll find other folders for Characters, Settings, and Research notes, which allows you to easily navigate around your manuscript and between the main story and your notes.Scrivener Scenes and Chapters
  3. Project Targets (Project >> Show Project Target)—I’m a visual person and I love Project Targets in Scriv. Set the project total, give yourself a deadline (Example: November 30 if you’re doing NaNoWriMo), and set your daily word count goal. There’s nothing quite like watching that progress bar turn green to motivate you to meet your daily goal!Scrivener Project Targets
  4. Active Statistics Bar—This word count and page bar found at the bottom of the main view screen adjust depending on what you have opened in the main screen. So if you’ve selected the entire manuscript it will show you your total word count and then if you click on a single scene it will adjusts to show you the pages/words for just that portion of the book. As someone who often likes to regulate the ebb and flow of my word count across chapters and scene for pacing this feature saves me having to highlight portions of the story to check word counts.stats bar
  5. Revision Mode (Format>>Revision Mode)—I just started using this feature a couple months ago when I began working on a second draft of The Source & The Wire, which requires several extensive rewrites and a lot of tense corrections. Click the revision (my screencap shows revision in red for First Revision) and then start editing your document. Everything you change or add to the document will now show up in red so you can see and track the changes you’re making. You can also assign different revisions different colors. Once you’re satisfied with all of your revisions click Remove Revisions and everything will turn black.Scrivener Revision Mode
  6. Corkboard—There are 3 primary ways to view your Scriv document: Scrivenings (this is a composite view of all the text files), Corkboard and Outliner.viewtypes

    The Corkboard view breaks down the parts of your story into notecards which you can arrange visually and write summaries for. This is a great feature if you are used to outlining by hand in real life.

    Scrivener Corkboard

  7. Outliner—Outliner is another way of getting an overview of your story. You can click a drop down menu (see screencap) to pick which pieces of information you need for each chapter/scene. I usually just pick Word Count Total so that I can monitor how many words are in each chapter and in each scene within the chapters.Scrivener Outliner Mode
  8. Page/Layout View—One of the things I hate about Google Docs is how it’s one continuous document and doesn’t split things up into pages visually. I have a hard time typing into a continuous white space that fills an entire screen. Toggling page view (found in the Default Menu Buttons at the top on startup) lets me switch the main view screen to breakup my document visually into how it would look on a printed page. If this kind of view doesn’t work for you, you can leave it on its default setting.Scrivener Page Layout View
  9. Split View—Have you ever needed to write a scene while referencing a different scene or conversation that appeared earlier or later in the document? In Word it’s a pain in the butt to scroll between two different portions of a document. In Scrivener you can split your screen (View >> Layout) horizontally or vertically and set each window to a different part of the manuscript (or your research) and type into either window.Scrivener Split View
  10. Compile—Last, but not least, Scrivener comes with a basic built-in compile feature that lets you export your Scriv file in a number of formats. It also gives you many many options for how you what that export to look. You can use Compile to turn your document into epubs and mobi files with working table of contents, front matter, basic meta data and even covers. This is great if you want to self-publish.Scrivener Compile

These are just a few of the features in Scrivener—there are hundreds more. But I can tell you I use just about every single one of these features every single day when I’m writing or editing. Scrivener was designed with novel writing in mind and I think if you give it a shot, really embrace its scene and binder structure, you’ll realize just how powerful and intuitive it is. I would never go back to using Word or a similar program to write.

Do you use Scrivener? If so, what’s your favorite feature?

Interested in trying Scriv? Check out the free 30 day trial and let me know what you think of it!

Disclaimer: I’m not getting paid to say any of this or rec Scrivener; everything in this post is just my opinion.

Is The Pen Mightier Than The PC?

Is The Pen Mightier Than The PC?

Writing In The 21st Century

Writing is a craft, it’s an art, and as a writer, you are an artist. That being said, the tools that you choose to use are ultimately going to be the ones that best compliment your style of creating. My intention this week is not to advocate one way or the other for writing by hand or writing directly into Microsoft Word, but rather to address some of the hipsterish and/or regressive sentiments I see floating around writing communities.

Language Evolves When People Use It In New Ways

raised hands by Izquierda UnidaRaise your hand if you’ve ever run into someone condemning internet chatspeak, tumblr tags, keyboard shorthand, emoticons, Doge, the use of the phrase “was like,” or social media in general? Raise your hand if you’ve run into people condemning ebooks because reading words is somehow not the same thing as…reading words. I bring this phenomenon up because it’s a piece of what I see as regressivism at work on the web. The same sort of people who say that your “online friends” aren’t really your friends. That anyone who communicates via the web is lying about who they are—obviously, they’re a 51 year old serial killer necrophiliac.

It’s 2014—and yes, I totally wrote 2013 at first and had to fix it—but we still have people calling computers soulless and people glued to their smartphones shallow. And if you use your computer for your art—well, is it still art?

Guttenburg printing pressJust like the printing press was the great equalizer of the 15th century, so too is the PC. For writers it means research at your fingertips, limited only by your googlefu. It means connecting with people all over the globe. Exchanging stories in real time. Exchanging ideas freely 24/7. It means collaboration across the globe. It means being able to pull up a Google Street View of a road that appears in your book without leaving your bed because we can’t all afford to take writing vacations or live in Paris.

Free Books

I read a lot, big surprise I know, but it’s important to say that I read a lot but I don’t buy many books. I read online, not news stories or blogs, but fiction (both fan and original) being posted by writers at no cost to themselves and free for me. And this is the power of the internet, the way it frees us from the shackles of traditional distribution institutions. If you only ever read things being published by the Big Six (or should I say the Big Five?), you’re missing out on a wealth of innovative, progressive and often radical storytelling that is unapologetic and beholden to no one’s bottom line.

I Can’t Help It, I Love My MacBook

I said I wasn’t going to take a stand for or against writing by hand or writing on the computer but it looks like I’ve failed at being impartial. Woops?

I keep several notebooks, I love writing notes or brainstorming by hand and writing in my composition book when I don’t have access to my computer. And when I have writer’s block one method I use to get past it is to freewrite in a notebook until I’ve got a good groove going. But everything I write will end up on my laptop eventually.

lia with her macbookI love running word counts. I love spellchecker. I love being able to google things. I love being able to post snippets for people on tumblr, facebook, twitter or my blog. I love having a plot-chat on facebook at 1 AM (a plot-chat is where I stream-of-conscious explain the idea for a story to my alpha reader and get her feedback, course corrections, answer her questions, etc until I’ve fleshed out a more complete story idea). I love pulling Scrivener up on my MacBook and finding all of my stories neatly(ish) organized and ready to be worked on.

Ultimately, it’s important that you choose a writing tool that encourages your own creativity. If that’s writing in pencil in a handmade notebook: go for it. But don’t ever try to convince my my computer and my social network are soulless. Because at the end of the day, I’ve come to recognize and appreciate the fact that my computer is the tool that works best for me.

☼ Do you enjoy reading ebooks or stories on the web? Let me know in the comments.

The Pros And Cons Of A Writer’s Journal

The Pros And Cons Of A Writer’s Journal

I’m sure if you asked a dozen different writer’s their opinion of keeping a writer’s journal you’d get twelve very distinct different replies. For example, in a talk given to the University of Massachusetts (watch it on youtube here), Stephen King warns against keeping a writer’s journal. I, on the other hand, will generally advocate for keeping a journal—especially a hardcopy journal. But what’s my word against Stephen King’s? Not much but I’ll stand by it. In the end whether you decide to keep a journal will probably come down to your own writing style.

Why Wouldn’t You Keep A Writer’s Journal?

ancient sift  Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)I think people usually start a discussion like this by listing reasons you should do something but I’m going to mix it up. I mentioned Stephen King who compared a writer’s own mind to a sieve—or in my own words, a colander. As a creative individual your brain is always taking in information and spitting back ideas. You overhear a conversation in Starbucks; you have a crazy, exciting dream; you have a challenging or eyeopening conversation with a friend. All of these things may inspire an idea for a story, a character, or a piece of a book.

Mr King tells his audience that you shouldn’t write these things down. Instead, you should let them rattle around in your brain for awhile and like someone panning for gold, all the detritus will fall out and you’ll be left with only the gems.

It’s a fair point.

Why Would You Keep A Writer’s Journal?

But what if you’re like me and you have a terrible memory?

  • Memory is the #1 reason I advocate for keeping a writer’s journal.

I’m a very young writer still working on my freshman books, I’m also unemployed and poor, so I do 95% of my own editing at this point. I have an alpha reader who does minor corrections and a beta reader who gives feedback on content and the typos she sees while she’s reading. But besides that I edit my own work over and over and over. I’m on my third read through and grammar correcting of The Duality Paradigm and I can tell you I come across scenes that I wrote a year or two ago that I have very little to no memory writing.

My writing continually surprises me. I’ll be reading a passage and be sort of blown away by passages that I can’t quite believe I wrote. But I did. And it isn’t just writing I forget, I forget things I say, advice I give, things people tell me, dates, deadlines, locations, peoples names. My brain is a leaky tub—unless it has to do with an actor’s name and IMDB page.

Composition book or Writer's NotebookI do a lot of brainstorming in composition books that I always carry around with me in my messenger bag. Everything goes into these notebooks: outlines, beats, dialogue, entire stories, character descriptions, conversations I’ve overheard, and story ideas. And I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been flipping through a notebook looking for something and discovered the barebones of a story idea I wrote down a year or three ago that I had completely forgotten about. That I never would have recalled if I hadn’t written it down.

The great thing about being the creator of your own worlds is that nothing is ever set in stones. I found a very early note I’d written outlining the plot for The Convergence Theory, written on a stickie on my Macbook that held very little resemblance to the plot now. Did the process of writing down what was actually a bad idea keep me from developing the story into a better one? Not at all. It did give me a good laugh in hindsight though.

The Lisa Frank Notebook Hunt Of 2013

I have a terrible habit of harassing friends over Facebook IM chat at 1 AM. So about a month ago I had this great—slightly drunken—idea to buy a notebook strictly for story ideas to save my friends from having to listen to me ramble about my latest Hawaii 5-0/Hockey infusion plot bunny. In my rum and eggnog induced state I decided that only the most perfect notebook would suit to hold all of my plot bunnies: a Markie the Unicorn notebook from Lisa Frank.

I’m a child of the 90s/00s and when I was a little girl Lisa Frank was the shit, so I thought, why the hell not go all out? Get something vibrant and beautiful and charming and keep it forever, fill it up with all of my craziest ideas.

You might be surprised how difficult it is to find a Markie notebook. A search through every store in town that carries school supplies turned up nothing and even eBay was a bust. My sister knew about my search though and she’s very eBay savvy and she found the notebook I was looking for sale literally the week before December 25th. I’m pretty psyched to have my Lisa Frank writer’s journal (pictured above).

How do you keep track of all of your writing ideas? Do you journal? Do you keep notes on your computer? Tell me about it in the comments!

Sounds Like Part III…The Pros And Cons Of Phonetically Spelled Dialogue

Sounds Like Part III…The Pros And Cons Of Phonetically Spelled Dialogue

To wrap up this month’s discussion on how to write good dialogue I want to talk a little bit more about how to give your characters individual voices. Anne Lamott writes in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life that “you should be able to identify each character by what he or she says.” That is what you are trying to do with your dialogue. Rarely do two people sound alike, and I don’t just mean in an auditory sense, in that their voices sound alike. I am, of course, referring to more than that, I mean their word choices, speech patterns and natural vocal rhythms.

I had the audacity last week to suggest that phonetically spelled dialogue was the by-product of a writer cutting corners. That’s a pretty harsh statement but I’m going to stand by it. Because the thing is this: writing phonetic dialogue is just the surface layer.

Are You Listening To Our Conversation?

cafe interior photo by joe mabel

Remember when I said that every writer eavesdrops? They listen to people talk at parties, at work, at coffee shops, on their cellphones, on the street. If there are people speaking, you can bet a writer is listening—they may also be silently judging the speaker but that’s neither here nor there.

Phonetic dialogue is the product of a well trained ear transcribing the sounds that the writer has heard, clipping and truncating words to visually represent the rhythm of someone’s speech. This method of writing dialogue may be effective in small doses, but I think it fails at carrying a character’s voice through an entire novel. Why? Because the way people talk, our voices, and your characters’s dialogue are more than just sounds and regional accents.

Mark Twain Wrote Dialogue Like That, It Must Work

The #1 thing phonetically spelled dialogue has going for it is immediacy. The second you read, “I hain’t hearn ’bout none un um, skasely,” you know you are reading the words of someone who is different, who is other. Phonetically spelled dialogue slaps you in the face, the words yell at you that this is DIFFERENT, did you notice it was DIFFERENT, have you caught on to the DIFFERENTNESS YET? That immediacy is not intrinsically bad, however, for a reader it’s exhausting.

  • How many readers want to spend 400 pages of your novel being punched in the face?

But Lia, My Character Isn’t American!

Literature would be pretty boring if every character was American and spoke like me—I’m from the Pacific Northwest, we’re generally considered one of the blandest North American accents. So, the question is how do you write good dialogue so that a character’s accent, dialect, culture and nationality is transmitted to the reader naturally, without literary violence?

The answer is WORDS.

  • Look at your word choices. An American might say “cellphone” or “garbage can” but someone from England is going to use words like “mobile” or “bin” instead. People in other countries use different words for things, so your characters should as well.
  • Know your colloquialisms. People use slang, and slang changes depending on where you are.
    • “I’m shinnicked with cold,” he shouted, blowing on his chapped hands, backing his great rear up to the gas heater.”I love this line from The Shipping News which uses “shinnick” to describe how cold the character feels—consequently I have a bunch of family from Ireland named Shinnick, and here it is showing up in a Newfoundland dialect.
  • People say things wrong. Maybe it’s a cliché to say English is a difficult language to learn but it’s a cliché because it’s true. I’ve worked enough in online copywriting to know that even people who are ostensibly “native English speakers” still struggle to put words together correctly. If your character doesn’t speak English as their first language or if they speak more than one language they are going to make vocabulary and syntactical mistakes.
    • Word to the wise, use syntactical mistakes judiciously. Just like phonetic spelling and overusing italics, too much broken dialogue can alienate readers as well.
  • Research your references. Have you given your characters backstory? Even if the specifics don’t all make it to the screen—and let’s be honest, they shouldn’t, backstory being one of your most important off the page writing tools—every character came from somewhere, had different life experiences, and this will influence their dialogue, both in how they same something and what they say.

    Original_Starbucks photo by PostDLFI write about my characters getting coffee, talking about coffee and asking other characters if they want coffee. This is because my characters are often either from or living in Seattle and coffee culture is just that—the culture. It is In Character for my characters to discuss coffee, so that’s what they do, because it is their frame of reference.

  • What are your character’s individual frames of reference?
  • How does their backstory influence their dialogue? Think beyond how their dialogue sounds to the words and expressions the character would use.

Writing good dialogue takes practice. Read your dialogue out loud, re-write it, talk to yourself. It isn’t crazy if it’s in your pursuit to write a better novel.

Sounds Like Part II…The Use of Phonetically Spelled Dialogue

Sounds Like Part II…The Use of Phonetically Spelled Dialogue

“Whyn’t you buy a san’widge? We got nice san’widges, hamburgs.”

“May soun’ funny to be so tight,” he apologized. “We got a thousan’ miles to go, an’ we don’ know if we’ll make it.”

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

ImageThe lines above, taken from The Grapes of Wrath, are an excellent example of two ways in which dialogue can be written phonetically to represent a character’s dialect: the first being the use of truncation to convey sound or rhythm (“an’ we don’ know) and the second being the way words may be misspelled or ground up to convey accent (“Whyn’t” and “san’widges”). Steinbeck is well known for this style of writing; Mark Twain and Margaret Mitchell are two other famous examples of writer’s who used it in their novels. Are we starting to see a pattern?

Put The ‘ack In The Accent

ImageI first encountered dialogue written like this when I was thirteen or fourteen, reading Buffy The Vampire fanfic, specifically Spuffy fanfic. If this doesn’t put a clear picture into your head what I mean let me elaborate: BtVS fanfic written about Spike by Americans trying so very hard to portray his cockney accent in the text. That’s on top of the excessive use of pet names, including “pet,” hackneyed, if well intentioned, attempts to use Britishism. This was, after all, before the rise of Sherlockian Britpickers. And don’t get me wrong, my meager forays into writing Buffy fanfic included some real gems of badly written dialogue too: the ubiquitously spelled “luv,” for example.

Whenever I see phonetically written dialogue, it brings me back to my tweens, a time spent reading hundreds of stories written by authors trying to transcribe language exactly as they heard it without a great deal of thought about the mechanics involved in writing good dialogue. Am I calling Steinbeck and Twain’s dialogue the work of hacks? Maybe, a little bit. At the very least the product of writer’s cutting a corner.

Many critics, and by critics I mean my University Creative Writing professors, laud Steinbeck’s portrayal of diverse lower class American groups as authentic and gritty. And in a strict sense it may be authentic, but I’m not sold on it being the best way to write gripping dialogue. Anytime a professor—because how many times has a teacher assigned Steinbeck, Twain or Mitchell in your life?–has to preface a book with the expression, “The language may be very hard to get into but keep trying. You just have to get through the first half of the book,” I think there’s something flawed about the structure of the novel.

No, I said ‘ello.”

Next week we’ll dive into the specific pros and cons of using phonetically spelled dialogue and alternative methods of writing good dialogue. But for now I want to challenge you to think about the books you’ve read, classics as well as books written more recently.

  • How many of them contain phonetically spelled dialogue?
  • When you read a book with a character with a phonetically spelled accent does it draw you deeper into the story or make it more difficult to access?
“I’d love to se…

“I’d love to se…

“I’d love to see more books where the characters get together earlier in the story. While the yearning portions of books are lovely and make us flip their pages, I’d love to see more stories where healthy romantic relationships are depicted. Where the curtain isn’t dropped with the suggestion of coupling up = happily ever after.”

–Tiffany Schmidt, guest post on stacked

Sounds Like Part I…Tips For Writing Realistic Dialogue

Sounds Like Part I…Tips For Writing Realistic Dialogue

Conners died in the night, did you hear? And Beachdel’s taking a leave of absence. This Jonas kid shows up in my office with reports and statistics and a bunch of stuff in Sanskrit I can’t really follow, but he wanted to be part of the division and we’re short staffed.”

That does not explain why I—”

Because I need all hands on deck but I send him out there by himself, he’ll get eaten alive.” She pinned Cam to her seat with a diamond-eyed look. “But I stick him with you, I make him your responsibility, maybe you keep him alive long enough to ask for a transfer too.”

So is that what you are doing?”

That’s right.” She smiled, more like a grimace. 

© Lia Cooper 2012

Engaging, well-written dialogue is the pudding at the center of the fancy cupcake that is your story. Weird image but stick with me. Flowery language, adverbs and adjectives, are the frosting. Too much and you’re going to throw up. Plot and setting are the cake, good enough to sink your teeth into but kind of bland without the hit of delicious dialogue—the pudding at the center. (If you’ve never tasted a cupcake with pudding, I’m genuinely sorry. Link takes you to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Cupcakes my local bakery made last month.)

How Do You Write Good Dialogue?

Saving the Greeks photo by Lia 2011

I call this The Actor’s Method for writing good dialogue.

I developed this writing method from a habit I first established up when I was a high school freshman trying to memorize The Waste Land, and which I later used to memorize lines for plays I was a part of. I worked on lines in my car while I was driving. I would recite scenes to myself over and over and over again, working out different ways of saying the same thing, holding imaginary conversations with other characters to develop my character’s personality and work out how they would respond to different events.

I apply these same principles to my dialogue:

  • Read your dialogue out loud, speak it out loud. Better yet, act it out loud.
  • Give your characters distinct voices. You don’t have to be a great voice actor but try not to speak it all in a monotone. See how the way you’ve written your dialogue leaps off the page.
  • Re-read your dialogue out loud.
  • Talk to yourself. Have you heard the expression “off the page writing?” It refers to work you do for your story that may or not actually make it onto the page, this includes research, outlines, plotting, character sheets, and world building. Apply this principle to your dialogue; hold conversations between characters in different situations, whether or not it’s for a scene that appears in the story. It will help you figure out how your character speaks, their rhythm and word choices, and how they respond to different situations and other characters.

Lia’s Writing Tip: When you re-read your work, look out for places where it stops being the character speaking and becomes you, the writer, speaking too much through the character. Your characters may be literal sock puppets, but you still want them to sound In Character and authentic. You don’t want the reader to realize that they’re sock puppets.

All Writer’s Eavesdrop

You’ve probably heard a writer talk about the great conversation they overheard at Starbucks the other day. Writer’s are nosy. They eavesdrop. Why do you think we all spend so much time “writing” in coffee shops?

Photo by Renee McGurkEavesdropping can be great for developing your ear, just like acting. It exposes you to dialogue as it’s happening and in its natural habitat—e.g. aloud. But that doesn’t mean you should copy conversations you hear verbatim. 75 percent of conversations are also poorly constructed and banal, and if you copied them word for word you’d either bore or irritate your reader until they failed out of your story.

The trick to using conversations you hear to write good dialogue is to refine real life conversations to their sharpest denominator and build from there. Cut out 95 percent of the filler—the ah’s, um’s, and er’s—then cut out 90 percent of the repetition—if your character says something don’t repeat it in the action and vice versa.

  • Keep in mind that everyone lies, including your characters! They lie to themselves, they lie to each other and they lie to the reader.
  • Listen to how people lie, exaggerate and prevaricate. Listen to how they miss say something, how they mix up words or fail to convey their meaning.
  • Eavesdrop and then throw away 75 percent of what you hear. Keep the most interesting piece and build up.
Lia’s WIP Corner

Lia’s WIP Corner

Indy's_whip by Edward LundGosh, the title for this blog sounds kinky. I kind of like it though. Let’s start with the word “WIP”; it’s a term bandied about fanfic circles but maybe you’ve never heard it before. WIP stands for work-in-progress, and in this recurring feature of the blog here at The Speculative Romantic, I’ll be taking the opportunity to talk a little bit about what I am working on at the moment.

I have several works in progress right now. I’m waiting for a beta reader to get back to me on The Duality Paradigm so I can start on the third draft. Writing on the sequel The Convergence Theory is temporarily on hold while I a) wait to hear back from beta on the first book, b) work on other projects and c) while I figure out what happens next. In other words, I’m suffering some real Convergence writer’s block that I’m treating by backburnering.

Thieves Who Are Bad At Feelings

Toronto by paul bicaI’m also editing a soulbonding heist novel called The Source and the Wire—of which the draft was written back in 2011 but I’ve only just gotten around to editing. I’m roughly 50% through the first round of edits though there are already a dozen places I’ve marked for rewrites.

The bulk of the story takes place in Portland and Toronto, which makes this the second major story I’ve written with scenes in Toronto and a Quebecois character. I think a writer’s vacation to Toronto will be in my future as soon as I can afford it.

I’m tentatively scheduling Source&Wire for a February publication on kindle and nook. The story is very intense and relationship-heavy for me. It tells the story of how Simon accidentally soulbonds to longtime colleague and one-time lover Luc Allard on a fraud job gone tits-up. Simon, unwilling to reveal his own dependence on Luc, tries to seduce the other man under the pretext of “letting off steam,” unaware of Luc’s own feelings for him. I’ve always thought of Source&Wire as a story about two people like trains that keep missing each other in the night. I’ll post an excerpt next month after I’ve finished editing it.

Writing Outside Lia’s Comfort Zone: Exploring Narrative Through Short Stories

On a different track, about three weeks ago a friend from Evergreen approached me to write a short story for a collection she’s putting together. The theme for this short story collection will be the exploration of relationship narratives that are not commonly portrayed in media: eg queer, trans, intersex, ace, poly, functional and non-functional. I wrote the first draft of a short story (tentatively titled Ava, sublime.) for that collection and sent it off to my beta. Ava is a very narrow exploration of a polyamorous relationship between two men and an aromantic woman, with very minor D/s elements. I have the feeling that it will need quite a bit of revising before I’m done with it but for the most part I’m quite pleased with how it shaped up and initial reaction from my alpha reader was positive. Here’s a short excerpt, feel free to drop a quick word and let me know what you think!

On Sundays she stayed late to get the bulk of the week’s roasting finished up, so during the week she could leave early. It was a Tuesday, unremarkable but for the fact that Patrick was out to dinner with some friends from college, leaving Ava and Brenden alone for the evening.

Brenden cooked, which was not out of the ordinary, something with meat balls made up ahead of time and defrosted, and a fancy sauce that involved white wine and fresh garlic and linguine—also fresh though Ava wouldn’t swear that he had made it himself.

There’s a baguette next to you.”

Hey, look at that, you’re right.” Ava grabbed the slender loaf of bread wrapped up in brown butcher paper, purchased from the french patisserie across the street from Brenden’s work.

Slice it.”

Got a knife?”

In the block, to your left. You know that.”

Forgot,” she said.

Brenden flicked one end of a hand towel at her bum.

Hey!” Ava pointed one stern finger in his face and scowled, “None of that for me, sir.” He grinned back at her, all shiny white teeth and crisp dress shirt, tucked into expensive slacks. He even had his dress shoes on still. It felt a little like being scolded by her prep school principal.

And that’s the highlights—tune back in next week where I talk about writing Dialogue!

Lia Cooper’s Writing Process

Lia Cooper’s Writing Process

The first serious author’s blog I tried to write was called The Writing Process. Despite having journaled on Livejournal for a decade I didn’t know anything about good blogging habits—not about SEO, tagging, using keywords, proper format (ie news format or the inverted pyramid), nada. I thought that I could write the same way I had journaled. And what’s more, I didn’t think I had useful writing tips to share in a world where content is key. I’ve still only scratched the surface but I’m learning.

The last two weeks I’ve talked about writing habits and how to make your personal writing style work for you. These articles are based on first hand observation of writers I know, read and listen to. I love to soak up other people’s process. What works for them rarely works for me but it’s always interesting to hear how other authors go about writing a novel.

About The Author

the author!My name is Lia and I was historically a Waiter. Until a couple years ago I only wrote sporadically and if the muse was with me. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I never got anything written.

I might never be Stephen King, writing 2000 words a day, six day a week. But through patience I’ve been able to find a happy medium between low-volume daily writing and my natural inclination as a Waiter. I have about 2-3 high volume writing months every year where the muse is flowing and the words pour out of me—I also like rewards so these heavy writing months tend to fall around NaNoWriMo—and I intersperse these heavy writing months with light daily writing months. I may only set a goal of 300-500 words during the lulls. The point is that this goal is something I know I can meet, so I’m always working on my novel without burning myself out.

Writer’s Block Is Real

Heroes-Peter-and-Sylar-the wallNot a popular opinion these days. A lot of people will tell you writer’s block is just a writer being lazy or undisciplined but I’m going to tell you that sometimes you don’t know what happens next. Sometimes you’re afraid to work on your story. Sometimes you write yourself into a corner. When this happens, it may be possible to punch your way through the block.

On the other hand, it may also be wise to take a step back and let your brain mull over the problem for awhile.

Good writing habits don’t mean making yourself miserable or trying to be any other writer than yourself. Good writing habits mean finding what works for you and not letting setbacks discourage you.

What Are Your Authorial Priorities?

I write because I love to share stories with people. When a reader sends me an email or leaves a comment telling me that my story impacted them on an emotional level—that is the best feeling in the world. That is why I write.

Writing is hard for me. Being prolific is really hard. I have a short attention span and I’m naturally pretty lazy. For me to be productive, I’ve had to find a balance of structure and time off that keeps my brain happy and my fingers busy.

When you find the balance that works for you, then you too will find success.