Tag Archives: writing advice

Three Dirty Birds and Pacing


In which I have a light bulb moment about why some books do so well. 🙂 Over at Ana’s blog!

Three Dirty Birds Talk Theme

Or at least I think it’s theme. Still waiting for my new laptop fan, then I get to play computer tech! But until then, it’s all the poor computer can do to keep Scrivener open. Internet is on-again, off-again–I’m assuming from the heat. I have a backup plan, though. I have an old desktop I can put the hard drive in, if I have to, but I’m really not looking forward to it.

Check out our thoughts on Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! over at Zoe’s blog. 😀

My usual method of writing is reasserting itself. I got 2K on my firefighter and paramedic story, which does not have an outline. And 500 on my outlined story. There’s something off about those numbers, I think. 😛

The Three Dirty Birds and the Ally

Over at Ana’s blog.

No picture today–my computer fan is dying and stuff just isn’t working like it usually does.

Three Dirty Birds and the Antagonist


The Three Dirty Birds are back and plotting! (Not that we ever aren’t plotting but this time, even Kitty is plotting. As in, has an outline. Prepare for Armageddon.)

Zoe: I’ll be right back, guys. I’ve never seen pigs fly before, and I don’t want to miss the view out the window.

Ana: Flying bacon!

Kate: I have a flying toy pig at work. We call him Kevin.

Zoe: Breakfast is on Kate! (But we won’t eat Kevin.)

Ana: Did you name your MC in your story after a flying toy pig?

Kate: No, his name is Thilo. Random name generator, clicked through until I found something that I liked. (I never thought about that with respect to Kev, though. Hmmmm)

Zoe: I love the random name generators. My favorite gives me a first and last name, saving me so much headache.

Kate: They are such a great jumping off point. I used to use a baby name book, but I found myself in the same letter all the time.

Zoe: Yes! I go to the same ones all the time. The generators save me from myself, and keep my world from being populated with D- and R-names.)

Ana: And here I thought I was the only one with favorite letters. There’s something about Ds, though… isn’t there?

Kate: I have an ANT problem. A, N, and T. Oh, and I. (Why I?)

Zoe: Speaking of ANT…we’re up to the Antagonist section in Take Off Your Pants now, aren’t we?

Ana: Right, I’ve always had trouble identifying clear antagonists in some of my books. When I try the ‘what your character wants most’ angle (meaning, the antagonist is the one who’s after the same thing), I almost can’t help but make my Love Interest the antagonist.

Zoe: And I can see that working in a lot of cases. They both do want the same thing, and what gets in their way is the other person.

Ana: Maybe this is why so many romances build on miscommunication. When the protagonist and the antagonist realize their goals aren’t in opposition, it’s all over.

Kate: That’s how this story that I have most of an outline for is working–not the miscommunication, but one MC wants to change the part of the other MC that he’s embarrassed about, without seeing all the good things about it. I think miscommunication is often cheaply handled. There’s so many stories out there where if one of the MC’s didn’t just have a childish tantrum and actually spoke to the other person like the adult they’re supposed to be, the story wouldn’t exist. And then, there’s the misunderstanding after misunderstanding type of plot. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done, but it needs a lot more thought put into it than seems to happen, and it’s a lot harder story to write well.

Zoe: I think it winds up being the crux of the conflict because the author didn’t give the characters arc-relevant flaws. They’re bratty or have abuse in their past or whatever, but it’s not really tied to the character growth (or character destruction, though you wouldn’t have that arc in a romance), so they wind up falling back on miscommunication and misunderstandings for lack of anything else, rather than through intention.

Kate: Drama for the sake of having an exciting emotional moment, rather than something that actually contributes to plot or character development.

Zoe: Yeah or, there’s nothing really to keep these two apart, so something has to be manufactured.

Kate: I really want to read that Truby book she mentions.


Kate: Epub? I like being able to blow up my text on my Kobo (which seems to be on the point of breaking again. Next time, I’m getting an H2O so I can read in the bath).

Zoe: Ebook is probably the way to go.

Ana: Yeah, I just found it on kindle for about €10. But I think my next read will be Super Structure by James Scott Bell.

Kate: And, to Google I go…

Zoe: What do you think of Libbie’s assertion that the antagonist is a mirror of the hero, that he’s a “there but for the grace of God” version?

Ana: That’s the part I really can’t work into my story.

Kate: I think for most stories that works. I’m trying to figure out how that can work in a romance, especially my little ‘trapped together during a storm’ story, where there’s only two characters. Maybe it doesn’t work for romance? (although it does kind of work for Knight, if I change some of my emphasis. But that’s because I have crazy Michael in it.)

Ana: The problem with using this for a romance novel where you cast the LI as the antagonist is that this take on the antagonist paints him as a bad person, not necessarily someone you should strive to have a relationship with? Although of course you do have the MC1 saves broken MC2 romances.

Kate: I’m not sure even that fits into it. I really feel that her antagonist, if you always define him or her as being the photonegative version, doesn’t work for Romance. The definitions of ‘someone who wants the same goal as the MC, but not in the same way” works very well for romance where the characters themselves are a big part of the problem.

Zoe: This is a good example of how the spirit of Libbie’s book is valuable, and she’s got a great way of explaining things…but when you get to the nuts and bolts of your own story, you may not actually use everything in Pants. Even taking Charlotte’s Web as an example: we can agree that Wilbur and the farmer want the same thing—Wilbur’s life. But the farmer’s not a photo negative of Wilbur; he doesn’t really represent what Wilbur will become if Wilbur fails. Unless the farmer is made of bacon.

Ana: Good point.

Kate: Now I want bacon.

Zoe: It is the case in other stories, of course. I can think of a number of action thrillers where the hero and the antagonist are very much alike; they’ve just chosen different sides.

Ana: Those are usually the characters I slash in my head.

Zoe: [Yes. Those guys are so doing it.]

Kate: Yes, that’s pretty common, and it adds a nice tension to the story. (Not the slashing, but the mirror image stuff.) (Although, slashing adds a nice bit of tension too, just not the same kind. 🙂 )

Zoe: Where I run into problems is with the Ally (because I keep going, “Wait…wasn’t he the antagonist?”), which we’ll be discussing shortly….

Kate: I found the Ally tough, until I made myself sit down and really think about it. Maybe we should talk about that…

Three Dirty Birds Talk about Take Your Pants Off! Another try to convert Kate

Okay, that really isn’t the title exactly. It’s Libbie Hawker’s Take Your Pants Off! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing.

The Three Dirty Birds are back, once more throwing themselves into the fray and trying to turn Kitty into a plotter. Today we’re talking about Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! (which seems weirdly appropriate for people who all write erotic romance)

Ana: I feel like I’m in a sect and trying to get Kate to join.

Kate: One of those cults. Oh no, they’re brainwashing me!

Ana: I never thought I’d be in a plotting cult.

Zoe: I wish I’d had this book two years ago. 😦

Kate: If any book is going to do it, it might just be this one. She strikes very close to the Seven Point Plot Outline that I’ve had some success with. (Mostly because it just points out the signpost moments in the story.) But the story she tells at the beginning–I’d love to be able to do that.

Zoe: Someone in another group I hang out in said that they’re a lot like the Save the Cat beats with different names.

Ana: I might have to look into that because I wasn’t happy with all the names.

Zoe: I’m not familiar with the Save the Cat beats, but in the discussion it was said that it calls the Ally the Love Interest, so I’m not sure the names are much better. 🙂

Kate: We could do a comparison for our next book.

Ana: The Ally isn’t the Love Interest in my plotting. But maybe that’s because I write Romance?

Kate: That’s what I think.

Zoe: No, I think it’s just that the “love interest” doesn’t have to be an actual love interest—it’s just a weirdly named beat.

Kate: Zoe, you’re going to have to explain that a bit more, because I’m not getting what you’re talking about.

Ana: Maybe that there isn’t a love interest in every book?

Zoe: I can only explain so much since I haven’t read Save the Cat, but apparently his ally role is called “love interest,” although it doesn’t have to be an actual “love interest.”

I think that Libbie’s beats pair nicely with James Scott Bell’s 14 signposts from Super Structure (also mentioned in Write Your Novel from the Middle). They hit different points, different aspects.

Kate: Another one I have to read. I got sidetracked by a book on character naming, which is way more interesting than I thought it would be.

Ana: There’s a book on character naming?

Kate: Sherrilyn Kenyon, through Writer’s Digest. She goes into naming conventions, then gives a bunch of names by nationality.

Zoe: Naming conventions would be useful if you’re writing non-Anglo-Saxon characters…or fantasy.

Ana: If I were writing non-anglo-saxon characters from a country whose naming conventions I’m not familiar with, I’d probably look at a few of those top 100 baby names list for a few years… I mean, from a few different years, not that I’d be looking for years.

Zoe: lol I thought you’d be looking for years at first. I’m not sure the baby naming sites would help—they just give first names. I had to name a Hispanic character in a book recently, and looked up those naming conventions specifically. (Then I had to look up how it was handled once the family was an American Hispanic family because the character is actually second generation.)

Kate: That’s how this book handles it. There’s a section on Japanese and Korean, Ana.

Ana: Ah yes, I rarely think about last names. I’m good with Japanese! Probably won’t write Koreans.

Kate: The Japanese section talks about last names too, and how a married couple can take either his or her last name. Interesting, weird little tidbits.

And, we’ve gotten off track again. (Not like there’s ever a day where we don’t 🙂 )

Zoe: We have. So Libbie sets out in the beginning to tell you that her method will help you gain more confidence in your stories at the outline stage and write faster. Having now read it and done three outlines and gotten back to work on my WIP, my thoughts on that claim are “yes” and “maybe.” I can see myself taking less time in rewrites because I’ll have fewer story problems to fix, but I’m not sure that I’ll first-draft any faster.

Kate: I’m looking forward to trying it out on something from scratch. I have two in-progress stories that I’m trying to work on where I plan to give it a whirl, but I don’t think it’s the same thing.

Zoe: Ironically I started a new story from scratch last night…and haven’t outlined it yet. (But her book still helped, because I wouldn’t have been able to grasp what I have if I hadn’t just learned all that stuff about character flaw.)

Ana: I tried the outline thing on a short project I’m working on now, and it’s going well so far. I’ve yet to test it on something longer, but will probably do so soon. At least, with this outline I get my story split into chunks that I can make into story goals so I know how much to write each day and about how long it’ll take me to get to the end.

Zoe: Yes! I made a list of scenes in Evernote with little checkboxes next to them, then broke them into days, with more scenes on weekends than weekdays, and now I can see that I can finish this draft by the end of the month. (I love ticking the little boxes…though I’m contemplating switching to index cards for the next one.)

Ana: I want little boxes to tick!

Zoe: Get you some Evernote!

Kate: I love having a goal to write toward, which is why the 7 Point Structure worked pretty well for me. But it would be nice to have more smaller goals, so I’m not spending days writing toward one goal, but can accomplish one or two each day. (Push the button, get a pellet. Repeat.)

Ana: I’m almost sad this story I’m writing isn’t going to be submitted anywhere. I already have a synopsis!

Zoe: Lol!

Kate: 😀

I can certainly see the point of having an outline, or a serious plan, when you start writing. Libbie’s story about taking two years to write one book, then three weeks to write the outlined book, is one of the reasons I keep coming back to the “There must be some way to make it work with my brain!” idea.

Zoe: Kate, I have to ask now that you’re about halfway through the book: have you been an irritated bird yet?

Kate: Not once. How’s that for strange?

Zoe: (True story: I only wound up buying this book because I wanted to see if it was going to piss Kate off. Then I got hooked.)

Kate: And this is what I live with–writing buddies who do things just to see how far my tail will fuzz.

Zoe: I’d have told you not to buy it if it had been cranky-making. (After quoting all the cranky-making bits in chat.)

Ana: I would have been there for moral support. And popcorn.

Kate: That I can believe. But I have to say I’m glad you bought it and got me to buy it. I’m finding the specifics of the plot section a little harder to get into, but part of my method is that I write myself into the characters as I go. There’s a lot of stuff that comes out on the page that I have no idea where it came from, but then later something else comes out and the first one turns out to be foreshadowing, or necessary characterisation. And that all depends on the characters.

Zoe: Some people I’ve talked to had problems getting their heads around some of the stuff in this—I’ve seen discussions going on about the antagonist, the plot stuff, and the idea that the character has to overcome their flaw, which should make for interesting discussion in our chats as we get more into the specifics of the book.

Ana: To come back to what Kate said about the specifics, I think that even if you don’t follow the outline in the outlining part of the book, it can still help you if you got your character flaw and theme figured out before you start writing. (And possibly also how you want the book to end.)

Zoe: Yes. I think this book works for pantsers as well as plotters.

Kate: It does feel less “This is the word of our Lord” to me, which means I’m more likely to take a kick at what she says to try, and be less frustrated when and if it doesn’t work.

Zoe: I also see most of the book as more what you’d call “guidelines” than set-in-stone rules. I’ve been loosey-goosey with a lot of the plot stuff, changing headings, moving them around, grouping them together. But the book indicates you can do that as well.

Kate: One thing I figured out right away, and haven’t had time to go back and apply my new knowledge, is that you have to use this book either with notecards or a computer–you can’t just pull out a sheet of looseleaf and go to town. It’s definitely designed to be flexible, and for you to move stuff around, add and subtract, etc. Which is very much my way of doing things. (Although I do love my looseleaf)

Zoe: (I have a binder full of blank looseleaf. I bought it with the best intentions. Over a year ago.)

So, are we ready to dive into the Story Core in our next discussion?

(Ana: Nice, Zoe, ending the chapter with a question.)

Three Dirty Birds Talk about What We’re Reading


Over at Zoe’s blog!

Three Dirty Birds Talk Bunnies. Plot Bunnies, that is


Since Zoe got plot bunnied during our Monday discussion, we thought it was only appropriate to talk about plot bunnies on Ana’s blog.