Book review: K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs

What Amazon says:

Have you written a story with an exciting concept and interesting characters—but it justcreatingcharacterarcs isn’t grabbing the attention of readers or agents? It’s time to look deeper into the story beats that create realistic and compelling character arcs. Internationally published, award-winning novelist K.M. Weiland shares her acclaimed method for achieving memorable and moving character arcs in every book you write.

By applying the foundation of the Three-Act Story Structure and then delving even deeper into the psychology of realistic and dynamic human change, Weiland offers a beat-by-beat checklist of character arc guidelines that flexes to fit any type of story.

This comprehensive book will teach you:

  • How to determine which arc—positive, negative, or flat—is right for your character.
  • Why you should NEVER pit plot against character. Instead, learn how to blend story structure and character development.
  • How to recognize and avoid the worst pitfalls of writing novels without character arcs.
  • How to hack the secret to using overarching character arcs to create amazing trilogies and series.
  • And much more!

Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

My thoughts:

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development is a fabulous writing craft book.

K.M. Weiland digs deep into the three types of character arcs and how they work with and influence story structure.

Then, she offers a few ideas on how to use character arcs in your main and supporting characters (and whether it’s worth making the assay with the latter instance), layering character arcs, how to use character arcs over series, and whether or not it’s possible to write a story without a character arc (*spoiler alert,* it is, but there are specific considerations the writer must address).

At the end of each chapter, Kate has a slew of helpful questions that will focus your new understanding of character arc and apply it to your current work in progress. As she has with Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Creating Character Arcs Workbook is in development 🙂

As with Kate’s other writing craft books, Creating Character Arcs emerged from a blog series on the same topic. Even if you’ve read/listened to the entire series, there’s something about having the reference at your fingertips.

This book works well in conjunction with the other Helping Writers Become Authors books and each builds on the others to form a rich body of writing craft knowledge.

For me, every story begins with the characters and they inform everything else. Creating Character Arcs will help you to connect the dots between your characters, their arcs, and your plot. Using Kate’s method, you can craft a tight, compelling story that works on multiple levels.

Every writer should own a copy.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the author:

kmweilandK.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

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Book review: K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel

So I lied. Again.

I thought I was going to proceed with my WorldCon reportage, but I realized I have a book review due (not this one, it’s yet to come). So I’ve decided to write two book reviews today, both for K.M. Weiland books 🙂

The reason for this is that I read Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs together. I would recommend the practice to anyone, because character arcs and story structure work with each other to deepen the writer’s understanding of story overall.

First up: Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story

What Amazon says:

structuringyournovel

Is Structure the Hidden Foundation of All Successful Stories?

Why do some stories work and others don’t? The answer is structure. In this IPPY and NIEA Award-winning guide from the author of the bestselling Outlining Your Novel, you will learn the universal underpinnings that guarantee powerful plot and character arcs. An understanding of proper story and scene structure will show you how to perfectly time your story’s major events and will provide you with an unerring standard against which to evaluate your novel’s pacing and progression.

Structuring Your Novel will show you:

  • How to determine the best techniques for empowering your unique and personal vision for your story.
  • How to identify common structural weaknesses and flip them around into stunning strengths.
  • How to eliminate saggy middles by discovering your “centerpiece.”
  • Why you should NEVER include conflict in every scene.
  • How to discover the questions you don’t want readers asking about your plot—and then how to get them to ask the right questions.

My thoughts:

I’ve been following K.M. Weiland’s blog and podcast for a number of years, since, in fact, she started her series on story structure.

Yes. Everything you will read in this book was originally on Kate’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, and you can easily access the whole series (because she’s so organized and so focused on her audience), but it’s so much more convenient to have a condensed, edited, and physical copy of the book, accessible to you at any time, so you can refer to it as you work on your story.

Kate has cracked the code of story structure for me. I’ve read a lot (a freaking lot) of writing craft books and methodologies and Kate’s is the only one that has enabled me to get inside my stories, even those that are already written.

Using Kate’s method, I can dissect my novel structurally and reassemble it in a better, more compelling form. I also use it when preparing for my annual #NaNoWriMo challenge, and when I think about outlining a new work in progress.

I’ve also read a number of her other books, both fiction and writing craft. Each work builds on the others and, because they’re all written in the same voice (excepting the fiction), it helps to form a cohesive body of knowledge that can be accessed and utilized as you need.

With respect to her fiction, you can see that she practices what she preaches. Kate doesn’t instruct from a “do as I say, not as I do” position. She’s field tested everything she presents. You can trust her. I do. Implicitly.

Kate is very much a writerly friend and mentor and this comes across in her authorial voice. She’s all about building writers up, not tearing them down.

Suffice it to say, I loved Structuring Your Novel, and I would recommend it to any writer at any stage of development.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!

About the author:

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary frienkmweilandds, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the portal fantasy Dreamlander, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Storming, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called Outlaw. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning blog http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

 

Exposing my essentials with the DIYMFA Launch Team

How’s that for a provocative title? As Geroge Takei would say, oh, myyyyyy!

So here was week 12’s prompt:

QOTW 12: What Are Your Essentials?

You don’t need to own every book in the world, but there are some essentials that every writer should have on his or her shelf. Today, I want to know: What are your essentials? What are your go-to “read like a writer” resources?

content_QOTW-12

Okay, and here I defect to another of my writerly mentors, K.M. Weiland. Kate wrote this post back in 2014: the ten commandments of reading like a writer. I’d start there. But then, I’d grab a paperback of Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics. You won’t really be able to get the most out of it with the ebook version.

Kate, in analysing and annotating Jane Eyre for WD, shows you how to read like a writer. And, she gives you worksheets and questions, and—well, let’s just say I learned a lot from this book 🙂 I reviewed it, too.

Another a-MA-zing (and yes, you heard the angels singing on that capitalized MA) resource is her Story Structure Database. In each entry, a different novel or movie is analyzed in terms of story structure. Most entries Kate writes herself, but some are submitted by readers. Treasure trove.

And that, my friends, is all you’ll ever need to help you dissect a story with your big, squishy, writer brain.

Essential writing craft books:

Anything by Donald Maass

Anything by Natalie Goldberg

Anything by Ursula K. Le Guin (she’s written a lot about writing—LURVE!)

All the Nail Your Novel books by Roz Morris

Outlining your Novel and Structuring your Novel, plus both workbooks by K.M. Weiland

Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers

Take Joy by Jane Yolen

On Writing by Stephen King

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

Self-editing for Writers by Browne and King

The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks

Adventures in the Screen Trade and What Lie did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman

Story by Robert McKee

I think I’d better stop there. I have to confess to being a writing craft book junkie. It’s half of my informal learning on the subject 🙂

As far as novels and stories that I read . . . egads, I have five shelves full in my office alone. You don’t want to know how many Rubbermaid tubs I have in my basement (cause I don’t have room for them anywhere else). And don’t get me started with ebooks.

In short, I read everything. Most of my reading will be in my chosen genre, but even so, I try to alternate YA and adult fantasy, and different sub-genres of fantasy. I read classics, historical fiction, the occasional mystery and even romance novels. I read literary novels, science fiction, and the occasional horror, though I can’t confess to loving that last. I read thrillers, though I don’t enjoy them as much as some of the other genres I read. I’ll read short stories, but again, they don’t tend to be my favourites, at least so far.

I try to learn something from everything I read.

I also do the nutty and read multiple books at once. I’ll even listen to them on Audible while I walk, or work at something non-noisy, like stripping and refinishing stuff. I usually have to pause for the sanding bits, though 😀

I can’t even list my favourite authors anymore without filling a page.

And since I read so much, I have to be selective about the books I review, because I’d really rather be working on my WIPs. You know, day job and all.

So that’s Mellie’s wild world of reading.

See y’all tomorrow! Have a lovely, warm summer night!

Crafting the contemporary genre novel with Jane Ann McLachlan

It’s been a busy weekend for Jane Ann.

After a reading and book signing in southern Ontario Friday night, Jane Ann drove up to Sudbury for a book signing at Chapters.

I went out to visit her, say hi, and meet her daughter, Amanda.

Attracting a new reader

Of course, I have to buy some books as well <chagrin face>.

Jane Ann did well signing and selling 11 copies of The Occasional Diamond Thief, and practicing her schmooze 🙂

Today, she delivered a workshop on crafting the contemporary genre novel.

She started off with some resources.

Her top five blogs for writers:

Her top five writing craft books:

Her top five pieces of advice for beginning writers:

  1. Try writing poetry as well as prose,
  2. Read across genres and analyse what you read (the same goes for movies),
  3. Learn grammar and spelling; these are the tools of your trade,
  4. Join a critique group, and
  5. Think beyond the cliché.

Then, she asked us to provide the top five elements of a good story:

  • Conflict
  • Character
  • Goals
  • Stakes
  • Difficult obstacles

Then, Jane Ann discussed the story idea, which must contain,

  1. a universal theme
  2. an inherent conflict
  3. a perennial premise, which you have twisted to make it unique to your story
  4. gut-level emotional appeal

It should be stated in the following form: What if (protagonist) in (setting/situation) had (problem)?

The discussion progressed to world building and the inevitable research that must take place to make the story world believable, even if the setting is contemporary.

The caveat is that, having done all this research, the writer must then resist the temptation to display all this knowledge in the text of the novel. It’s called info-dumping.

Every story has to have compelling characters who have strong, clear wants and desires. We did another writing exercise, in which we defined our protagonists. Jane Ann advised that this process should be repeated with each of the main characters in the novel, including the antagonist.

We then looked at point of view (POV) and tense, and the considerations writers need to take into account when deciding whether their stories should be told in first person, present tense, as many young adult novels are written, or in deep third person, past, as many adult novels are written.

There was another exercise in identifying lapses in POV that was quite interesting.

Finally, Jane Ann shared with us her outline for novel writing, as well as a couple of other templates that could be used. She confessed to being on the pantsing side of writing, but that she’s never started writing a novel unless she had a clear idea of what the main plot points were.

At the workshop

Then, there was a drawing for two bottles of The Occasional Diamond Thief wine, books were bought, and a brief Q&A ensued where other issues were discussed as time allowed.

Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in the activities and making notes . . . I forgot to take more pictures 😦

Overall, it was a great afternoon, but I think Jane Ann will be happy to get home and put her feet up 🙂 She’s one busy writer, promoting the heck out of her novel.

Review of Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics by K.M. Weiland

I read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for the first time when I was in high school. At the time, though I enjoyed it, I wasn’t yet reading with the critical mind of an author. I wasn’t reading for craft.

The second time I encountered Jane Eyre, I was in university and, having read it before, it was one of the books I set aside from my massive stack of reading. I managed well enough in the course and placed the book on my shelf.

Years later, I read the book a second time. Though I was a writer, and published, it was as a poet, and again, I read for enjoyment rather than for craft.

Now, I read for craft and I find I mentally dissect books as I read them. I don’t mind knowing the ending, and in fact, I often flip forward in a book. Rather than spoil the reading experience, knowing the climax allows me to see more clearly where the author has foreshadowed events.

I can see the structure of a novel like a glowing thread. Here is the hook, the inciting incident, the first major plot point. Reading for craft is more enjoyable for me than reading for pleasure.

It’s like daily writing practice. Once you start down the path, it’s hard to stop, and, after a while, you no longer want to.

K.M. Weiland and her blog, Helping writers become authors, have been instrumental in my development as a reading writer.

You could say I’m a groupie, if there is such a thing. It’s a bit more than being a fan. I share nearly all of Katie’s posts. I want all my writer friends to benefit from her insight and technique.

So, of course, when Katie emailed me and asked if I would mind reading and reviewing her upcoming book, Jane Eyre, annotated with an eye to technique I instantly agreed.

Onto the review . . .


 

What Amazon says:

AnnJaneEyreCover

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will…”

One of the most sweeping and enduring novels in English literature, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has become a beloved classic and a must-read for fans of period romance. Filled with memorable characters, witty dialogue, emotional scenes, social commentary, and intriguing twists, Brontë’s novel, written in 1847, still has much to teach writers about crafting exceptional stories.

As part of the Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics series, this edition of Jane Eyre features hundreds of insightful annotations from writing instructor and author K.M. Weiland. Explore the craft and technique of Jane Eyre through the lens of a writer, and learn why and how Brontë made the choices she did while writing her iconic novel. The techniques learned from the annotations and accompanying study guide will aid in the crafting of your own celebrated works of fiction.

My thoughts:

I’ve read Jane Eyre a couple of times, once in high school and once in university, but I’ve never read it as a writer.

Weiland’s annotations were an eye-opener.

Initially, I considered a couple of what I saw as lapses on Weiland’s part to be creative or editorial decisions, and there is an element of that present. What I was amazed to discover is that Weiland’s annotative decisions are artful, or perhaps I should say crafty, in a way I never expected.

Very quickly, her annotations have the effect of tuning the reading writer’s eye to Brontë’s creativity and craft. The reader begins to pick out additional examples of the same techniques as they occur, and may even, as I did, page back through the book to see where Brontë employed the same technique in the past and to what effect.

Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics is not only a writing craft book, but an instructional manual on how to read critically, as a writer.

Under Weiland’s ever-gentle guidance, the reading writer learns that analyzing a text for craft does not have to be a negative experience nor even an academic one.

Those of us who suffered through textual dissection in university will be grateful to Weiland for showing us, in the best authorial sense, that analysis can be fun, and even exciting, as our minds race back to our own works-in-progress to apply lessons learned.

On that subject, the worksheets in the back are, in my opinion, worth the price of the book. Covering setting, character development, structure, indeed, every aspect of writing a novel, Weiland asks questions, assigns tasks, and refers back to Brontë’s work if we need a little help figuring out how to apply the technique in our writing.

This is a top-notch writing craft book and a spectacular start to a new series for Writer’s Digest. Diana Gabaldon’s introduction doesn’t hurt either 😉

My highest recommendation.

My rating:

Five out of five stars.

About the Author:

KMWeilandLooking-Back

K.M. Weiland is the internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the western A Man Called Outlaw, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the fantasy Dreamlander. When she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors through her award-winning blog HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.

Book review of Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris

Once again, this is a bit overdue. I finished reading the first of Roz’s NYN series last month, but my crazy life has run away with me again. I’ve had to pick and choose what I’m posting about.

First, a word about what’s coming up next weekend and how you can take part

Next weekend, on May 3, 2014, the Google Plus community @M2the5th will be holding its second online writing workshop with Roz. We’ll be starting out on Twitter with a Tweet chat and then moving to a Google Plus video call.

I posted previously on starting out with Tweet chats, for those who need a primer.

I’m not an expert with Google Plus video calls yet, but if you have a laptop with a camera and mic built in, or a desktop with an inexpensive camera and mic (I have a combo unit from Microsoft that works wonderfully) and a GooglePlus account, you can join in the fun.

All you have to do in Google Plus to prepare is download the hangout application, which doesn’t take long (depending on your connection speed). I like Google Plus for this kind of thing, because it’s user friendly and fairly intuitive. You don’t have to jump through a bunch of technical hoops to get started.

So if you want to take part, forward your name to either Lori Sailiata, or Amy Pabalan in the Twitter chat. One of them will be wrangling the hangout crowd and sending out invitations to join. Once you’ve received your invitation, simply accept, and your video feed should show up in the filmstrip section at the bottom of the hangout window.

Roz reports that she’s had to use Chrome as her browser for the best result, but I’m using Firefox and I haven’t had any difficulties yet. *seeks wood upon which to knock*

The review

What Amazon says:

Nail Your NovelNail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

‘This book should be used as a text in writing courses’

‘There are shedloads of books on how to write novels, and a lot of them are longer and considerably less useful’

‘I wish I’d had this book a long time ago’

‘The author has a proven track record as a writer of fiction, as opposed to writers of “how to write” books’

Are you writing a novel? Do you want to make sure you finish? Will you get lost and fizzle out? Will you spend more time reading about how to write than actually getting the words down?

Most books on novel-writing will make you read hundreds of pages about character arcs, inciting incidents, heroes’ journeys. It’s great to know that – but while you’re reading about it you’re not writing your book.

And what these books don’t tell you is how to use this learning and get the job done.

Nail Your Novel is a writing buddy – and mentor – in a book.

In 10 easy steps it will tell you:
*how to shape your big idea and make a novel out of it
*how to do your research and how to use it
*how to organise your time.
*how to plot and build characters
*when you’re going to hit problems and what to do about them
*how to write on the days you don’t feel inspired
*how to reread what you’ve written and polish it.

Along the way, Thumbnail Notes give tutorials about storytelling and storycraft – strictly when you need them. The author has written nearly a dozen novels that have made it into print – and this is how she did it.

You don’t even need to read the whole book before you get started. You read a section, then do as it says. And, once you’re finally satisfied, Nail Your Novel will tell you how to sell it to publishers and agents.

You’ve dreamed of writing a novel. Don’t procrastinate with another theory book. Don’t launch in, get stuck and throw your hard work in a drawer. Nail your novel.

My thoughts:

I’ve been reading writing craft books for years. In fact, one could say that I’m a writing craft book junkie. Yes, the support group will be starting shortly.

My approach in reading these books is to adopt those parts of the writer’s process that make sense to me and my ever-evolving process. I cherry pick, experiment, and incorporate as appropriate.

I would characterize Roz’s approach as organic, that is, her plotting activities arise naturally from the journaling, research, and gestation that most writers will normally engage in as a preparation to actual writing.

Her version of plotting will appeal to the avid pantser and her “gamification,” albeit non-technological, of structuring and plot-fixing activities will motivate even the most spreadsheet-phobic of writers. Having said that, plotting-oriented, or technophile writers will also find lots of tips and tricks to adapt for their use.

The techniques in Nail Your Novel can be used not only from the inception of your novel, but the writer can also engage in the process at later stages of novel writing. Having entered into Roz’s methodology with already drafted novels, I’m working through her beat sheet activity, adapting it to my own use as I prepare for future revision.

Roz even has activities to prepare the writer for querying or self-publication, whichever path the author chooses to pursue.

I’ve also felt validated in several instances as bits and pieces of my existing process appear in slightly different forms throughout Nail Your Novel.

For all the excellent content, Nail Your Novel is also a relatively quick read, well-organized, and easy to understand. Roz gets right to the heart of the matter and encourages reading writers to get their hands dirty, metaphorically speaking.

Her writing style embodies what she asks writers to strive for: clear, informative, and entertaining. Roz doesn’t waste a word.

Roz’s book receives my highest recommendation. It’s on my virtual writer’s shelf beside Ursula K. LeGuin’s, Jane Yolen’s, Donald Maass’s, and K.M. Weiland’s craft writing books and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it often.

My rating:

5 out of 5 stars.

About the author:Roz Morris

Roz Morris has nearly two decades of experience writing novels and helping floundering authors find their way. She is a senior book doctor for a major literary consultancy in London, writes fiction under her own name and has ghostwritten bestselling fiction for high-profile writers with major publishers, including Random House, Puffin, and Mammoth.