When a story writes itself

L.C.W. Allingham

I have spent many nights glaring at a computer screen typing and deleting the same paragraph, willing my characters to move, trying to force a story to happen. Every writer has. When it happens, sometimes you might be lucky and some read-overs can compel your hands, or a google search can make the story lurch forward a few more paragraphs, but frequently the best thing to do it just move onto a different project for a bit. Or go watch a Buffy re-run (fun fact, Buffy re-runs can trigger brainstorming).

The absolute worst is when a story has been pouring out smoothly since conception, you have a solid ending in mind (or a great outline if you’re the organized type) and you come to a screeching halt. Then, sometimes the only way to get through it is to fight through, hacking out every single line until you can get it…

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There is no one way to write a book

A lot of writers have a lot of advice. And most of it is good. But not all of it is relevant every time.

I completed a first draft in record time last year using an outline and it was glorious. Not only was it completed fast, and without any serious plot holes, but clean up and editing have been minimal. I suggest everyone try this sometime.

Unless it’s not working for you.

Like it isn’t working for me, this time around.

When I wrote “The Silent Apocalypse” I didn’t have a good working outline until I was nearly done the book. It took a while to write, but it revealed itself to me as I went along, instead of adhering to a pre-determined plot.

When I wrote “Summer’s Circle” the whole plot laid itself out in front of me at the very begining, with the exception of a few details and the exact specifics of the ending. I didn’t put effort into plotting it, it was more like the completed story was handed to me and I shoved it into an outline so that I wouldn’t lose it before I got to write it.

I thought this method would work with one of my latest projects, a dark urban horror. The outline came along pretty well, but as soon as I started writing it, it veered completely off course and got stuck in a corner. I shifted some things around, blew a few things up and it ran right back into that corner again.

The novel wants to go it’s own way and, at present time, I can seem to figure out what that way is.

You will find thousands of articles, books, quotes, on how to finish your novel. All of these things have worked for authors at some point. Maybe they work for certain authors all the time. But even Stephen King ends up putting manuscripts away that he can’t seem to finish.

Don’t tie yourself to one method. Don’t insist there is only one way. If you are struggling to complete a novel, read all the advice you can find and try everything. If it still doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to shift your focus to another project.

Sometimes a novel needs a little time to cook before its ready to move forward. Sometimes your brain just isn’t ready for where the book has to go. Sometimes you need to try something new.

Writing is an art. Don’t try to be a scientist about it.

The Lepracaun Or Fairy Shoemaker – Poem by William Allingham

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

L.C.W. Allingham

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I am sharing some of my Irish writing roots. William Allingham, born in Ballyshannon was an Irish poet and editor, who rubbed elbows with some of the famous British writers of his day. You can’t knock a guy who writes poems about fairies.

Little Cowboy, what have you heard,
Up on the lonely rath’s green mound? William_Allingham_Photo
Only the plaintive yellow bird
Sighing in sultry fields around,
Chary, chary, chary, chee-ee! –
Only the grasshopper and the bee? –
‘Tip-tap, rip-rap,
Scarlet leather, sewn together,
This will make a shoe.
Left, right, pull it tight;
Summer days are warm;
Underground in winter,
Laughing at the storm! ‘
Lay your ear close to the hill.
Do you not catch th etiny clamour,
Busy click of an elfin hammer.
Voice of the Lepracaun singing shrill
As he merrily plies his trade?
He’s a span
And a…

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If you love a character, break their nose

I recently read a great short story with a great premise and a great character and when I was done, I just wasn’t satisfied at all.

Because, while the conflict was there, and it was pretty rough, things kinda just worked out for the character. She never had to take a hard stance. She never really suffered. And so her victory was kinda boring.

It’s a weird thing, as a reader you like a character, you want them to succeed, you even might get mad at the author if they torture them too much. But you’ll probably like the story alot more if they do. Just look at the popularity of George RR Martin’s books.

It’s even weirder for the writer though, because you don’t just like your character. You love them. They are your baby, a reflection of yourself, and this completely alien unique entity all at once and all their glorious faults and failings just make you want to wrap them up and protect them from this hellscape you dropped them into.

But they’re not your baby and it’s not your job to protect them. It’s your job to toughen them up to the task at hand and if you don’t, your readers will resent their victory.

I ran into this first hand with one of my characters. Although she’d suffered, she was a sensitive soul and  I didn’t want to hurt her too much. I wanted to preserve her dignity and show that she’d overcome it. Because she moved past it, though, the readers saw it as a non-issue.

So I had to show her damage, because, in the long run, the damage justified the hard choices she had to make, the mistakes she floundered through, and made her victory at the end something that she’d earned through her suffering.

Fiction is not real life, Thank God, but it does act as a mirror. If Katniss can survive tracker jacker venom, you can survive a tooth extraction. If Buffy can go on after killing Angel, you can survive breaking up with your boyfriend. The suffering and perseverance of our favorite characters inspires us to be strong and over come the obstacles in our life.

So if things are going too easy for your character, it might be time to lop off a limb or kill their girlfriend. Your readers might hate you for it, but they’ll love your character and your story so much more.

International Women’s Day, Strong women in Literature

The climate has changed a lot since I posted this last year. I hope next year sees some remarkable breakthrough in women’s rights and more tolerance and understanding in the world.

L.C.W. Allingham

The concept of a strong female character might seem like a new thing, but if you look through out the history of writing, you will see that it is not. Strong women have graced the pages (and stone tablets) of literature since the dawn of the written word. Strong women are not a novelty. Don’t believe me? Here’s my list.

1.Jane Eyre

You knew this was coming right? Jane is humble, quiet and, at times, very unsure of herself, but her strength of character is unyielding. She stands up to the headmaster at her school. She refuses to be a mistress to Mr. Rochester and refuses to marry Mr. St. John, despite her affection for him and his family, because she doesn’t love him. She is willing to live penniless as long as it is on her own terms.

2. Rhiannon

In early Welsh mythology, the Mabinogi, Rhiannon is a…

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7 novels to now. A breakdown of development

I’ve often heard it said that the first couple novels a writer writes are throw aways. They’re learning experiences, written almost entirely to build up the chops of finishing a damned novel. Now, I know this is isn’t the case for everyone. A lot of writers can churn out a first novel and have it be pretty damned awesome, especially if they are already pretty decent writers.

But in my case, it is very very true. In fact, even when I thought I was past writing throw aways, I went on to produce another. So, because I’ve recently been going over old work, I thought it might help some people out to see a break down of my completed novels to date as an illustration of how helpful it was for me to write them and then shelf them.

Now, as a side note, I should tell you that these are just the completed ones, not the almost completed, and they are also the ones that reached novel length in a doc file and not just a notebook I scrawled in when I was 13.


Novel 1: Blackspell

I completed my first, typed novel when I was 17 for my senior class project, with alot of prodding from my mother. It came in at 103,000 words and was a completed LOTR rip off, with scenes stolen from many of my favorite fantasy novels and movies (also, more than a few Bible story parallels made their way into there). It was about an elf orphan who needed to destroy and evil overlord but it was no probs because she was super pretty, smart, powerful and everyone liked her.

To use it as my graduation project, I needed a mentor and a very sweet friend of a family friend who worked as a professional writer offered to edit it for me. That poor woman. Her notes started out strong but puttered out quickly when it became apparent that the story was just pure drivel. I think I got an A though, because none of my teachers wanted to spend their time actually reading the novel.

Novel 2: Never Titled Vampire Love story

Proving I was obviously ahead of the curve, this paranormal romance/thriller/horror was also completed around my senior year of high school. It featured the ultimate Mary Sue protagonist, Gallatha Albinish (yeah, I really liked making up names). She was so pretty, but didn’t know it, so talented, so nice, so brave and of course the Vampire King fell in love with her, but he was not all that good for her. It was an epic attempt to write out all my teenage angst.

I think I knew this when I wrote it because I never tried to do a thing with it.

Novel 3: Working title Beth Trudder

I must have written this some around my sophmore or junior year of college. There was a long period after high school where I did alot of experiments and false starts, but I recall this novel being relatively easy to write. It is a sorta psychological thriller/character study about a battered wife who has to stand on her own after her husband mysteriously disappears. The premise is sound. The characters are much more nuanced than my previous attempts. The writing is still lacking, as well as my understand of just how complex the subject matter was, but this was the first novel I wrote that could have been a contender.

Novel 4: The Fate of a Princess

This YA sword and sorcery novel flowed from me shortly before I graduated from college. I wrote it, my mom read it and then I forgot about it, preoccupied with college stuff like the enormous pressure of my entire future. It was my first attempt at a dynamic character, begining with an incredibly unlikable protagonist who is forced to grow through serious magical hardship and learning her own inner strength. The writing is juveline, but the novel possesses serious potential. I was well on my way with editing it two years ago when I started this blog with the intention of self publishing.

Life got in the way and it was placed on the back burner. It needs serious work, but it I ever find the motivation for it, I would love to see this book out in the world.

Novel 5: The Singing Cat

This was an very ambitious undertaking, a quirky epic urban fantasy, that I started shortly after I graduated from college. For a while the writing went very well, then I hit a very long writing funk. Working full time exhausted me, and my creative attention went almost entirely to my rock band. Social life, band practice, dating, working, getting engaged, keeping my first apartment, planning a wedding, basically being in my twenties held me back, not only from finishing the novel but from writing all together.

I came back to it when I was unemployed, filling my days with something to make me feel productive and fulfilled while I waited for endless job applications to yield some results. It didn’t always flow easily but I powered through, forcing myself to write out scenes that were dragging.

Finishing “The Singing Cat” was an accomplishment like no other. Truly a labor of love and for that reason I thought it was good enough to publish. I edited an queried and got no response. After a few years of sporadic querying, I found a great writing crit website and got a rude awakening. Some reviewers decided to err on the side of kindness. None of them were outright mean, but many were blunt and it crushed my little writing heart.

I had been living in a bubble that many writers find themselves in where I thought just because I had the chops and skill to write a novel, I obviously had something bankable. In truth it was wordy (sooooo wordy, 105,000 words wordy), convoluted, went off on tangents, a la “Hitchhikers Guide” but much less effectively, and was a little all over the place. Each of the of the 20 Chapters was 40 pages long.

When I realized the major scope of edits it would require, and that I couldn’t fake my way out of them, I shelved it. I had the writing chops but I lacked the editing chops. I also changed how I wrote.

This was a big moment for me.

Novel 6: The Silent Apocalypse

My method changed a lot between “The Singing Cat” and “The Silent Apocalypse”. I wrote in Chapters, instead of trying to cut the finished piece into them. I wrote with the critiques I’d received on the Singing Cat in mind. I started studying up on effective writing. I went hard and and fast on the novel until shortly after I got pregnant with my second child. Then my creativity puttered out.I tried but nothing came.

It’s a complex paranormal thriller, with four different plot lines that converge in the final scenes.

When my daughter was about 9 months old, it came screaming back, inspiring not only my attempt to revive Fate of a Princess, but also the blog, the twitter writing account and a sudden focus on the dream that had been quietly burning in my all along.

I wanted to be a published author.

Renewed in motivation didn’t mean renewed in inspiration though. I bounced between The Silent Apocalypse and another manuscript for a while before I buckled down and determined to focus on the piece I knew I could complete.

I outlined it.

When I got held up, I took a break and brainstormed until the solution came.

I finished the novel three months after I picked it up again and it was….

sloppy. It was really pretty sloppy. But the story wasn’t just sound, it was pretty freaking unique, and I loved it. Not because of the hard work. Truth was, writing the first draft was hardly any work at all. I made myself available and it flowed and it was awesome.

I loved it because I loved it. And I knew I had my first draft of my first publishable novel.

It took me almost a year to finish edits. Three rounds. Then I put it through writers critiques, beta readers and some more edits. It hasn’t landed me an agent yet, but I know it will be published some day, and I’m willing to take the critiques in the world if that’s what it takes to make it perfect.

Novel 7: Summer’s Circle

My newest baby didn’t just flow, it surged. 84,500 words. 1 Month. Done. Bam. It was amazing. And the cleanest first draft I have produced, to date. But all that crazy manic creating left me a little fatigued when it came to editing. I did some clean up and then I committed it to my writers workshop for review before I undertook hardcore edits.

This is a length process. Even though my group meets once a week, every needs a turn and submitting 2 chapters a time every month is a lengthy way to get feedback on your work. My group is about halfway through the novel now, and many members have left as new ones have come in, so some are picking it up in the middle.

BUT the feedback has been invaluable, and with it I am getting a clear idea where it’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Although the group isn’t done with it yet, I am getting ready to get out my red pen and start slashing.

I am really excited about this novel, probably as much so as “The Silent Apocalypse” and if I can’t find an agent with its predecessor, I think “Summer’s Circle” might have a little more luck because of the singular plot line.

Ultimately, I think they both will end up published at some point, not because I’m so great, but because I finally took the time to be critical of my work and learn how to edit effectively. Because I love them enough to do what it takes to make them happen. Because I know exactly what I want to do now.


So, the point? Write. What for yourself. Write for you friends. Writer for the joy of writing. When you’re ready to put your work out there, brace yourself for all ways you didn’t write for anyone else, and make adjustments so other people might like it too. But don’t write for them. Write for yourself. You’ll know when your work starts to sync up with what the world wants.

Good luck.

Just a little Tuesday Tip: Creating is the best

We all spin our tires. We all get bogged down with fear or rejection or the “reality” of what it means to pursue a creative career. It can be nasty. It can be incredibly discouraging when you look at the big picture, when you have 385 pages to edit. When you are just punching out keys to try to make your project move forward.

Inspiration isn’t always at hand. Previously great ideas don’t always pick up and soar.

If you’re feeling negative about pursuing the creative arts, stop what you are doing and start a new project.

Right now.

Do it.

Not forever. The hard work has to happen at some point, but it will seem a lot easier when you are gliding on the high of creation.

Because all the work is just work. But creating, that’s divine. That is the awesome and it is supposed to be.

Be excited about creating, even if its a challenge. Even if you’re not sure where its going to take you. Have fun with it! That is the point! Not the marketing plan or the sales charts or the end user. The creating.

Keep that in mind and you’ll find yourself succeeding every day.

Stuck plot? Drop a bomb

Apparently I’m not alone in running out of steam in the middle of a manuscript. I have been trying to force my way through a sticky patch somewhere in the middle for the last couple weeks and coming up with nothing, so I was reading a few articles last night that commiserated with my plight. The middle is hard, even when you know where you’re going, things can veer off course, putter out, or just get plain boring.

Then I was reminded of something I read in Stephen King’s book “On Writing” about when he got stuck writing the stand. He just couldn’t seem to propel the plot forward and so he just took walks, thinking about what to do until the idea struck him. He needed to blow everything up.

He did so literally, putting a bomb in the closet and taking out everyone’s favorite character, Nick. I read “The Stand” when I was fifteen and I still remember that devastating loss.

The bomb jarred the stuck gears back into their roll in many ways. It shocked the reader, brought their attention and investment back into focus. It propelled the plot, forcing both the story and the characters out of the comfort zone. And it set up the end of the story.

So last night, as my character Raff had nothing on his schedule besides breakfast with his buddy, Popcorn, I blew up the bell tower. And the proceeding landslide pushed my story into breakneck pace where revelations began springing up as the ending moved a whole lot closer.

Now obviously, not every story should use an actual bomb. It might liven things up if the restaurant blows up in the middle of your rom com, but it also change it from a rom com to a drama.

But there are different types of bombs to be dropped.

  • A Truth bomb – A revelation comes to light that changes everything.
  • A life bomb – a car accident, losing a job, a fight, a break up.
  • A death bomb – an unexpected death of a major character.
  • A nature bomb – any kind of natural disaster that shakes everything up.

One of the best thing about dropping a bomb is that, since you don’t see if coming, neither will your reader. In the most authentic way you reach out and smack them across the face and say “Hey! Are you paying attention?”

And even if their attention had started to stray, they sure are now.

Have you ever employed this technique? Have you found it effective? Share your thoughts!

Strong Female Characters: Fact vs Fiction

L.C.W. Allingham

“”So, why do you always write these strong women characters?”
“Because you’re still asking me that question. “”-Joss Whedon

They’re all the rage. Run a search and you will find hundreds of articles on how to write them. We all want to create a Katniss or a Buffy or an Arya. We like our women strong, or at least we think we do. For every Katniss there are 12 Bellas and every Buffy there are 200 Lana Langs. In tv and fiction these days there are more weak female characters that we are told are strong than those who possess that actual qualities we seem to want.

So how do you tell the difference?

Isn’t is kinda amazing that we, as a society, don’t yet know?

It’s because we’re dazzled with flash and glitz and drama and a few broken rules. A strong character doesn’t need to wield a sword…

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Grammar Shmammar

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed. My grammar isn’t perfect in my writing. Sometimes I use an apostrophe after a possessive “its” or (gasp) type out the dreaded “your” when I mean “you’re”. I also frequently confuse my laids and lays and lies.

These kind of grammar mistakes used to keep me from sharing my work. As a writer and a former Journalism student, coming up against a grammar nazi punching holes in my work due to sloppy mistakes such as these was humiliating.

But the truth is, when I’m inspired, when I’m typing a mile a minute, when the words are spilling from my fingers to the page, sloppy grammar, typos and even incorrect use of “your” are hardly relevant.

A writer told me she was afraid to share her work because “she didn’t know grammar”. Now, that’s just not true. While grammar has all kinds of fancy words attached to it that we forgot after 8th grade English class, we use grammar every day to speak.

Blaine had turned on the oven the night before, but now he realized it was broken.

Past perfect participle and past progressive participle anyone?

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t edit your work and you shouldn’t re-familiarize yourself with rules and formats that you are unsure of. I, for example, use to structure dialogue incorrectly. But I never would have realized this if I hadn’t put my work up for review and, the thing is, that the other writers who noted it (only about 1 in 7 I would say) just noted it in passing. They didn’t point and laugh and suggest I couldn’t be a writer.

Because it’s just grammar. If you accidentally replace a flat top screw with a round top screw while you’re building a table, you’ll still have a table and if you know your shit, it will probably be a really nice table.

If you mess up your possessive structuring or your comma usage, you can still have an amazing story. It is the content that matter.

Everything else is just hardware. Using the right stuff is important and it will make your job easier, but in a pinch, use what you have available and you can fix it later.