Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘National Novel Writing Month

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

About a year ago, I started working through activities in writing guides, which I had brought after the 2012 National Novel Writing Month. Four of them are listed at the end and they focus on characterization or description. Today I’d like to introduce a couple more, both which have to do with plot.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress requires one to do a lot of analyzing published works and then applying lessons learned to one’s own work. Both the section on beginnings and the section on endings contain one chapter which looks broadly at a novel’s first or final third, one that looks more narrowly at just the opening or closing scene, and then one short chapter that contains general tips.

What is most important about the beginning? How about an implicit promise of an interesting story? One which gives the reader a character to focus on, events which aren’t going as expected, and details which not only anchor one’s story in reality but also set it apart from all the others out there. After these three are established, and only after that, should one add in backstory and flashbacks.

What is most important about the ending? How about the use of characters, conflicts, and tensions to show a collision or climax? It’s where the climax lives up to the forces which all the other chapters have been building towards, as well as delivers an emotional impact and remains logical to the plot. When one has does that, one has fulfilled a promise to both their readers and to their self.

There’s also a section on middles, which is often where many novels sag, but where Kress tells how to keep one’s story in motion. She explains how to pick the scenes to write and how to develop and change the motivation of one’s main character. As with the other sections, there is also a short chapter which includes general tips.

Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell is a much longer book, focused on two specific areas of plot, which requires one to undertake several interesting activities. The introduction defines the concepts of conflict and suspense. What is conflict? Basically, it’s what causes two sides in a story to clash. What about suspense? Well, it arises out of conflict, and is the tightening of an emotional experience for a reader. Bell goes on to use the comparison of a boxing match. The two combatants are in conflict. The suspense arises from the questions about how the fight will proceed.

Bell starts his section on conflict by suggesting brainstorming for ideas through activities such as What If…? lists, creation of an image through music, dreams, or movies, exploration of familiar and unfamiliar settings, theft from classic plots or first lines, and even random opening of the dictionary. From there, Bell explains how to integrate conflict into the beginning, middle, and ending of a novel. There are some standard activities such as outlining the four acts to your novel or creating a character grid. There are more unusual activities such as writing the cover copy for your novel or keeping a voice journal for your main character.

Bell summarizes the section on conflict by saying that it’s all about having the reader ask: “What’s next?” He lists and gives examples of four types of suspense: macro, scene, hyper, and paragraph. Then he proceeds to describe how to use elements of fiction such as dialog to build suspense. Bell also provides and overviews activities for practicing aspects of fiction which are unique to suspense such as cliff-hangers.

I enjoyed both books, but especially appreciated that every chapter at the end of Kress’ book contained activities. Her book also helped me view chapters as being made up of scenes and scenes as being units within themselves which fit into the larger whole. Bell’s book made me think a lot of how to ramp up the tension in my novel, although it had the negative side effect of my creating too many problems for my characters in my second draft. Also, especially for the section on suspense, I had to work harder to find activities to practice the skills taught.

If you’re at any stage of writing, any or all of the guides which I have reviewed as part of my Current Reads would be worth adding to your shelf. They’re all ones which I used to create the second draft of my novel. Now I’m on the lookout for guides to help me with my third draft. 🙂

What is your current read?


Still relaxing from drafting my novel

I haven’t posted for over a month. 😦 First, all my free time was being dedicated to finishing the second draft of my novel. With it finally done, I felt too tired to come up with six words to describe my week.

Now I’m kind of back. I’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks of spending my free time on everything but my novel. This means I read some bestsellers, took lots of naps, and visited some writing boards. It’s been nice!

The reason I’m only kind of back is that nothing really jumped out at me to write to about my week. Yet I’ve missed Six-Word-Saturday. And so here I am. 🙂

There’s one week left to my time away from my novel. Then I’ll start reworking my outline and dreaming about my third draft.

That’s my week. What about yours?

Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. This week, I’m posting photos of all the ways my husband has recently spoiled me.

“I’m proud of you!” My husband spoke those words to me earlier this month. Why? Because I had finished writing the second draft of my novel-in-progress, a draft that is a whopping 130,000 words.

To celebrate, he took me out for a favorite entrée and a favorite dessert. At this past National Novel Writing Month, I tried a vanilla-filled, strawberry-topped French Toast meal at IHOP. Breakfast never tasted so good! Naturally, I wanted to have it again.


As for the dessert, I was hooked the first time I tried carrot cake at Village Inn. The menu describes it as: “A moist cake studded with shredded carrots, pineapple, walnuts, and raisins covered with cream cheese frosting and finished with chopped almonds.” This is no lie! Whenever I can order dessert at Village Inn, this is what I get.


However, that isn’t where the rewards ended. My husband also let me buy books by one of my favorite authors, Sara Zarr. This included three (the ones in elastic) being purchased through Kings English Bookshop so that I could have them signed. My reviews of them should appear in June, along with potentially an interview!


The last gift isn’t really an award, as much as incentive for the future. There’s nothing like chocolates to boost a writer’s energy. Pretty boxes are fun to get too. Well, for the past couple of years, after Valentine’s Day ends, my husband has hit the stores for chocolates and then come home to hide them. This year was no exception, except when he came home, he decided to be unusually devious about where he hid them. Instead of one day like last year, it took me until just last week to find all twelve boxes. Yes, I said TWELVE! (One for each month, right?) A few of the more clever locations were: under the cat bed, in the basement rafters, in the pet stroller, among my education books (that was the one with the chalkboard cover) — and, the sneakiest of all… in my collection of keepsake Valentine’s boxes.


As for my novel-in-progress, I’m enjoying a hiatus from it. That’s included reading bestsellers, browsing online writing boards, and sneaking in some naps. See you next week!


My husband earned a needed raise

From the start of our marriage in April 2008, my husband and I have financially struggled.

  • I had spent all my money prior to our marriage on going back to school to become a teacher. Getting a Master of Education and teacher certification is not cheap!
  • Then there were the fees for my immigration lawyer. I’m originally from Canada and, believe it or not, it can be a hurdle to become an American resident.
  • Soon after our marriage, there were the high medical costs of trying to overcome infertility. Three years of trying to have a baby quickly put us into deep debt.

Although we managed to both get out of debt and to put aside thousands towards a house, it has been a challenge because we also have pets who grew into seniors and so now have their own share of bills. And of course it doesn’t help that I work only part-time and that my husband works in the educational field.

Neither position exactly brings in lots of money. Now my husband has finally gotten a raise, one which should help cover those emergency expenses that come with pet care. Or that come with life, such as car repair or even replacement. And that means we might finally be able to truly save for our dream home.

That’s my week. What about yours?


Temporarily giving control to my husband

National Novel Writing Month started yesterday. At some point later this month, I will have some author interviews to share, as a follow-up to my review of fiction featuring troubled kids. If the rewriting of my novel goes well, I might also pop in with some photos on the weekends. I’d love to show off ones, especially from my search-and-rescue outing, which I undertook as part of research for my novel.

Otherwise, my husband will serve as my guest reviewer for the next few weeks. He’s the dearest man in my life and I’m so grateful for his support in my writing endeavors. Check out his regular weekend posts, starting with a special Halloween kick-off one called A Month of Zombies. Another post will come later today too!

PS Last month, Allison’s Book Bag reached a record high of over 2000 hits in a month. Thanks everyone for helping make this a community of readers.

That’s my week. What about yours?

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