Month: September 2015

How to Weave Plot Threads Without Going Insane

Recently, I’ve had to face the cold, hard fact that I do not write simple plots. Very “not simple” plots, though I will stop short of calling them complicated. In coming to terms with this, my first instinct is to get very, very nervous, as in: how in the hell am I going to weave all these plotlines together into a cohesive story? Sure, the plot makes sense in my head, but piecing it all together on the page is another matter entirely.

So how do I avoid getting tangled up in plot threads?  Since I don’t personally know any professional writers To ask, I turned to my good friend Google for advice.

One of the first things that pops up is “Calendaring Your Story,” an article by writer Mindy Obenhaus. One of the things she says that really pops out at me is that she is “a visual person, not to mention somewhat detail-oriented.” That’s me, too. I am most comfortable processing information visually, so when it comes to plotting a novel, it makes sense to create a visual representation of my plotlines, a timeline that shows all the major plotlines side by side.

But how?

Obenhaus apparently uses a calendar, a large, desk-sized one. Other writers create Word tables or Excel spreadsheets. Still others use flashcards, a different color for each plot thread. And there are surely plenty of other methods crafty writers have come up with for calendaring their plotlines. (If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to comment.)

Then I remembered that at a company I once worked for we entered departmental events into an online calendar, with each department displayed in a different color, a multi-person event calendar, something like this:

Maybe this could work for calendaring plotlines, thought I.

So I tried it.

  • First, I found a decent online multi-person calendar at TeamUp.com, a free version that allows you to calendar up to ten different people/plotlines.
  • Then I got to have fun deciding which color best represented each of my major characters/plotlines.
  • After that, I started entering major plot points and, right away, the process got me thinking about my novel in new ways. For instance, I realized that my original plan didn’t logically allow enough time between a couple of key events.

Now the “heavy lifting” begins. I’ll need to really think about each major milestone and decide precisely when it should occur so I can put it on a calendar. I KNOW (as hard as I try to resist this) that calendaring my plot lines will make me much less confused than I was with my first two novels. As convoluted as those first drafts were, I’m thinking surely this will be an improvement.

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40+ Time Travel Movies

Redemption, magic, nostalgia, revelation, danger – what’s not to love about time travel movies? If you’re a time travel movie buff like me, you’ll probably enjoy this list of 40+ time travel movies and maybe agree or strongly disagree with their rankings. Most of these films feature characters who slip through time on some sort of cosmic magic (rather than building their own Wellesian time machines), so a more accurate term for them would be “time slip” or “time loop” movie. Enjoy! And please let me know if there are any other great time travel movies I should add to the list. 

1. Groundhog Day – A masterpiece. Harold Ramis and Bill Murray achieve the perfect balance of comedy and drama.

2. 12 Monkeys – The concept, look, and acting are brilliant. In true Terry Gilliam fashion, this is a one-of-a-kind film. Also made into a 2015 Syfy series.

3. Terminator 1 – Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese might just have my vote for all-time favorite movie romance.

4. Donnie Darko – A masterfully dark film with brilliant acting. Real-life siblings Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal play siblings in the film.

5. 13 Going on 30 – Pure fun. Love the ‘80s references and the magic.

6. Somewhere in Time – Heartbreakingly lovely film score and perfect location: the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Before she got into selling heart necklaces, Jane Seymour was a stunning and talented actress, at her most exquisite in this film. I would have gone back in time for Elise McKenna, too.

7. Source Code – Exciting, surprising, with first-rate acting.

8. 9 Times – I’ll admit I cheated with this one since 9 Times is actually a Korean miniseries, but I love it so much I had to include it.

9. Butterfly Effect – Dark, intriguing, underrated. 113 minutes of screen time with Ashton Kutcher is never a bad thing.

10. Fetching Cody – Indie, quirky, loved it.

11. The Family Man – A lot of heart, excellent redemption movie.

12. Back to the Future – Classic fun.

13. About Time – Sweet, romantic, totally worth watching. Domhall Gleeson is the perfect everyman.

14. Idiocracy – Great commentary on reality TV society.

15. Looper – Big budget, compelling.  Some sci-fi purists are put off by how this movie breaks time travel rules, but I was happy to suspend disbelief, especially since I’m a big fan of Emily Blunt’s. Incidentally, three movies on this list star Emily Blunt — maybe she likes time travel movies, too.

16. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Well shot and romantic, but couldn’t live up to the beautiful book by Audrey Niffenegger.

17. The Edge of Tomorrow – An exciting film that would have been much better with a different actor in the lead role.

18. Peggy Sue Got Married – Cute, worth watching

19. It’s a Wonderful Life – A classic and the only black and white movie on this list.

20. Hot Tub Time Machine – I’m not too proud to say I like silly movies, especially when they involve time travel.

21. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – A classic romp and actually kind of educational.

21a. Happy Accidents. Marissa Tomei.

22. The Adjustment Bureau – Creative concept. Would have been better if Matt Damon and Emily Blunt had had better chemistry.

23. Safety Not Guaranteed – Total indie, mostly in a good way. Aubrey Plaza is hilarious in every role she plays.

24. Sliding Doors –Interesting ideas. Alternate realities were edited together well.

24a. Sound of My Voice – Compelling docu-style indie flick. Rough around the edges with something troublingly beautiful at its heart.

24b. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is another film on this list tied for 24th place. FAQATT stars Chris O’Dowd, who’s always fun to watch. The film has an overall goofy feel, but there are dark and shocking moments as well. Anna Faris was a refreshing surprise.

25. Twice Upon a Yesterday – Had an uneven tone but worth watching. Recognize the brunette on the right? Yep, that’s Lena Headey (aka, Game of Thrones’ Circe).

26. Millenium – Great concept based on a John Varley short story, but the 1989 movie looks out of date. This is a movie that must be remade.

27. Minority Report – Slick. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.

28. Time Bandits – This movie is not my cup of tea, but some people love it.

29. Heaven Can Wait – A classic that might feel slow-paced to modern moviegoers.

30. Shuffle – Indie, troubling in a good way, a little disjointed, but that happens sometimes in time travel movies.

31. The Philadelphia Experiment – Typical ‘80s dick flick. Some conspiracy theorists claim this film is based on a true story, as in an entire naval ship really did disappear.

32. Frequency – Some people really like this movie, but it didn’t really do it for me.

33. The Lake House – Interesting concept but didn’t have much life.

34. Heart and Souls – Unique and sustained my interest, but like many of early Robert Downey, Jr. movies there was something a bit off about it.

35. Primer – Indie, good concept, realistic, but maybe a little too much testosterone and technical stuff for me because I kept falling asleep.

36. Touchback – Sweet if not a little too simplistic.

37. From Time to Time – Good cast but slow.

38. A Kid in King Arthur’s Court – Cute.

39. Bedtime Stories – Adam Sandler is in it and there’s magic; that’s about it.

40. I’ll Follow You Down – I had high hopes for this one, especially since Gillian Anderson is in it (“Fall,” anyone?). The movie looks good, but it really disappointed in the time travel department.

What Makes a Character Likable?

Lately, I’ve run across way too many YA book reviews that decry the extreme unlikability of main characters. Are writers making their protagonists too unlikable? Sure, writing an engaging main character is a complex process–we like our protagonists flawed and thus more interesting, but isn’t it also important for them to be likable enough to root for through an entire novel?

With fictional characters–as with real people–“engaging” and “likable” are subjective, to be sure. In Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, for example, some readers find the protagonist Rachel so incredibly flawed that she’s just too pitiful to root for; others, like me, find her compelling and sympathetic in her way. The truth is, no characters in The Girl on the Train are heroic in a classic sense, but the story still works. That’s just good writing, so kudos to Paula Hawkins.

So…what makes a character likable? Here’s my list. Tell me if I missed anything.

What Makes a Character Likable?

1. Must feel extremely passionate about something.
2. Has at least one person she’s willing to fight for.
3. Isn’t too perfect.
4. Has a troubled life.
5. Isn’t overly whiny about her troubled life.
6. Has a special talent, skill, or exceptional personality trait.
7. Sees the world in a unique way.
8. Is aware of her own flaws and grows or changes in some way. (added by blogger eclecticscribblings)
9. BONUS: Has a sense of humor, especially about herself. (added by blogger Aedifice)

In other news, I’m falling madly in love with my latest work in progress, a contemporary YA with time travel and a ghost. Had to share. 🙂

— Eve

New Writing/Publishing Terms – What Do They Mean?

women's fiction
To further my mission to become a successful published author, I’ve been delving more deeply into the online world of writing and publishing (mostly through blogs and Twitter), and have learned a lot, especially about agents, query letters, and great new books to read. Along the way, I stumble across unfamiliar terms, so I decided to post some of them here for the edification of newbies like me and for the amusement of pros who’ve probably known them for years.

Agent/publisher time – This always means U.S. East Coast time, as in, if an agent tweets, “We’ll be answering questions on #askagent at 2pm,” s/he means 11am PST. (I learned this the hard way.)

ARC – Advanced Readers Copy. (By the way, I recently and happily won my first free ARC, Hide and Seek, by Jane Casey.)

#askagent – highly informative twitter hashtag for writers wishing to ask agents questions in real time

HEA – Happily Ever After

Klout score – the reach and engagement of your social media platforms

OTP – One True Pairing. Yeah, it’s a romance thing.

PB – picture book

SimSubs – simultaneous submissions, as in when a literary magazine allows writers to submit stories also being shopped to other publications.

TBR – to be read (as in, “I’m really excited to read the books on my TBR list.”)

TSTL – Too Stupid to Live (in regards to the characters that are just, well, stupid, or weak)– added by blogger Michelle 

Upmarket – literary fiction with commercial potential.

WF – women’s fiction. 

Okay, tangent alert: what is it about the label WF that is so wtf? While I’m usually one who blindly grab books off fiction shelves regardless of genre, I do appreciate the need for genre classification and have been known to look up genre tags to see if a book is something I might be interested in.  However, “women’s fiction?” Really? Human conditions portrayed in literature by men are never categorized as male fiction, so why the sweeping label on women’s fiction that does the same?

I find the sweeping genre classification of the last term, WF, somewhat troubling, so I explore that here a bit beyond a simple definition. I’d be interested to hear your views on it, too. Feel free to share any other writing/publishing acronyms you’ve run across.

Author Randy Susan Meyers intelligently explores this question in ‘Women’s Fiction?’ ‘Men’s Fiction?’ ‘Human Fiction?’ I highly recommend it.