Dreaming into Reality

Knowing Where to Start =

Knowing How to Start

Before we launch into Planning and then Writing, let’s briefly discuss the 3 Sevens for Dreaming a Novel into Reality: 7 Characters to Know, 7 Plot Elements, and 7 Work Habits.

  • These are what to know before you get started, so you start with what you know.

Dreaming up 7 Characters to Spark Ideas

Free templates abound on Pinterest and the internet to help you develop your primary characters.  Use them for all of your primary characters and most of your secondaries.  Not your tertiary / walk-on characters.  Just make a brief list for them.

Here at the start, don’t spend too much time working out these characters in detail.  Get the basics then fly through the basic templates as well as these descriptors.

The Two Main Characters
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The best Dracula portrayals created sympathy for this classic villain.

Protagonist:  your major character, male or female.  Describe them physically, intellectually, emotionally.  What do they want?  What’s in their way?  Where do you want them to wind up?

Antagonist: Repeat the information for the protagonist.  Your antagonist is as important—and many say MORE important—than your protagonist.

Two More Essential Characters

Confidante:  Who will keep your protagonist going when s/he is mired in the mud?  The confidante is the best friend, the one who knows the protagonist’s secrets (not the heart secrets, but all of the others).   Describe them.  How did they become a confidante?  Will they remain a confidante?  If no, why not?  Will your antagonist have a confidante?  Know their wants and conflicts and end result.

Seeming Ally:  The SAlly character is more important than the confidante.  This is the archetypal shapeshifter:  the character who begins trusted but then is not.  The alternative form of the shapeshifter is to begin as UN-trusted and then become so.  A SAlly, however, is purely devious and manipulative.  You may want to research the cunning and manipulative sociopath if you are seeking a villainous character in addition to your antagonist.  The sociopath would undermine your protagonist until the protagonist understands just what the SAlly is.

4 Last Required Characters

Blocking Figures:  Often well-intentioned family and friends who see the protagonist on a different path than the one s/he has chosen.  These characters can supply guilt as the protagonist is pulled between the old, easy path and the newer, challenging path that leads to her/his desire.

Foils: characters who mirror the protagonist and proceed along the same path only to fail, often tragically.  They foreshadow what may happen to the protagonist if s/he does not make the dynamic changes necessary.  The dynamic changes are tied to three major discoveries:  the desired goal rather than end result, the betrayal of the SAlly, and the true heart of the antagonist.  Learning these three clarifies the nobler path of the protagonist.  Otherwise, s/he is merely a foil.

Walk-Ons:  True stereotypes, these characters merely come on stage to provide information or provide an obstacle.

Cameos:  characters from previous books in a series.  Similar to Walk-Ons, they should not take an active role and interfere with the protagonist as the main character.  However, a Cameo can be a blocking figure, a foil, a confidante, or even a SAlly (as long as the Cameo remains true to the personality you created for him previously).

Dreaming up a Plot 7 to Get Started

These are out-of-order for a purpose.  The Plot 7 will give you a sketch of your story, enough to know if you have a novel in the making.

Open and Close
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Opening and Closing the MS in the same place creates a circular construction that the reader’s subconscious will recognize and delight in.

Beginning:  What do you want the protagonist to be doing when the reader first meets her/him?  What exhibits the protagonist’s dissatisfaction with life as it currently is?  What represents the dear desire that the P wants so very much?

Ending:  How do you want the protagonist to end up?  In what physical / intellectual / emotional state?  How does the P react when s/he has the dear desire in hand?  How will the reader know that the P has triumphed?  (Even in a series, the P has to triumph at the end of each novel.  Why else does a reader keep reading?  Because a well-liked P has won once and will need to win again.)

Danger, Danger, Danger

Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point:  How will the protagonist feel at her/his lowest point?  What event will put her/him there?  How will s/he recover?  How will the P react in a different manner than the Antagonist to losing?  Why would this be the blackest moment in the entire book?

Antagonist’s Early Triumph over the Protagonist:  The antagonist has seemingly won, either in preventing the P from achieving the dear desire or in simply blocking the P from a major step on that journey to achieve it.  What occurred? How does the P react?  How does the A?  Where will each go from here?

Final Battle:  What sets up the final encounter between the protagonist and the antagonist?  How is this the ultimate encounter?  Set the stakes high:  this is the defeat of the representative of evil by the representative of honor.  Life and death, whether the death is bloody and absolute cessation of life or merely the complete loss of reputation and standing, the death struggle will be the ending of all conflict between the P and the A.  What special skill or learning will the P have that allows her/him to defeat the A? Make a note of where that skill / learning will be acquired during the course of the story.  What will the P and the A do at the end of the final battle?

Two Planned Ironies

Early Twist:  What the Protagonist Expects Doesn’t Occur.  You are working with early irony here.  The protagonist needs to expect an event that will be helpful to her/him.  What or who will prevent this early event from occurring?  Do not confuse this event with the Antagonist’s Early Triumph.  While you will answer the same questions, the event will be a completely different scenario.

Seeming Ally’s Betrayal:  This is another scenario presenting irony, usually occurring before the Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point (and often setting it up) or occurring before the Final Battle.  The purpose of the SAlly’s Betrayal is to show the P’s ability to keep pursuing the dear desire, even in the face of betrayal.  Study the meaning of the word “betrayal”.  It is not disloyalty.  Or broken promises.  Or simple infidelity or unfaithfulness.  It is treachery.  It is as deep as a heart stabbed from behind when the P expected a hug.

Once you have the Plot 7, shuffle them into order.  You now have a Sketch of a manuscript.

Dreaming through 7 Work Procedures

These Work Procedures are the ones that will build a strong foundation for your story and then for your book.

1st: the Rough Draft

No tinkering, no editing, just writing. 

Take the Plot 7 and write the intervening scenes that lead from one to the next.

Launch into that book.  About 40 pages in, you will realize if you have a working story or not.

If the story doesn’t work now, set it aside and start with another one.  The time for Project 1 may not be now.  Try Project 2.  Try Project 3.  Don’t try Project 4.  Go back and try to determine what was wrong with 1 or 2 or 3. 

2nd: Finish.
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Finishing the Draft is BIG. Most wannabe writers never finish one manuscript.

Many, many wannabe writers have dozens of stories, but they haven’t finished one of them.  Drafting a book is exceptionally difficult and very important.  Many wannabes abandon the draft, or they keep writing and re-writing the beginning or favorite scenes.  Finishing is KEY.  Stick with one of those 3 projects until its conclusion.

That note you made about a special skill / learning:  where does it go in the course of your story?  What needs to happen?  Who needs to help the protagonist achieve that skill / learning?  Where does that character come into the story (more than once, please)?

What other special skills / learning needs to occur to set up escape from the Greatest Stress Point?

What foreshadowing about the SAlly’s betrayal needs to occur?

3rd: Add to the Draft.
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John Keats works out problems.

Once you have a complete manuscript, now you can revise. 

Add in descriptions of characters and settings.  Expand on events.  Provide the viewpoint character’s thoughts and feelings during scenes.

These additions enrich the story and present your voice.

P.S.  Some people can do the added information as they write the rough draft.  I can’t.  I need a separate step.  (Oh, I know!  I wish!)

4th: Discover Plot Holes.

Re-read the whole manuscript.  Try to complete it in one afternoon.  Make notes about plot holes and more hidden clues that need to be added in.  Then add them.  And read the whole thing again.

5th: Keep Characters on Firm Ground.

As you read through, you may discover character discrepancies.  Ensure that every character’s personality is set from the beginning, even the SAlly’s personality.

A character who changes mid-book or book to book is extremely irritating to the reader.  Don’t irritate your readers.  Woo them.

6th: Foreshadow Sly Evil.

Add in early examples of the Antagonist’s villainy or outright evil. 

The A’s minions need to show up as bad people.  They can avoid evil, but they definitely need to be people who have chosen the wrong path. 

Ensure that your SAlly has three touches that hint at her/his true character allegiance to something other than the Protagonist (whether or not that allegiance is to the antagonist).

7th: Enhance your Writing.

Every fifth manuscript page, work in an example of figurative language or a special sentence structure.  These touches will make you the writer stand out.

Figurative language includes but is not limited to simile, metaphor, personification, and symbolism (color symbolism is easy to work in).  An implied metaphor can be a simple as “life is a road with its many junctions and curves and hills”.

Special sentence structures include antithesis (juxtaposition), chiasmus (a personal favorite), alliteration (easy to exhibit), asyndetons / polysyndetons, zeugmas, anaphoras / epistrophes, and auxesis (often called climactic structure).  Most people haven’t learned about sentence structures beyond declarative / imperative / interrogatory / exclamatory.

Here’s a quick easy website: https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/schemes.html and here’s a complex one: http://rhetoric.byu.edu/  

Don’t overload the MS page with these enhancements.  That’s injecting yourself into the story which can be jarring to the reader. (The reader will think, Oh, yeah, we got an artsy author who thinks highly of her/himselfNot certain I like that.)

Some writers are known for their lyricism:  Robin McKinley comes to mind.  Cormac McCarthy.  Mary Stewart.  They are few in number.  If you are a poet at heart, keep the poetry to every fifth MS page until you get a following of readers.

Coming Up

Lesson 2 = Chapter 2: Work Every Day.  How do you manage that?

Well. . . .

You’ve planned the work, now work the plan.  That’s a chiasmus, BTW 😉

~~M.A. Lee


Deadline on a Dream

Dream the Plan / Plan the Dream

Three years ago, when I made the decision to Think like a Pro, the approaching deadline for one of life’s major transitions drove me to consider it.

Life’s transitions include job changes, marriage or divorce, moving, children, taking on the fulltime care of a parent, and retirement.  Making a commitment to live a worthy life, changing diets to gluten-free or vegan, deciding to avoid all plastics, turning a dream into reality:  these are also life transitions. 

Often, very often, these last three are the hardest changes.  They require a re-commitment every day, every minute, every second.  They are individual changes, perhaps prompted by family and friends but dependent on the sole self to maintain the commitment.  And they require re-thinking constant aspects of life that most people never even consider.

Deadline: Junction on the Journey

Transitions are like junctions in our life’s journey.

The question we ask ourselves is this~ Where do I want to go when I reach that junction?

Creating my own Nest: a little dream from 2011

Two years before the Think like a Pro decision (now that’s five years ago), I had moved.  That move began changing my life.  I was happier with less stress.  I was creating my own little nest rather than living (and dealing with) a house that was never really mine.

In moving, I had to consider HOW and WHERE I wanted to live and WHY I wanted to live that way.

When I saw that major life transition approaching, I decided that I no longer wanted to drift.  I wanted to consider my life choices instead of unthinkingly going through life, doing the next thing.  WHEN that change came, I needed to have my personal change already in motion.

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“What I tell you three times is true.” ~~ Alice with Humpty, colorized from the original in Through the Looking Class

Knowing me, if I didn’t get ready for it, the time for the change would approach then pass by without me really noticing it.

Here’s WHAT I wanted ~

  • one: to become healthier via diet and exercise.
  • two: to become minimalist–although I was already halfway to this one.
  • three: to become a published writer.

This blog is about that third change.

Deadline:  Become a Published Writer

For many, many, many years (“What I tell you three times is true”) I tried the traditional publishing route and collected a thick file of rejections from editors and agents.  I also accumulated several completed manuscripts.

Looking back now, I admit those manuscripts were badly written and horribly constructed.  No grammar errors.  Engaging characters.  Interesting plots.  But they didn’t really “work”.  Truly, madly, deeply didn’t work.

I gave up and decided I needed to learn more about writing and genres.

In the intervening years, while I dealt with other life changes, I did learn even as I kept writing–but the writing was more like dabbling.

Here are the best three books that guided my learning:

  • Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, from 1965 and still relevant.  A small portion of the book is about Scenes and Sequels.  Books are made up of Scenes and Sequels.
    • Scenes require goal, conflict and disaster.
    • Sequels require reaction, dilemma, and decision.
  • Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict gave me an epiphany:  All primary characters and most secondary characters need their own GMC.
  • Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, explaining both character and plot, led me on a circuitous route back to Carl Jung’s character archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s archetypal monomyth.

Deadline: Dabbling at the Dream

And then I reached 2013–with that life transition looming ahead.  Four years away.  More than enough time.

Or so I thought.

I resolved, as I normally resolved, to become published.

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Sputtering Dreams

That resolution went the way of other resolutions:  I had a major push which gradually sputtered and nearly stopped.

By summer, I was angry with myself.  “Here, you resolved this!  What have you done?  Nothing!  Nothing!  and Nothing!”

What I told myself three times was true.

By the first of November, after dabbling away at my dream and still without a plan, I was even angrier.

Advent (no, this is not a non sequitur) is a special season of the year for me.  Raised in a stripped-down church that barely recognized the liturgical year, my first introduction to Advent was eye-opening.  The miraculous four-week season before Christmas remains as glorious as that first occasion years before.

Knowing Advent was coming, I decided that my writing needed to have its own New Advent.

I needed Writing Goals.

I would need a Website once I was published.

So, Advent 2013, I set my goals.  I was so eager, I didn’t wait for the first Sunday of Advent.

By the Saturday before the second Sunday of Advent, I realized my first problem.

I still wasn’t writing, not enough, not consistently enough, to produce words that would lead to my goal: TO BECOME A PUBLISHED WRITER.

Just Dreaming the Dream and Dreaming about the Plan for the Dream wasn’t Accomplishing the Dream.

Deadline: Dreaming the Plan

That Saturday before second Sunday of Advent, I realized that I needed a plan.  I needed to stick to the plan.

I growled about publishers and agents who had rejected me in the past.

And then a box arrived from Amazon.  It contained my first Kindle.  A Kindle Fire.

I fired up the Kindle and bought my first book.  And read it.  Finished it Sunday morning.  Did my personal Advent service in my own little nest.

And had another epiphany.  (I know:  I don’t get them very often.)

That Kindle book was by an author I didn’t know but had been at an extremely reasonable price to try.  It was Steampunk Fantasy, which I knew was currently “BIG” in the writing marketplace.  I had also bought a Jane Austen, Winnie the Pooh for the illustrations, a cookbook (which I asked Amazon to take back because it didn’t load properly–and Amazon did!), and a couple of cozy mysteries.  But the unknown author was the one I read first:  Lindsey Buroker, The Emperor’s Edge.

As I finished my Advent readings, I realized a couple of major things:  Buroker had uploaded her own book.  She didn’t have a “Traditional Publisher”.

Which meant I COULD DO THE SAME.

I had research before me.  How did she format her manuscript?  How did she develop her cover?

I scrolled through the Amazon Kindle store and realized very quickly:  Several books were self-published (Indie!).  Many covers were crap.  Some covers were very, very good.  I wanted a very, very good cover.

I was going to have to research a cover designer.  (That search took 18 months.  I thought it would take 3.)

I knew I would need a strong start because I am such a slow writer:  so I planned to put three books out over the course of three months.  It would take maybe a year.  I gave myself a little leeway and said, “August 2015 I will publish my first book.”

Which meant I had to stop dabbling away at four different manuscripts (yes, I had that many MSs in the works).

Deadline:  Planning the Dream

Three Books for the Back-to-Back

By the third Sunday of Advent I had selected a manuscript to finish first.  It was a story that I wrote during the worst three years of my life.

New Cover, by Deranged Doctor Design! Available on Amazon Kindle

I decided how long its revision would take.  Smugglers and Spies became Secrets at the Hawthorn Inn became A Game of Secrets.  I know:  Revision is difficult.  It took longer than I anticipated.

I had a half-finished manuscript idea for its “sequel”, and I thought I would give myself six months to work on that book.  A Game of Spies took nine months.

The third book that would tie-in with the first two became A Game of Hearts.

August 2015 was the month I set for my first Indie publication:  this would be the practice run.  October and November and December 2015 for my second, third and fourth Indie publication.

By the fourth Sunday of Advent I diagnosed my first two problems:  

  1. Not sticking to my deadline.
  2. Not writing every day.

Later on, I diagnosed additional problems:  These became the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro:  A New Advent for Writers, first a blog series on this website and then the handy little manual you can buy on Amazon Kindle.

Deadline for The Practice Run

With August 2015 looming close, I pulled out a manuscript that I thought would be a good practice run.  It was a different genre from the back-to-back books.  A fantasy would need a pseudonym:  Edie Roones was born.

I selected my second oldest completed manuscript (I have older book starts, but only one manuscript completed before this one).  This book began life as The Sword of Treasach then became Castle Warder then became Steel and Blood and finally developed into Summer Sieges.  (I know!  Revision is HARD.  This book had FOUR revisions, each one a nearly complete gut.)

I put the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro into action during the revision of Summer Sieges.  Those lessons worked!  Especially the third lesson about PLOT.

Barely, barely before August, as I slaved through the revision of this old, old manuscript, I found a cover designer I thought would work, based on a Lindsey Buroker cover.  (I owe Ms. Buroker a LOT!).  Deranged Doctor Design:  I love those people!

At the very beginning, for A Game of Secrets, we had one major glitch, my fault since I didn’t tell them enough about what I wanted and didn’t want, but they rolled with my requested change.  They have delivered BEAUTY every time since.

August hit.

DDD delivered the cover:  exactly what I wanted. (BTW, they talked about branding.  I had more research to do.)

I finished Summer Sieges.  Edited it.  Corrected it. (If you found any errors, please tell me!) Uploaded it.

I made that deadline.

Deadline: Accomplishing the Dream

Since August 2015, using the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro, I have published these:

Summer Sieges / Edie Roones: drastically revised manuscript / 2015

October:  A Game of Secrets / M.A. Lee: revised manuscript / 2015 

November:  A Game of Spies / M.A. Lee: revised then finished manuscript / 2015 

December:  A Game of Hearts / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2015 (my third favorite book, thus far) 

“A Matter of Trust” / Edie Roones: previously published short story / my first ever published work / 2016

Digging into Death / M.A. Lee: revised manuscript / 2016 (my second favorite book, thus far)

Autumn Spells / Edie Roones: drastically revised manuscript:  began life as The Tower of Lannoge, became Green Wielder then Green Magic, White Sword. / the first book I ever completed / 2016

January:  The Dangers of Secrets / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017 (my most favorite book, thus far)

February:  The Dangers for Spies / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017  

March:  The Dangers to Hearts / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017 

Weave a Wizardry Web / Remi Black (a new pseudonym for a different fantasy genre): a drastically revised manuscript / 2017

Dream a Deadly Dream / Remi Black: revised manuscript (fourth favorite)

Christmas with Death / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017

The Key to Secrets / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2018 (I had fun writing this one: 5th fav)

I’m currently working on another extremely drastic revision:  Winter Sorcery / Edie Roones followed by Sing a Graveyard Song / Remi Black then the next M.A. Lee / The Key for Spies.

With more ideas and revisions still to come.

Deadline’s First Step: Decide your Dream

Whatever you want to do, the first thing you have to do is Decide what you WANT.

What is the dream you can reach out and almost, almost grasp?

How badly do you want it?

When are you going to take hold of that dream and start turning it into reality?

Do you know what you need to do once you have hold of that dream?

Should writing be your dream, then the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro will surely help you.

~~ M.A. Lee