The Charlie Day Plot Murder Board: how this panster became a plotter

Image result for charlie day pepe meme

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an author in possession of a WIP must be in want of bitching about said WIP.
me, right now

If there’s one thing all writers have in common, it’s that we love to complain about how hard writing is. For the longest time, my biggest complaint was how frequently I was stuck rewriting entire drafts after figuring out some plot point that shifted the entire book. This was due in part to my inability to plot. I found outlines constricting and thought they sucked the ‘discovery’ part out of my process. Five books in, and I’ve embraced the three-act structure. Here’s how it works for me:

  1. Read this article. I find most posts explaining plotting structures to be dry and vague and utterly unhelpful. This was the first time it *clicked* for me, and largely due to the fact that each scene is explained by aligning the three-act structure with Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. The book follows the structure flawlessly. The part that stuck with me the most was how the “pinch points” were not the major twists I would have assumed, and were often times quieter twists, which helped me in plotting my own books. Not all twists have to be a major action scene or implosion.
  2. Index cards. This is the part where you go full Charlie Day. You will need 27 cards, one for each scene. At the top of each card, I write “Act One: Block One: Chapter One” and so on and so forth until I reach “Act Three: Block Nine: Chapter Twenty-Seven”. I also write a quick note under each title saying “plot twist #1”, “midpoint”, “darkest moment”, etc. as they pertain to each scene, to help me with controlling the flow of rising and falling action. More on that later. For now, arrange your index cards on a table or the floor. I arrange mine with each row being an act, and putting a gap of space between each of the three blocks within each act.
  3. Post-It notesNext, I write down the plot points that I know. Extract all the scenes that have been swimming around in your head and write them on a post-it note. Stick it where you think it falls in the story. Is this the inciting incident? The midpoint? The plot twist? The final battle? Write down everything you know and stick it on your plot cards. Once you have it all down, see where your gaps are. Are you saving too much for the finale? Is the second act a big blank (this is usually my dilemma). Maybe you need to move around some scenes. Perhaps a battle could happen earlier. Or maybe it’s fine and you just need to brainstorm scenes. This is where rising/falling action comes into place. How can you fill that void to ramp up or wind down? Can you see a plot thread that hasn’t been mentioned in a while? Add that in. As a visual learner, being able to see the holes in my plot helps. Sometimes I don’t figure out the answer until I’m literally writing it–and that’s okay! That’s the ‘discovery’ part of writing. It can still exist while plotting. The rules outlines are more like guidelines, anyway.
  4. Plot Inception. Two optional steps, depending on your narrative and writing style.
    • Color Coding. I write multi-POV stories, so I color code my post-it notes with each character’s POV. It allows me to see when a POV has been silent for too long or perhaps I’m shoving too much on them within a certain block of the plot. The colors help me visualize their agency within the plot.
    • Dates. This can be literal dates like April 17th, or simply “Day One”. I like to keep track of how time passes within my stories. Are my characters flying across the realms with heretofore unseen quickness all of a sudden? This helps with travel times if a journey/quest is part of your story, or if your characters are simply accomplishing so much that they would need 72-hour day. (ie. epic fantasies spanning multiple books where only a month has passed? Yeah, sure Jan.) Within the actual words of my story, I try to keep mentions of time vague for continuity purposes, but it’s good information to have for you the writer.
  5. Scrivener. I absolutely swear by writing in Scrivener. If you don’t use it, you can still make it work in Word/whatever you use via the comment function/page breaks/etc, but this will be geared towards Scrivener.

    Under the ‘Manuscript’ in the Scrivener binder on the left side, I make nine blocks, titling them “Act One: Block One” all the way to “Act Three: Block Nine”. Within each block, three folders for each chapter. (You could make these scenes and not folders, but I tend to have multiple scenes per chapter, so this is my method, but YMMV.)

    Then, I add the scenes from each post-it note under the correlating chapter. (If you’re writing multi-POV, you can color code the scenes via the ‘Label’ function on the right-hand side. You can ‘Edit’ the labels to the names of your characters. “View > Use Label Color In > Binder” will color code each scene to correlate with character POV. I like my colors to relate to the post-it colors. Makes it easier when inevitably changes happen.)

    Once you have all your scenes, transcribe the blurb of what happens in each scene to the note card at the top right of the Scrivener screen. (If you’re working in word, you can add this info as a comment to the scene title.) I title each note card with the date, then put bullet points of what needs to happen, any snippets of dialogue I might have floating in my head, and notes to self of things I need to remember that might be happening off-page.

    You end up with something that looks like this:
    Plotting Post

  6. Write. I know. How dare I? But yes, now you have to actually write. You will discover things about your story and you can add more post-it notes or just jot down ideas into the Scrivener note cards, YMMV. But most importantly, just write. First drafts are for telling yourself the story. You won’t get it right the first time so go ahead and forgive yourself for that. And don’t forget to enjoy it. The world needs your stories.

How do you plot your stories? Or are you a panster? Any favorite functions in Scrivener that I’m woefully missing out on?

Cheers,
Erin

Bowlin’ (read: Ballin’)

!erin-eats

The fiance and I are forever on the quest to eat healthily yet deliciously. Like most young adults, we work a lot, not leaving much time for cooking, which is why eating out or grabbing some unhealthy fast food thing is so tempting. We recently got a charcoal grill and have been smoking chicken and steaks in large quantities to save for leftovers, and keeping quick sides around the house (i.e.: black beans, green beans, spaghetti squash, etc.).

This week, we wanted to switch it up and try making quinoa bowls! I cannot eat mass amounts of the same thing over and over, which is why I usually try to keep leftovers to a minimum. I wanted a few different bowl options with cross-utilization of ingredients as not to have too much food on hand.

Pesto Bowl:
– Homemade Pesto (finely minced basil, garlic, cashews, parmesan, basil evoo, garlic salt, freshly ground pepper)
– Baby Greens (baby spinach, kale, arugula, romaine) [superfood+veggie power]
– Avocado [healthy fat]
– Roasted Cauliflower [for veggie power]
– Egg [hey, protein]
– Quinoa, of course [starch+protein+hella amino acids]

Fiesta Bowl:
– Sauteed Onions & Bell Peppers [for veggie power]
– Baby Greens [superfood+veggie power]
– Pulled, smoked chicken [protein goodness]
– Homemade Pico de Gallo (tomato, onion, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno, s&p)
– Avocado [healthy fat]
– Black Beans [starch]
– Quinoa, of course [starch+protein+hella amino acids]

Summer Salad Bowl:
– Baby Greens [superfood+veggie power]
– Strawberries [fruit+vitamin goodness]
– Avocado [healthy fat]
– Cashews/Almonds [hella vitamins/minerals/antioxidents+quality protein+cronchy]
– Balsamic Vinegar [do it for the polyphenols, okay?]
– Quinoa, of course [starch+protein+hella amino acids]

To prepare for the week, I prepped all the ingredients ahead of time and stored them all separately so we can freestyle bowls as desired.

PREP IT UP:
– 1 cup quinoa yields about 4c quinoa. (TIP: Toast the quinoa in butter before cooking. I also used homemade veggie stock for flavor rather than just adding water. 2:1 liquid:quinoa is the magic ratio.)
– Pesto (The extra time allows the flavors to meld together and make it more yummy.)
– Salsa (See above.)
– Cook & Pull Chicken
– Dice Strawberries
– Julienne Onions & Peppers

As always, I don’t like to give measurements. I included my reasoning for the inclusion of each item in the bowl to show how to try and hit each food group and make a (mostly) balanced bowl. Add more or less according to your dietary needs. For example: the Fiesta bowl has two starches (beans and quinoa), just use less of each as not to make the bowl overly starchy.

Go forth and bowl out.

Cheers,
Erin

Looking Back

I’ve been posting gratuitously about #ThursdayAesthetic on here, but last week’s theme was a really cool learning experience for me. The theme was “past project”, and I decided to go all the way back to the first manuscript I ever completed: OF MONSTERS & WOMEN.

Now, this isn’t the first thing I ever wrote, and it’s best that my early days of Harry Potter fanfiction are lost to antiquated fan forums and dead hard drives, but finishing a full manuscript was a big hurdle for me. I started writing when I was around 13/14, and didn’t finish an entire story until I was 21.

I used to write out of order, simply writing whatever scenes I felt inspired to write. This ended up with a lot of half-finished stories, because once I ‘discovered’ the ending of a story, I didn’t have much motivation to go back and finish the journey. OM&W was the first story were I wrote chronologically, and I think that’s why I actually managed to finish. I’ve continued to write chronologically ever since.

Anyway, as prep for this week’s aesthetic challenge, I went back and revisited this manuscript. I braced myself for the worst, and surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Sure, there were lots of comma splices, run-on sentences, and paragraph-long dialogue tags. The fact that I could identfy these flaws, however, just shows how far I’ve come as writer since writing OM&W. The plot, however, was so much stronger than I remembered. The subplots were all necessary and subtly interwoven. There were far too many secondary characters, but I fell in love with the main characters all over again.

OF MONSTERS & WOMEN is about two girls:
Veronica: The dreamer. She hoped this was going to be a love story. Instead, she discovers she’s the last descendant in a long line of witches. As such, she is the only one who can break the curse placed on the pack of alpha wolves that now stalk her and her roommate.
Blake: The realist. With the werewolves go, hunters follow. Blake begins training with the hunters to protect herself and her roommate. When she stumbles upon lore of warrior women sworn to protect the witches, she realizes that her and Veronica’s fates might have been entwined all along–and it might be the very key to breaking the curse.
It’s a silly, tropey self-insert paranormal romance with more love insterests than you can shake a stick at, but it’s a fun read (if I may say so myself). I’d love to revisit/rewrite it one day and let these girls kick ass, take names, and get the guy in the end, too.

 

[AES] PAST PROJECT

top mid: veronica hale; bottom right: blake bennett

 

 

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HOW TO: Thursday Aesthetic

Since I began participating in #ThursdayAesthetic, the wonderfully fun Twitter hashtag started by @literarilyjess, I’ve seen multiple posts on how to create moodboards via apps, but none for Photoshop (which is what I prefer).  Here’s a brief overview of my process. Feel free to ask questions if you have any!

  1. First, create a new project, 500 x 500 pixels.
  2. Create your squares using the Rectangle Tool on the left sidebar. You’ll need nine squares at 166.67 x 166.67 pixels. (One will be slightly smaller because math.)
  3. Each square will be its own layer. I put my squares in order from top left all the way to bottom right, and I change the layer name from ‘Rectangle #’ to the coordinating position on the board (i.e. Top Left, Top Mid, Top Right, Mid Left, etc…)
  4. By double-clicking on the squares, alternate their colors like this:
    [AES] BLANK 9
    I’ve seen tutorials suggesting three base colors, but I work more easily with two and find that I end up with a cleaner end product.
  5. Search Pinterest, Tumblr, whatever photo source you like for your photos. I prefer Pinterest, and my friend Claire has a great color-coded aesthetic page that I use often.
    * Search tip: Add the word ‘aesthetic’ to your searches. I.E. if you’re making a green-themed Legolas moodboard just search “Legolas aesthetic” and “green aesthetic”
  6. Gather your photos and arrange/crop them into the squares! For easy cropping, I use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select the portion of the photo I want to use, right click on the selection > Layer Via Copy. Click the eye to make the original photo layer invisible. Or delete it. I tend to keep it until the very end so the original image is there if I need it.
  7. Once you have the nine photos you want, sharpen each one individually. I prefer the Smart Sharpen option.
  8. Don’t forget to color! There are lots of tutorials on this and I’m not the person to explain this, but it really helps bring your color scheme together.

Miscellaneous Tips:

  • I suggest gathering more than just nine photos because even though you’re going to find something AWESOME, it may not work with the set.
  • The color-coded blocks should be like-colored aesthetic photos. For me, the grey squares usually end up being photos with white backgrounds and the black squares end up being darker photos. I also try to pick one color that epitomizes the “mood” of the moodboard (get it?) and find photos that have that color. Not every square has to have it, but try to spread the photos with the color theme throughout the board.
  • Also, try to balance your photo choices. Space out your photos that are heavy on texture with minimalist ones. Text squares and pins/patches are great for de-cluttering your moodboard.
  • Have fun with it! When I get frustrated that a board isn’t turning out the way I want, just save it and come back later.

This week’s theme is “Beginnings”, so I’ll be back tomorrow with my board.

Cheers,
Erin Connor

currently writing 05.10.18

!CW

Again, this header is a lie. But I wanted to share this week’s #ThursdayAesthetic. The theme was ‘future project’. I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for years, and I’m still not entirely confident that it’s done brewing.

TOUCHED is a wlw romance that’s PLEASANTVILLE x THE GIVER.

The Continent is a hyper-conservative land where physical touch and magic have been banned. Calleigh is a magical land of sexual freedom and expression. The two lands have coexisted for years, but Calleigh fears that The Continent is no longer content to let them be, and will soon attempt to overtake them, squashing out the love and magic that makes Calleigh great. To preserve their way of life, Calleigh spies infiltrate The Continent, but even the best-laid plans can go sideways.

Billie, the daughter of two Calleigh spies, quickly falls in love with Shiloh, the daughter of The Continent’s president. And Shiloh, who has only known the bland, colorless life of The Continent, is completely enamored with Billie and the freedom Calleigh offers. If discovered, their love could spark the tension between their two worlds and be the end of Calleigh. So they must fight, both for themselves and for their countries.

[AES] TA WIP

currently writing 05.10.18

!CW

This header is a lie, I haven’t written anything lately. I was in Spain and Portugal for a week at the end of April and haven’t stopped working since I got back. May is always a crazy month for me-both work-wise and personally. However, I have a free day this weekend and am hoping to get back to work on DB’s sequel now that I got over the hump of rewriting that one scene three times haha.

It’s Thursday, which means #ThursdayAesthetic! I’m a week behind on posting so this was last week’s theme of ‘minor characters’. You hear enough about Alba, so here are my other three POV characters as well as a bonus fave side character:

 

[AES] TA MINOR-CORA

CORA 
-Lord of Tartarus, the Underworld’s prison realm
-Death’s Second in Command
-Demon Twin
-Disaster Gay
If you’re not sure if you’re terrified or turned on—don’t worry, that’s normal.

[AES] TA MINOR-DOM

DOM 
-Death’s Third in Command
-Demon Twin
-Prince of Hell
-God of Nightmares (dressed as a daydream)
Enjoys long walks through Hell, pushing everyone’s buttons, and always having the last word.

[AES] TA MINOR-BANE

BANE
-Emissary to the Realms
-Son of a witch (literally)
-Heir of Chaos
-Always Broody
-Concealing at least four weapons at all times
Hella bossy, lonely af, really needs a hug—and a way out of his blood oath to the gods.

 

 

[AES] TA MINOR-HARLOW

HARLOW 
-Love’s Second in Command
-Heir of Chaos & War
-Favorite Book: 174 Ways To Kill A Man
-Just wants to paint
“That’s why her hair’s so big, it’s full of secrets,” said by someone at some point, probably.

currently writing 04.19.18

!CW

Slowly but surely, DB’s sequel is now at 24,000 words! I had to rewrite a scene three times to finally get the right vibe and pacing, so hopefully, I can pick back up the pace again. The sequel has evolved a lot in this rewrite, and the subplots are much stronger for it, but I’m excited to get back to the core of the action in the coming scenes.

It’s Thursday, which means #ThursdayAesthetic!! aka my favorite writing twitter hashtag. This week’s theme was ‘antagonist’ to juxtapose last week’s theme of ‘protagonist’. I struggled with this one as I didn’t want to give away who my villain was, so I went with a broader theme, that of Alba vs. the gods. So, here’s an aesthetic for the gods, who are far too extravagant and very fond of golden decor, secrets, and getting away with murder.

[AES] TA VILLAIN CHALLENGE

!CW

DB’s sequel is currently at 20,000 words!! I actually had two full days off in a row and I wrote 12,500 words this past weekend, which is insane. I have a feeling this sequel is going to be a lot longer than anticipated, but it’s still the first draft. Either way, I’m excited! Anyways, #ThursdayAesthetic is now officially a *thing* on Twitter. This week’s theme was ‘Protagonist’, so here’s my Alba aesthetic.

[AES] TA MC CHALLENGE

!CL

Alisa sent me a Snapchat dancing to this in the car earlier today and I was immediately hooked. I live for songs that immediately pick up your anxiety and crappy mood and throw them straight out the window. Kehlani absolutely owns this song, sorry KYLE, this is Kehlani’s song now. Anyways, this is going to be stuck in your head for days and I won’t apologize. In fact, you’re welcome.

((Also, I have totally failed at weekly updates. I’m thinking I’m just going to post within my previously established “currently” categories whenever I have something I want to share. It’s be spontaneous, which is totally not me, so, we’ll see.))

!CW

I just hit 10,000 words on the sequel to Death Becoming! I had about 30,000 words written before deciding to scrap it all and start anew, given all the changes DB underwent in edits. I can’t begin to describe how good it feels to be writing new things again after nearly a year of edits. To celebrate, here’s a moodboard I made for the #ThursdayAesthetic challenge on Twitter.

[AES] CR