nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Archive for March 2015

writing a novel – expressing the story in a single sentence

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 Title: unknown

Working Title: ‘Crossing at a Walk’

Setting: a writers’ retreat – the renovated Landing Church, the hall and the rectory now used as a Learning Center, a Sleeping Hall and a home and base of operations for Sadie and Tom

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom, a retired welder; Alexandra, a young woman who works at the retreat; other people from the community; writers participating in the first weekend of the writers’ retreat

Plot: The ongoing history of an old covered bridge keeps getting in the way of discovering the story of a woman who once lived in the community.

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one of the 59 covered bridges remaining in New Brunswick

 

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When I think about the story I want to tell in my book, I quickly get in a tangle of characters and subplots and action.  All of this can be quite confusing to the writer and end up befuddling the story and taking the writing in the wrong direction.

To avoid this tangle, it is a good idea to try to express the plot and story in single sentences as soon as possible in the writing process.

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The plot is the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story.

A story is a series of events, related in their chronological order.

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I am currently taking a course from Deborah Carr, an excellent writing coach (her website ‘Nature of Words’ is at http://www.natureofwords.com/).  She puts it this way: a story follows the pattern of Desire, Struggle, and Resolution.  Every good story is about someone who wants something, how the someone sets about achieving the goal, and the consequences of achieving the goal.

The earlier in the process I can write my story in a single sentence that includes these three elements, the less ‘wheel-spinning’ I will do.

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My novel will be the story of how a young staff member at a writers’ retreat discovers the name of a woman carved on the beams of a covered bridge, sets out to discover the woman’s story by asking questions and learning the history of the bridge, and reveals truths about love and loss.

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names and initials are often carved on the wood beams within a covered bridge

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The story is different from the plot in that it expresses a series of actions in time.  A plot expresses the logical relationship between elements of the story.  The story and plot complement one another.

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Before you get much further in your novel, try writing the story as a simple sentence describing Desire, Struggle, and Resolution.

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

 

 

Written by jane tims

March 30, 2015 at 7:14 am

writing a novel – sub-plots

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In every story, sub-plots help with the story telling and contribute their own dynamic to the action, characters, and the relationships between characters.

sub-plot : a smaller, separate story strand that provides support for and adds complexity to the main plot

The courses I have taken have taught me that often subplots contain a minimum of three re-occurrences or ‘beats’ in a story.  A sub-plot is introduced, more is learned and the sub-plot is resolved.

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To help me identify the subplots, I have used my ‘story board.’  I identified some key subplots and put stickers on the scenes on my ‘story board’.  Here you can see the subplots ‘A’ and ‘P’.

 

plot elements

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This mapping of subplots can help me decide if some of the story is missing.  In the ‘story board’ below, sub-plot ‘P’ could be improved by a mention on Day 3 and 4 (the vertical rows of green trees indicate a day in the action).  Major inclusions of the subplot P on Days 1, 5, and 8 will be my three subplot ‘beats’.

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plot connections

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Copyright 2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 27, 2015 at 7:41 am

writing a novel – character arcs

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Title: unknown

Working Title: ‘Crossing at a Walk’

Setting: a writers’ retreat – the renovated Landing Church, the hall and the rectory now used as a Learning Center, a Sleeping Hall and a home/base of operations for Sadie and Tom

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom, a retired welder; people from the community; writers participating in the first weekend of the writers’ retreat

Plot: Sadie wants the first writers’ retreat to go smoothly, but the history of an old covered bridge keeps getting in the way

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I have finished the first draft of my novel.  Still lots of holes to fill and editing to do.  But I am now certain of the basic story-line.

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For the next while I will be spending some time with each of my characters.  I know a bit about them, because I have a character sketch and a drawing for each character.  Now I want to make sure each person has their own story arc.   I would like each character to grow in some way during the novel.

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some of the characters in my novel

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My first step is to print a copy of the draft ‘Table of Contents’ for my book.

On a separate page, I also list the events (or scenes) in each chapter and the characters involved in each event.

Then I use the initial of the character’s first name to show on the ‘Table of Contents’ where the character occurs in the story.  For example, my characters include Patricia and her brother Rob … marked P/R on the extreme right hand side of the ‘Table of Contents’.

Right away, I can see if a character falls off the radar.  I can also make certain the characters are distributed through the action so my reader doesn’t forget they exist.  For example, one of my main characters, Alexandra (marked A) doesn’t occur in four chapters … this may be OK but I want to think it through.

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Once I have completed this step, I have a list of additions to make to the manuscript (written up and down along the bottom of the page).

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I also write, in a simple sentence, the story arc of each character.  I write the arc in the format of: what the character wants, the obstacles he or she encounters, and the resolution.

Patricia (the rather sour-looking woman on the far left of my drawing above) wants to feel connected with her brother who left home and died years before – she reconnects with him by learning some of the details of his story.

Tom (below) retired from his career as a welder due to ill health.  He is surrounded by writers attending the writer’s retreat.  He is at loose ends and tries to find his purpose, discovering it embedded in his daily routine.

Matt (third from the left in the drawing above) is a theatre student who wants to attract a fellow writer.  In spite of repeated rebuffs, they find a common interest, the basis of a friendship.

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Tom, Sadie’s husband, doesn’t always feel comfortable around writers.

 

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I have learned from various courses that story arcs are often expressed as sub-plots.  The story arcs often occur in three ‘bumps’ in the action.  Although most of my characters occur several times in the book, this is a good minimum guide to follow for the significant events in their stories.

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Back to work …

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 25, 2015 at 7:07 am

writing a novel – writing and plotting

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I often see questions from writers about plotting the story in a novel.  Some advocate just writing, letting the plot write itself.  Others say the best approach is to carefully plot the action beginning with an outline.

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My approach is a mix of these two.  I began to write some of my novel early last year – just jotting down ideas and doing sections of writing.  Now, I have reached about 32,000 words, and I have a very good idea about my plot and where the action takes the reader.  It is time to make sure I am going in a particular direction.

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I have always wanted to use a plot board in the writing of my book, but I don’t have the wall space to use a proper ‘story board’ or one of those ‘white boards’ you see in detective shows on TV.  I do have an empty canvas or two, so I am using one (20 X 24) as a story board to arrange the elements of my book.  The canvas is a good size to store easily, or work with on my knee!

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First I used a block of post-it notes (mine look like evergreen trees) to jot down the various scenes I have written to date (looks like a forest).

Scene – a sequence of related actions and conversation occurring in a particular place.  For example: Sadie and Tom sit at their kitchen table and discuss where to take the writers for a tour of the community.

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I put these scenes in order and posted them on the canvas in vertical lines, each line representing roughly a day (or a group of related days) in the action.  Below is my canvas story board with scenes arranged in eight ‘days’ worth of action.

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To show a little more of the arrangement, I have drawn some circles to show you where I put different scenes.  Some (lower left) don’t seem to fit anywhere – perhaps they will just become bits of orphan writing.  The ‘aftermath’ will include a return to the writing retreat by the first group of ‘retreaters’ – the weekend went so badly, Sadie offered them a free weekend at the retreat!!!

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parts of plot

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Now, I can continue to write and fill in parts of the plot I have not completed.  I can move the post-it notes around and rearrange the action.  I can add new scenes.  And I can look at where ideas, sub-plots, symbols and people occur and reoccur.  And I can add any information if needed.

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Lots of work to do!

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Copyright 2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 20, 2015 at 7:25 am

Posted in writing a novel

writing a novel – next in the series !

with 12 comments

Having sent my first novel ‘Open to the Skies’ (aka ‘Saving the Landing Church’) out to three publishers, I have begun my next novel in the series.  I intend for the series to focus on the adventures of running a writers’ retreat.  Same characters, same setting, same struggle to be a part of the community.

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Title: unknown

Working Title: ‘Crossing at a Walk’

Setting: a writers’ retreat – the renovated Landing Church, the hall and the rectory now used as a Learning Center, a Sleeping Hall and a home and base of operations for Sadie and Tom

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom, a retired welder; people from the community; writers participating in the first weekend of the writers’ retreat

Plot: Sadie wants the first writers’ retreat to go smoothly, but the history of an old covered bridge keeps getting in the way

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My first novel was about an abandoned church.  The subject of this book will be yet another feature of our built landscape, one also having a difficult time … the covered bridge.  In the 1940s there were 340 covered bridges in New Brunswick.  Today there are only 60.

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I chuckle all the time about my ‘Saving The …’ series.  Lots of buildings to save out there!  However, I have no intention of sinking into the formulaic (Sadie falls in love with the … and takes steps to save the …).  Instead, each story will take a unique approach to honoring the bit of built landscape it portrays!

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As I have said, in New Brunswick, we have 60 remaining covered bridges.  Their numbers are dwindling, the losses due to flooding, fire and vandalism.  For a look at the covered bridges in New Brunswick, see the map and photos at  http://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/dti/bridges_ferries/content/covered_bridges.html

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So how does a covered bridge get in the way of a well planned writers’ retreat?

  • Sadie includes a local tour during the retreat, to introduce the writers to the community and give them new experiences to write about.  The covered bridge is outside the tour loop, but a couple of the writers would love to go there.
  • the covered bridge is part of the community’s history.  Inside the bridge are the carved initials of some of the many people who have lingered there.  The writers want to know ‘who was Phoebe?’ a girl whose name is carved in the bridge and imprinted on the memories of some of the members of the community.
  • after the retreat is over, heavy rains and flooding threaten the bridge to its very foundations.  Can the bridge be saved and will Sadie be willing to take on the cause of another community icon?

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Sadie

Sadie … my main character … a writer and weaver … she wants the first weekend of the writers’ retreat to go smoothly …  I still think she needs an afternoon at the hairdressers

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Sadie’s husband Tom … a welder with a fatal case of welder’s lung … a likeable fellow, he refused to die in the first novel … I wonder what will happen to him in ‘Crossing at a Walk’?

 

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

 

writing a novel … next (brave) step

with 12 comments

For the past two years, I have been working on a novel.   The working title of the book is ‘Saving the Landing Church’ – the actual title is ‘Open to the Skies’.  For more information about the process of writing ‘Open to the Skies’, have a look at the category ‘writing a novel’. https://nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/writing-a-novel-telling-a-story/

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The book is about a woman who falls in love with an old church and decides to save it from demolition, in spite of active resistance from members of the community.

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the setting for my novel … an old church and its hall and rectory are moved to a new location along the St. John River to create a writers’ retreat …

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After taking my book through nine drafts, numerous readings of bits with my writing groups, and a third-party edit, I have taken the next (brave) step.  I am sending my novel to three publishing companies.  I chose the publishers based on their dedication to Canadian authors and subjects, their willingness to read unsolicited manuscripts, and their current book lists.

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It will be a long wait.  I know from past experience that I may not hear from them for six to eight months, and then it will likely be ‘no’.  This is not lack of confidence or uncertainty about my skill.  It is reality – most book publishers get up to a thousand submissions per year and, of course, can only choose a few of these to publish.  However, on my side is the characteristic of doggedness.

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I will be sure and let you know what happens next with ‘Open to the Skies’.  Meanwhile, I’ll be busy working on a sequel to the first book and, of course, on my poetry.

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 16, 2015 at 7:34 am

in a yellow caravan

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame was published in 1908 and has defined the relationship of people to place for four generations.  The story of animal friends and their lives along the river is a magical yet down-to-earth tale.  It solidifies ideas of home, adventure and longing.  It captures (or doesn’t) the insubstantial voice of nature:

… it passes into words and out of them again – I catch them at intervals – then it is dance-music once more, and then nothing but the reeds’ soft thin whispering.

One of the memorable characters of the book is Toad.  He is reckless and arrogant, and constantly gets into trouble, but I think his appeal is the adventurer in all of us.  Some of his adventures are in a bright yellow caravan …

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2003 ‘Toad’s yellow cart, Wind in the Willows’ Jane Tims

 

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 … there, drawn out of the coach house into the open, they saw a gipsy caravan, shining with newness, painted a canary-yellow picked out with green, and red wheels.

‘There you are!’ cried the Toad … ‘There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart.  The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows … The whole road before you, and a horizon that’s always changing …

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My copy of Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame, 2007, Vancouver: Blue Heron Books) was illustrated by Robert Ingpen (what a name for an artist!).  I will leave you with his illustrations of Toad’s yellow caravan …

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

 

 

 

 

Written by jane tims

March 13, 2015 at 10:22 am

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