Tag Archives: Magic Spreadsheet

Planning Problems

Some of you might be wondering if this blog is about running into problems while planning for my new book, or whether it is about planning the problems that my characters will be running into. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a difference.

First off, let me say that I am disappointed in all of you for not leaving a comment on last week’s post. I was looking for some feedback on my story outline because I am suffering from low self-esteem and kind of think that it might suck. I don’t want to write something that sucks. I want to write something special that people will appreciate and enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the story idea I had is fairly tenable, but I also believe that it could be better. Possibly a lot better. But I’m having trouble figuring out how to fill in the holes and kick it up a notch. So if any of you have any ideas you would like to share with me, please do so ASAP. Thanks.

All right, now that I have that off my chest, let’s get on to where I am in my plans.

I actually haven’t gotten much more done since last week. I tried plotting out the individual scenes that I want to include in the different parts of my book, using a three act structure, but my inspiration ran into a wall as I neared the midpoint and I couldn’t work out what happened next. I’ve got an idea of what is supposed to happen at the midpoint, as well as the ending, but I’m starting to think that that is where my plot falls apart and starts to suck, so I’m having trouble working out the scenes for it.

So instead of planning scenes for the last half of the book, I started writing the first scene. I figured that doing some actual writing might give me some inspiration for filling in the holes in the outline. I’m not sure if it worked, but I did manage to get some words on the page, which led me to working out some of the character details for some of the other people in the story.

The first scene was supposed to be similar to the scene in the Lethal Weapon movie, where Martin Riggs takes out his pistol and considers eating a bullet. I wanted that pain to be one of the first things you see about my hero. But I also wanted there to be some background to it, so I thought I would start with a nightmare that triggered those suicidal thoughts. The nightmare turned into my first scene, and the gun was the second scene. I also decided to watch the movie again to get a better idea of how to write a scene like that, as well as for inspiration about how the loss of a loved one could trigger that kind of death wish. Seeing the film again really helped, and I have a bit of editing to do to tighten up that scene and make it hit even harder. It also made me wonder whether or not I should cut out the nightmare sequence, or at least move it to later in the book. Maybe less is more, and would help make the readers more likely to keep reading so they can find out why he is thinking of killing himself.

As I mentioned, another thing that came out of writing those scenes was the need to fill in some more character details. For instance, I had to come up with a name for Alexander’s dead wife. Once I had that, I filled in some of her history and personality, to help define why he was so in love with her that he can barely manage to function now that she is gone. Once that was done, I also worked out some of the details of the young mother that is going to come into his life now. I decided that one of the reasons that he decides he has to help her is because she reminds him of his dead wife. Not necessarily physically, but in her personality and the way she confronts him. She is the daughter he could have had “if only….”

I expect I’ll keep writing and planning together for a while, filling in the holes and working out the details. But I’m probably not going to be writing every day. I broke my 227 day writing streak on Friday, and I didn’t write anything yesterday either. But this year isn’t going to be focused on how many words I write every day(Sorry, Magic Spreadsheet!), just at writing the best book I possibly can.

We’ll see how it goes, and you can keep up with the word count of my manuscript by following my word count meter here. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week for another update. See you then!

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Running Out of Steam

I have to say that after a year of writing short stories I am finding it a little hard to find inspiration. I have covered so many different things over the last fifty weeks that finding something new to write is becoming an issue.

Or maybe the problem is just that I am getting tired of doing this over and over again.

Last week’s story was about a party hosted by social vampires. They enticed people into their lair and drained them dry, making them pay for food and drinks and subjecting them to all sorts of depravities, leaving them broke and broken and willing to do anything to get back in. It actually wasn’t much of a story, more of a lecture about how the party started and one man’s efforts to fight back by using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to warn people to stay away. But it could be an interesting premise to write an actual story about. All I would have to do is find the right characters to write about and put them in the thick of things.

I think that maybe this week I’ll take my inspiration from Twitter. I can read a bunch of posts and see if I can find something that inspires me with a “what if?” thought. Otherwise I have no idea what I will be writing this week.

As the year of the Dirty Little Freaks winds down, however, my mind is pushing ahead to next year. Although I hit 200 days on my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet, I think I’m going to stop using it next year. I’ve done what I needed to do and I really don’t have any more to prove. I just want to focus on writing a good novel next year, which means planning it out so that it will be the best story I can write. No more freestyle writing where I have no idea what is going to come out of my mind and onto the page. No more discovering the story as I write it. I want to know what the story is about ahead of time in order to decide whether or not it is worth writing in the first place.

I also want to get some reading done. I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading this last year, and I have an awful lot of books on my shelves that are gathering dust, and I haven’t even cracked their covers yet. I’m talking physical books here, not e-books. Don’t even ask about how many unread books are on my Kindle. It’s obscene.

That’s about it for this week. As always, I’ll fill you in next Sunday on my latest story. And if I’m lucky I’ll have found the inspiration for next year’s novel. See you then!

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The Treaty

Last week my story was about a man trying to work out a treaty between the normal world and the supernatural one. The ongoing war between the humans and the monsters was a nasty business and humanity was losing. But there were some in the supernatural community that only wanted to be recognized with the same rights and privileges as the human citizens, and since they were backed by some pretty powerful creatures our hero was willing to go along with it. This theme was probably inspired by the civil rights issues that our country has been struggling with in recent months, and when it popped out onto the page I decided it was worth following. While I might be a straight, married, middle-aged white male, that doesn’t mean that I can’t support the rights of EVERYONE to have the same privileges I enjoy. I am a firm believer in non-discrimination. I voted for Obama twice and right now my car is sporting an “I’m ready for Hillary” bumper sticker.

Unfortunately, the story was actually pretty rambling and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s another case of a seed of an idea that needs time to grow and be redone in the future. Maybe I’ll work it into something else someday. At the end of the story (or scene, really) our hero is left alone with the queen of the fae, who wants to seal the deal with sex. But since he has heard stories about mortals losing their minds after sleeping with her he tries to get out of it by saying she can only have him if they get married first. He never expected her to accept.

This week’s story is supposed to be a Halloween-themed horror story. I had an idea for it yesterday, but didn’t write it down right away so most of it slipped away. I think it was something about an ordinary man being targeted by a body-stealing immortal spirit. So far my beginning has this ordinary guy (yes, the word ordinary is being overused, but it’s on purpose) meeting a very extraordinarily beautiful woman. I think she is going to be the one that initiates the process that will lead to his downfall, but I haven’t quite worked out how yet. I guess we’ll find out by the end of the week.

In other news, I hit a milestone of 150 days on my writing chain for the Magic Spreadsheet last week. I’m still going strong, but I have to say I’m getting a little tired of forcing myself to write every single day. Which is probably one of the reasons I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Another reason is that I don’t really have a project to work on. While I could continue to write my short stories and count those toward the NaNoWriMo goals, I have only been writing 400 words a day and I still remember how difficult it was over the last three years to get those 1667 words per day in for the month of November. Maybe I’ll participate next year.

That’s about it for today. If the goblins don’t get me I’ll be back again next week for another update. Have a safe and happy Halloween, and keep writing!

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Three for One

This week was a little rough for me, writing wise. I actually finished the story for this week on Sunday, the first day of the week. It was only 800 words, and it was about a girl who was locked in an asylum because she tried to kill herself. Her reason was because she thought she had been impregnated by aliens and she was doing it to save the world. After a while she started to think that maybe the doctors were right, and that she was delusional. Of course, the way my mind works I couldn’t leave it that way. The last sentence of the story is “And then the baby kicked.”

On Monday, I finished editing the fairy story I was working on last week, but in the end I decided I didn’t want to submit it. I’m just not happy with the results, and I think it is going to need a lot more time and rewrites than I can give it before the end of the month. So I returned it to the back burner and we’ll let it simmer a while longer.

Since I finished the editing, I had to figure out what to do next. What I decided was that I would just go ahead and start another story. About a slice of cheese rotting on the sidewalk. That one was finished on Thursday. Friday and Saturday I worked on yet another story, about a woman who goes up and down the street collecting aluminum cans from the trash bins in order to buy toys for the little kids in the neighborhood.

So there you have it. Three stories in one week. I won’t say that any of them are any good, but at least I kept writing. I’ve still got my chain going on the Magic Spreadsheet, even though I haven’t been able to write the full 400 words per day for Friday and Saturday. I did, however, manage to write at least 250, which is all that the spreadsheet requires.

I’m not sure what I’m going to write this week, but I had a thought about an opening line last week and I might just try it. “The only thing better than sex is dirty sex.” What do you think? I’ll be back next week to let you know how it went.

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Ahead of Schedule

As you might have guessed from the title of today’s post, I finished this week’s story early. It was about a man who was cursed to be homeless and destitute until he found someone else who was just as greedy and uncaring as he was. I actually wrapped it up on Thursday, which meant I had two whole days to use on something else.

The problem was that I wasn’t sure what I should work on. I knew I needed to work on something so I could keep my chain going on the Magic Spreadsheet (over 100 days now!), but I didn’t want to start a new story early.

A while ago, one of my writer friends told me about a possible home for story 26, which had to do with a kid going exploring in the woods and ending up in the hands of the fairies. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try submitting the story to them, because they won’t pay for the story, but since I had a couple of days free I thought maybe I could start editing it, just on case.

The problem that then came up was how do I track my words for the Spreadsheet when a lot of what I am doing is cutting words out instead of adding them? On Friday, I started working without really thinking about it, and I added a bunch of words and then cut out a lot more before I counted the ones I had added. I ended up with 419 words less than I had started with, which was the number I used on the Spreadsheet.

Yesterday I was a little more careful. Instead of cutting the words as I went, instead I blacked them out until I was done. I then was able to keep an accurate count of the words I added (483) before I started deleting.

I’ve still got plenty of editing to do on the story, but now it’s time to start a new one. I might keep working on the edits if I have the energy, but I’m not really worried about it. If I don’t make the September 30 deadline for submissions it won’t be the end of the world.

That’s all I have for today. I’ll be back next week with another update.

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Level Four

I think I’ll just make this a quick post today.

The highlights of my last week:

I hit Level Four on the Magic Spreadsheet this week. My daily word count is now a minimum of 400 words.

Story 35 is done. It’s about a man who wakes up in the middle of a lake. He is rescued by what is essentially a Valkyrie, a beautiful warrior maiden riding a flying horse. She takes him back to his village, where he discovers he seems to be the one named as savior in an ancient prophecy. The story is actually more of a beginning than a complete tale, but it does the trick. I’ll probably expand on it later when I figure out more about the prophecy and what he will need to do to fulfill his destiny.

I have been watching a lot of superhero animated movies lately. No particular reason for it. I guess I just thought I needed something light, with a dash of awesome. Netflix has a pretty good selection.

That’s about it. I’ll see you next week to let you know about Dirty Little Freaks 36.

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Too Much Story

This week I had the problem of having too much story for my goal. I am only writing short stories right now, and it didn’t take me very long to figure out that the story I had started was not something that could be told that quickly.

I started by showing my main character standing at the sink and thinking about everything that had just happened to him. I spent a few paragraphs talking about how there are secret things lurking just beneath the surface, and how at any minute they can pop up and ruin your life.

And that’s when I made the big mistake. I wrote the following sentence:

My house was a wreck, my car was in the police impound lot, my wife had taken the kids to stay with her sister, and my dog was missing.

So now I had to write a story which covered all of those things. A SHORT story.

Did I pull it off? Not so much.

While I did end up with a story that had at least mentioned all of those things, I actually never got around to wrapping things up into a full circle. The story kind of works, but it really needs to be a LOT longer.

I’m going to count it as done, even though it sucks. Like I said, I did get at least something in there for everything I had mentioned in that sentence. And the last sentence of the story provides a nice ending point. I could certainly do a lot more with it, and the situation brought up in the opening paragraph is totally left hanging, but that part could simply be removed in edits. Or, I could take what I have as a starting point and blow it up into a complete novel. I’m really tempted to do that, possibly for NaNoWriMo.

In other news, I’m still going strong on both the Magic Spreadsheet (82 days in my chain), and on DuoLingo (33 days in a row). I still only know 165 words of Spanish, but at least I am continuing to practice, and hopefully some of it is sinking in.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back next week to fill you in on yet another story in the growing Dirty Little Freaks anthology. See you then!

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A Man and His Dog

Once again I started a story with no real idea where it was going. I began by describing an ugly dog. A mutt whose better days were all behind him. And then I decided that my hero was the human equivalent. A bum who lived out of trash cans, but still had a code of honor.

The story was nothing special at first. I just told how he rolled into town and found a meal in exchange for doing some odd jobs for a widow. But I couldn’t leave it there. Our hero got jumped by an overprotective neighbor and the dog protected him. Together they made their escape, and that was the start of their friendship.

Again, this is a story that will probably need a lot of editing before it becomes what it should be. I think I need to amp up the dog’s part in the story building up to the fight. I might want to bring in the attacker a little earlier in order to foreshadow the conflict and increase the tension.

But at least the bones of the story are there. And I practiced using description, which is something I have struggled with. My writing tends to be a little on the bland side, and I am trying to work on that.

In other news, my Magic Spreadsheet chain is still going strong, and I am still using DuoLingo on a daily basis. I’m not adding new words very quickly, but I’m getting a lot of practice with the ones I already know.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back next week to tell you about Story #32. I wonder what it will be?

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So Much For That Idea

Last week I posted about being a prisoner to the daily word count of the Magic Spreadsheet.

Okay, not really, but it sort of fits. The story was about a prisoner, and after I talked about that, I mentioned how I was going to stop writing to fit the word count and just write to fit the story. I said that it would be okay if I wrote a shorter story and then I could spend the rest of the week getting my word count by either editing or adding to one of my previous novels.

It didn’t work.

My story this week took me the whole week to write, primarily because I really didn’t know where I was going with it until the end. It opened with a man standing guard over a survivor’s camp after the zombie apocalypse. Before you start drooling over brains, and imagining someone’s guts being torn out and passed around like extra-large kielbasa, let me set you straight. There was absolutely no violence in this story.

Instead, it was an in-between scene. It was entirely about the character and his priorities. There was some dialogue in it as he interacted with some of the other people in his life, but absolutely no head shots. For most of the week, though, I was trying to figure out how to bring in the zombies, and why. It wasn’t until the end that I realized what was going on, and was able to wrap up the tale with a satisfying ending.

Don’t get me wrong. It still sucks. But at least I have something that might be either salvageable with a lot of editing, or that can be either the basis for a longer story or at the very least a scene or two for a novel.

If nothing else, it was good practice, which is primarily what this whole year-long project is about.

Speaking of projects, I recently started a project to re-learn Spanish. I had a couple of years of classes in high school (25 years ago!), but most of that is long gone by now. A couple of my friends clued me in to an app called DuoLingo (duolingo.com) that is completely free, and lets me learn at my own pace. It is built like a game, and you earn points for every time you practice. The learning modules are built into a multiple tier structure, where you unlock the next tier as you complete the prior one. Each lesson consists of about twenty questions, and you get three wrong answers, or hearts (like lives on a video game), before you have to start over. You get ten points for completing the lesson, with one bonus point for each heart you have left at the end.

You can also link to Facebook and compete with your friends. I’ve got three friends on it now, but I would love it if any of my loyal fans want to join me in this. I’m currently in the lead on points with my friends, but only after a long struggle to catch up. Also, even though I am ahead on points, she has learned more than double the amount of words that I have.

I haven’t mentioned that yet, have I? One of the best things I like about this app is that I don’t have to do a lesson every time. Instead of pushing onward, I can earn the same number of points simply by practicing what I have already learned. And believe me, that is a lifesaver! If anything is going to let me be successful at this, it is that. I realized after only a few days that I wasn’t going to be able to keep all of those new words in my head without a whole lot of practice drills. So now, most of my time is spent practicing, and I only attempt a new lesson once every day or two.

The languages available on the app are Spanish, German, Italian, French, and Portuguese. The app is available online at duolingo.com, or for iOS and Android. If you are doing it online you should have a microphone available, as part of the lesson is repeating the words out loud, so you can practice pronunciation. I am learning Spanish, primarily on my iPod Touch. You need a network connection to practice, and to compete, but not for the lessons.

That’s about enough for today. I hope at least some of you give DuoLingo a try. I love it, and it’s free, so you can’t beat the price. But for now, I’ve got to start writing my next story.

See you next week!

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The Prisoner

Last week’s story was different. At least for me.

I decided that I would write a story about a girl who was being held captive in a remote house. She never saw her guards, but she got fresh food on a regular basis and a daily assignment to keep her occupied. Other than the fact that there was no way to leave, it was a pretty comfortable prison.

But it was still a prison, and she missed having contact with other people. Especially her boyfriend. And after getting an assignment to write his obituary, she decided she couldn’t stick around any more and planned an escape. The story ends on the night that she makes her attempt, and, of course, that’s when something new popped into my head which turned the entire story on it’s head.

I realized that maybe the reason there weren’t any other people around was that there weren’t any other people. Maybe she wasn’t being held prisoner, but instead was being kept, like a zoo might do with endangered species. She might have been the last person left alive, and either machines were caring for her, or she had been taken to an alien zoo. I left the question hanging at the end, but I am thinking that when I edit this story I will need to work hints of it into the earlier parts so it doesn’t hit the reader completely out of the blue.

A big thing that made this story different for me was that I wrote it as a series of diary entries. I’m still using the Magic Spreadsheet (over 50 days in my chain now) and I figured that it would be easy to write one entry per day, which it was. There were a few days when I cut the entry short, but I tried to work it into the story in such a way that it seemed like a natural stopping point. But something that came out of that experience was that now I am considering writing something shorter for this week.

You see, by using the Magic Spreadsheet, I am making myself write at least 300 words a day. And since I am writing one story a week, that means that each story has to be at least 2,100 words. The final word count is actually more like 2,500. Before the Spreadsheet, I had some stories that were as short as 500 words, and quite a few that were less than 2,000.

I know that when I started using the Spreadsheet I knew that this was going to be an issue. At that time I had said that if I wrote a shorter story I would get my words in by either adding to or editing some of my older work. I think I’m ready to do that now.

This week, I’m going to write whatever comes to mind for my story, and if it is short, for the rest of the week I’ll work on something else. Maybe I’ll continue last year’s NaNoWriMo story, which wasn’t actually finished, even though I hit the word count goal. It has been a while though, so first I’ll have to read through it to remind myself what I was doing.

Or maybe I’ll start editing the YA superhero story I was working on last summer. I finished it before NaNoWriMo, but it’s just a first draft and maybe it’s time to start edits. I just finished reading EX-Heroes, by Peter Clines, so my mind is kind of in that mood anyway. If you haven’t heard of EX-Heroes, it’s something along the order of the Avengers meets the Walking Dead, and it’s pretty awesome. there are several other books in the series, and they have been added to my to-read list.

So that’s my update for the week. I’ll be back next Sunday to let you know how it went. See you then!

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