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Are you a hamster?

The book starts of well. You are inspired and going at it for hours, day after week and the book is done in three months. You give it a few weeks, then hit the first edit. It's so damn good it will only need one edit from you, just typos and suchlike.

Holy crap! what happened to the plot here and here and there? Okay, no problem fix that, but another problem pops up because of the change, acting like a butterfly effect. Before you know it you're going around in circles like a hamster putting out literary fires that you started.

An answer would have been to plan the plot in detail before, and maybe you sort of did, but somewhere it all went wrong. That's because stories take on a life of their own. Ideas creep into our heads in the wee small hours and we change direction fractionally, but that is the problem right there.

If you think a plot would run better, other than the original idea, then make a note of the idea and weave it in later if it still sounds good.

Check for things that feel cut and pasted, like fight or sex scenes. Time to dig deeper and come up with more original ways to craft the scene.

Ever read a book and you see a phrase the writer used that you think is pretty good? But they must have thought it was a brilliant moment as well because they use it over and over until you want to throw up.

Use your "brilliant moments" one, maybe two times, then move on and think of something else original. Don't be a hamster.

Oh, you're a hamster anyway, because you will edit that book a hundred times and still find typos and conflicting phrases. The character is standing when a second before he was sitting. Or worse, the character is out of town, then miraculously isn't in the next sentence.

Yup, most writers who want perfection, or as near as dammit, are hamsters.

What most people don't realize when they first start, is that writing is hard work if you're going to do it right. To add insult to injury, when you get it back from your editor you have to climb on the hamster wheel again and probably again.

Create order from the get-go by opening a new file called Story Outline for Concoctastory. (Bet that had you running to the dictionary)

First thing:

Put in the date you start the book, for your own interest.

Name of hero/heroine – hair and eye color, height, build, defining features, age marks, scars, deformities, habits, twitches, tastes, occupation, likes, dislikes, traits—good and bad, ambitions, goals, obsessions, status in society, domicile, marital status. In fact, anything you may need to remember as the story unfolds. This will change as time goes on, but the physical traits will probably remain the same.

As you write, add each character’s name and physical appearance. It’s easy to forget that Joe had blue eyes. One often errs and gives characters brown or green eyes later in the book.

Minor characters, like a barmaid or footman, don’t need a name if they only make one or two appearances. In fact, it’s better to keep names to a minimum. Only add a description if you gave them a specific thing like odd eye or hair colors, a squint or limp favoring the left leg—you don’t want them favoring the right leg at another point if you use them again.

The names of ships, streets, buildings and places must also go into this file as they crop up in the story.

Make a note of things like Elvis borrowed $50,000 from Danny the hobo. Or he gave Leonardo da Vince a $1 tip for opening his chariot door.

Be very careful to keep names varied—don’t have Joe in love, working with or related to Jasmine, or worse, Josephine.

Keep another file of cool male, female, dog, cat, horse or any animal names. I make a habit of putting the alphabet in a list form and use only one letter per memorable character—lesser characters aren't important, unless their relationship is too close to the character they interact with.

Another file for the author bio, query, full synopsis, brief synopsis, letter for agents/publishers, plus back cover blurb and tagline.

All these files go into a folder with the book title.

Writing needs preparation like anything in life. There is only one problem, a story can take on a life of its own and change direction—just go with the flow, be sure to change what needs to change, and enjoy the ride on your hamster wheel.

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