Goals - how are they coming along?

Sometimes these things need to be revisited.  Goals.  We all make them.  We all strive towards them.  And we all tend to fall short of them every once and a while.  Goals.

Goals - it's a tricky word, isn't it?

For Catholics, this time of year is filled with goals - everyone makes goals - meaning something they are willing to give up during Lent to show they are good Christians.  I have always thought it would be better to think of what I would want to do better in life.  I love those people who say - "Well, I'm giving up chocolate" or "I'm giving up pop" (or soda if you're front a different part of the country).  The problem with giving up something like that is - what have your really proved?  As soon as that time period is over, you go back to eating it or drinking it and all you have proven is you can live without it for a set period of time.

What if instead you said you were going to curb your temper when you drove? Or if you said you would actually reconnect with someone from your past?  These are more life-changing goals than the ones where you give something up.  Do something different with your life.  Expand your horizon.  Explore deeper possibilities and maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself closer to some of your goals than before.

What in the world does this have to do with writing?  Don't we make goals all the time?

In my critique group, we have a person in charge of goals.  I used to do this job.  Everyone who made a goal would write it down on paper and place it inside the box with a dollar.  Then at the next meeting, we would read off the goals and see if we made our goals.  If we did, our name stayed inside the box and someone would pull a name.  The winner would win the money in the kitty.  Sounds like a fair way to make goals, doesn't it?  Sure, and it's fun, you might make some money to buy a fancy pair of shoes you've been drooling over forever.

We tally our pages written as well.  This is a chapter-wide goal - we hope that by the end of the year, we have written a certain number of pages.  Of course, this places everyone on the honor system and we report our pages written each month to the page counter.  Another way to keep us on track when we are writing.

I like goals.  They keep me grounded.  I like to make sure that I am writing every day. If I am not writing, I am editing, which in effect is writing too, because I am rewriting pages.  Doesn't that count?


Here's the nitty-gritty of writing - goals for our characters.  Yes, our characters need goals.  Why?

Don't you have goals?  Don't you have something that keeps you motivated every single day of your life? Something gets you up each morning, gets you to walk out that door, and keep on moving in life.  It's whatever goal you have made for yourself.  This is true for your character.  The more important the goal, the more the reader likes him/her.

What would Harry Potter be without the goal of defeating Voldemort?  What would Katniss Everdeen do without the goal of staying alive in Hunger Games?  What would the Phantom do without his need to control Christine?  What would Spartacus do without that goal to survive and avenge the death of his wife?  I think you get the picture.

The more desperate the goal, the more you want to root for that character.  If you have read the Hunger Games, you cannot help but root for both Katniss and Peeta.  The goal of survival is so primal and real, you want them to survive. You need them to win because there is that sense of hope.  The president even  says it in the book - hope is dangerous.  When people start to hope for their survival, he knows it means an end to his way of life.

When we write our books, we have to make sure our characters have a goal - survival, revenge, greed, family, or even fame to guide them.  Sometimes these goals are anti-heroic, but as long as we buy into that goal and we believe that is what the hero/heroine is striving for, we are willing to go along for the ride.  Usually, we realize long before the hero/heroine that the initial goal is not really the one that was important at all.  For instance, in the case of fame - it wasn't fame that drove them - but what went along with the fame - sometimes adulation, wealth, a sense of belonging.  We need to dig deeper with our characters to show how this is important.

So, figure out what the goal is.  Then as you analyze your character, ask yourself this question - is this really the goal he/she is seeking?  Think about yourself or other people you know who are seeking those same things.  Then analyze it further.  That friend who seems to plow through everyone else in order to get ahead in the world - is that what she really wants?  Once she gets there - will she have found happiness? Will she finally be relieved she reached that goal? Or was it something else driving her to push aside all else to achieve it?  Now, you're getting someplace with your story. Now you are starting to understand your characters better.  Now you are creating characters that your reader wants to root for because they can connect with them.

When you pick a goal for your character - go big - go epic - then twist and turn it around so many times, that you find out what really drives this person.  Think about Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz - at first her goal is to get as far away from Kansas as possible. She wants to run away.  At the end of the story, she realizes she had what she needed all along right there.  She just lost sight of it.  She had to go full circle in her life to figure it out.  She had to learn an important lesson along the way.  Once she did, she realized the goal she had chosen wasn't a good goal for her after all.  This happens to our characters all the time.

Twist them.  Make them hurt.  Make them cry out in anguish they think they can't achieve their goal.  Then, make them realize what their true goal was all along.  There's your story.

Have fun writing.  AND - keep making those goals.

What People Wore in the 1700s

Since I am currently writing a series of novels which take place in the 1700s, I thought it would be great to show pictures of clothing worn during that time.  If you are like me, you like to see authentic clothing so it makes it easier to describe it while writing.  I was lucky enough to travel to Williamsburg last summer and took tons of pictures.  The interpreters wear clothing that has been thoroughly researched as clothing worn during the time leading up to the Revolutionary War.  That said, the pictures you see are ones I took while there and show people in various levels of society and what they wore.

If you want more information about what people wore, please visit the following site: Colonial Williamsburg Clothing.

In the meantime, enjoy pictures of how people dressed in the 18th century.

As you have seen in the pictures, people in different classes wore different types of clothing. One of the things I hate to do when I am researching is jump from one place to another - whether it be different sites or different books. My hope here is the ease a person can find what they want.

Writing Pitfalls and Overused Words

We are all guilty of this – overused words. Sometimes we do not even know we are doing it. If you are like me then you write whatever comes to your mind. You type and type and type and before long you have a book.  A very long book. Over the years, my writing pitfalls have varied.  First, I was a notorious head-hopper. For those of you who don’t know what that is – it’s where everyone has a point of view – the hero, the heroine, the sister, brother, mother, father, even the servants – have a point of view.  The worst is when they all have a point of view in the same scene.  YES – that was me when I wrote my first book over 30 years ago.  But I was a writer!  I was young and unknowing and was just thrilled I had written a 300 page long book.  Friends read it and thought I was fabulous.  Of course, then I thought it was fabulous too.  Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

I have since learned to trim my writing. (I may not write tight here, but trust me – it’s so much better).  So what are some other pitfalls writers fall into?
Passive voice
We have all been in this pit.  What exactly is passive voice?  Passive voice is where you are commenting on an action instead of showing the action.  He was struck by lightning.  Instead, think of Lightning struck him.  Do you see the difference?  If you’re not sure if you use it – look for verbs in the “to be” form.  Look for “was”.  Another clue – look for “by . . .”  Remember my example “he was struck by lightning”?  Do a search of the word “by” and you will find many instances of passive voice.

Think how passive voice leads into prepositions.  We are all familiar with prepositions from our years in grammar school and that first painful year in high school. We were taught to use prepositions to add information to our sentences.  Don’t just say “The dog ran”.  Instead add details – The brown spotted dog ran across the street to get a ball that fell into a ditch”.  I know I went a bit overboard on this sentence, but you get my meaning.  Look at your sentences and see if there is a better way to say it without using all those prepositions.  Now, I am not saying prepositions are bad.  On the contrary, prepositions can add layers to your sentences – you just have to be careful not to use too many in one sentence.  The sentence becomes watered down. Your reader starts to skim.  When the reader does that, you have lost them.

POV – point of view
We have all been to workshops where they spoke about POV, or point of view.  One of the best lessons I learned was – the POV is in the person who has the most to lose/gain.  The reader needs to know what they are thinking and feeling during that scene.  This is where GMC, or goal, motivation, and conflict are key.  Every scene needs to be analyzed for these key points.  If you read your scene and you realize this scene is more pivotal for the heroine, then make sure the point of view is hers.  Otherwise, it can be a scene killer.  Now, some people ask if you can change POV in the middle of a scene.  Of course you can.  You just have to know when to do it for the most impact.

Lack of Conflict
This is a major killer for a story.  There has to be conflict.  There must be something that stands in the way of your hero and heroine reaching their goals.  If the road to getting what they want is too easy, the reader becomes bored.  Challenge them.  Throw roadblocks in their way.  Think to yourself – what could really mess up this relationship big time, then mess it up.  Give them a reason to fight back and come together so the ending is satisfying.  You want the reader to cheer for them along the way.  If they both realize they love each other too early, then there had better be something terrible keeping them apart to make you root for them.  We know Romeo and Juliet love each other from the beginning but their families throw roadblocks in their way throughout the story. Okay, bad example since they both die at the end, but you get what I mean.  Think of Gone With the Wind – Scarlet and Rhett – we know they both love each other, they just don’t know it.  She thinks she’s in love with Ashley until the very end.  What would the story be without that wonderful ending? Do we all still wish it had ended differently? Do we want him to turn around and go back?  Sure we do, but then the book would not be the same book.  Think of your favorite books – which ones do you read again and again because it’s such a satisfying story? Examine the conflict.  Outline the conflict.  Then look at your own book and outline the conflict.  How does it compare?

Overused words
Here is a section that could be a mile long and then some.  There are so many overused words in our books.  The “Find” section of your word processing program becomes your best friend.  Remember those passive verbs? Look for them. Replace them.
Here are some of my favorite overused words – have, that, for, as, like, think, said, was, feels
I could make a longer list, but I am sure you have many to add to this list. Go to www.editminion.com and do a search of a passage and you will quickly discover words you overuse.

I remember a time when there was always an adverb to describe how the character said something or looked.  The problem was they quickly became overused. Soon, you couldn’t read a passage without being inundated with the pesky little devils.  Most of them are easy to find because they end with –ly.  Others are more difficult to find – they answer how, when, why, where, or under what conditions something happens.  Some of them are disguised as prepositional phrases – called adverbial phrases.  When this occurs, reread the sentence and think of a more concise way to say it.

Repetitive words or phrases
We all do this.  We have a favorite way of saying something and we give that phrase to one of our characters.  Be careful because this could be overkill.  While it’s true some of us say “seriously” far too often, but if you give that phrase to your main character then your reader is going to roll their eyes.

You have to be careful with clichés because some of them are time-based.  We don’t even realize we are using a cliché that does not fit the time period.  We are so accustomed to using that phrase that we don’t realize it may not have been used in the 1800s.  Think about it – would say your hero “went over the edge” in a historical?  Probably not.  You would more than likely say he was addled, or some other clever phrase used during those times.  Be careful – these too can become repetitive words or phrases that can bog down your work. 

Too many characters
I am very good at adding too many characters.  I am also very good at giving names to characters who do not matter.  I name the maids and butlers, even if I know they are only in one scene.  Then I go back and take out the names.  Why do I take out the names? Think about it. Once you know the person’s name, you have a vested interest in them.  You want to know more.  The reader also starts to connect with that character.  Do not name them unless they are important to the scene OR they will play a pivotal role later on in the story.  Otherwise, you can probably get rid of them altogether. 

I am working on a series of novels based on a group of men called the Order of the Golden Apple.  I love each and every one of them.  I also love the comradery they share.  Guess what? The lovely scenes I wrote with them in the books could be cut.  I hated cutting them. I loved those characters. I really wanted to show the closeness of the men, but what I came to realize was – they were not necessary for the development of the story I was writing.  Too bad too because some of those scenes were fun.  Oh, well, they are now in a file, tucked away on my computer, waiting to be resurrected some day (if ever).

Each one of the above pitfalls could have a post on their own. Perhaps in the future I will try to address them in more length, but in the meantime, check over your work and see if you have fallen into one of these abysmal pits.  I know I have from time to time.  I have pulled myself out through diligent editing and amazing critique partners.  Don’t be afraid to have a friend read your work and look for some of these pitfalls.  Maybe you have a friend who can look for the prepositions. Another friend can look for those pesky adverbs.  And yet one more person can check for lack of conflict.  Whatever your pitfalls, it’s always best to have someone help you locate them.  We never find all those mistakes on our own. No matter how closely we read and reread our manuscripts, we are just too close to them to find everything that might be keeping us from becoming published.

What to do next

I am sure you have all been in this position – you finished your novel and the edits, and you think – What do I do next?

Time to have someone else read it. Time to do a full read-through and make sure it all fits.  Did the edits work? Did you edit too much? Did you leave out words when you were editing? There are so many little things that have to be done now to make sure everything is ready to be sent out to an editor or agent. Do I send it off to one final critique partner or do I send it to a Beta Reader now?
If you had mentioned this option several months ago, I would not know what a Beta Reader was. Now, after doing some research, I understand their purpose.  So the time has come to have a full read through. I just need to find the right person to read it through and make sure everything flows in the story and makes sense.

Okay, now that I have settled that step, I can decide what to do next.  If you are like me, you have several books on the back burner – sequels to other books, prequels perhaps, or even brand new novels percolating in your brain.

It’s time to pour over my cache of ideas – see what would be the best move – should I edit a different novel or begin a new one?

What would you do?