Friday, June 29, 2012

5SF: Harvest

HUZZAH! Lillie McFerrin has posted another Five Sentence Fiction challenge
This is my spin on the current prompt:


Reaping souls was a grisly business - but curious too, and full of surprises. The final gasp, a last look of wonder (or terror), a squeaky question forced through a dying breath...there was no way to know how a person would ultimately face death until the last second.

Welsan hadn't filled his soul-glass in a while. His customers weren't happy; they'd been begging for a fresh supply for weeks - but he wasn't worried. Murder and war, plague and massacre all thrived in the world, and it was his duty to know where to find them.

Questions? Comments? Let me know!
And be sure to check out Lillie's page so you can read the other awesome entries!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Visual Dare #11: Mystique


Below is this week's Visual Dare! Photo courtesy of Sara Kjelleren

Use this photo in one of two ways:

     * incorporate it into your current Work In Progress - literally, or figuratively
     * use it as a 100 word flash fiction to get the brain going in a different creative direction.

Post your flash fiction, using the link tool below! (Those who don't have a blog may post their work via Sweet Banana Ink.)

Happy writing!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Jellybean, Licorice, Vonnegut, Line

Time for the next installment of the Visual Storyboarding series! 
(Previous entries have been bookmarked for you at the end of this post.)


Now that we’ve discussed (a) why we storyboard and not merely “plot”, (b) how to visualize our hooks, and (c) how to pull together the factual AND visual details for our respective novels --- the next step, then, is to craft a timeline of events that your characters must endure for the sake of the story.

The good news? 
Timelines don’t need to be ultra-specific - only enough to keep you on track with where your tale needs to go.

The challenge? 
Since this is visual storyboarding, you'll likely need at least two different kinds of timelines, and possibly all four.

Which four kinds of timelines do I mean? The ones mentioned in the blog title, of course: Jellybean, Licorice, Vonnegut, Line.

But in true Angela fashion, I’ve given you the list of timeline forms in reverse order. Let’s start with the last one, shall we?


This is the form of timeline that every schoolchild knows. A basic, straightforward timeline that gives the general idea of which event happened first – you know, to show that Napoleon lived before Ronald Reagan, or that the sinking of the Titanic did NOT happen during the Third Crusade.

A basic line timeline looks something like this:

Simple enough, yes?

So when you first sit down to work the timelines for your novel, this is usually your first step. Go ahead and get the obvious out on paper – not in paragraph form, but in this simple line form, so that you can have a quick reference to make sure your novel doesn’t jump the tracks and diverge into the opium fields somewhere.

You may have already done this part, of course. If you have, you’re ready for the next kind of timeline:


This is the timeline idea that revolutionized the way I plot my stories – and, as you might have guessed from the name, the idea was given to me by the old wisecracking surrealist writer, Kurt Vonnegut himself.

More specifically, I learned about this style of time-line-ing when I first sat down to read Vonnegut’s best-known novel, Slaughterhouse Five.

I refer, of course, to the first chapter of that book, which explains how he came up with his hypnotically fractured story about time-sliding Billy Pilgrim. More specifically, he explains what aliens and a disillusioned middle-aged man have to do with Vonnegut’s own experiences during the bombing of Dresden (WWII), which he and his comrades narrowly survived by hiding out in a concrete slaughterhouse (from which the book derives its name). 

The part that changed the way I saw story-plotting was Vonnegut’s own confession on how he started to draw out the idea for Slaughterhouse Five:
I had outlined the Dresden story many times. The best outline I ever made, or anyway, the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper. I used my daughter’s crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle. And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line, and yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead. And so on. The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side.
Now – I don’t know if that description makes any sense to you, but it sent off massive amounts of light bulbs in my head. Holy crow, I thought. That makes so much sense! I could see at one whack where all the major characters are, where they fall in and out of the story, who crosses into the climactic conflicts, and so on. I could totally do this.

And when I did the serious storyboarding for Castle 8, that’s just what I did. I taped together several sheets of typing paper end to end – fourteen feet of it – and spent five solid days during a January ice storm laying out my Dresdens and colored lines and battlefields.

The result looked like this:

"The beginning of the story." First half of the behemoth 14 foot timeline, spread across 
my desperately-needs-vacuuming floor. This is how I spent the five days I was stuck 
at home during the ice storm of early 2011.

"All that middle part, which was the middle." What you see here has 
changed somewhat now; I’ve dropped some characters and shifted the timeline. 
That happens when you write, at least to a point. 

"And the other end was the end." The other end of the 14 foot timeline. The broad yellow stripe 
indicates the huge climactic scene of the series. I gave myself another foot 
or so of space afterward, to allow for adequately handling the denouement of the tale.

Some of the timeline has changed, but most of it is still structurally sound. I refer to it frequently, because this shows me at one glance where each character is in relation to the major events happening in my tale. Moreover, because my series will become increasingly complex in the overlap of characters’ lives, I will refer to it still more as the tale progresses. My fourteen foot timeline may look like overkill, but for me – it’s a lifesaver.


So you’ve got your Vonnegut Timeline ready (or we’re pretending that you have). Now you realize that even within the overall harp of colored lifelines, there are some finer points that need their own timeline. Maybe there is a very busy three month period in your tale where a lot is going on – OR maybe your story doesn’t cross years (like mine), but a series of weeks, and a narrower range of time-line-ing is in order.

That’s where laying out a licorice timeline will help.

An incomplete licorice timeline. With very short, squat licorice strips. 
(But not quite a jellybean timeline, even so.)

I call it a “licorice” timeline because it looks like someone’s laid out those long, thin rectangular strands of Twizzlers and given them funny labels, and took away the color. I did a licorice timeline for a nine month stretch of Castle 8, and while it’s not completely finished (or accurate), the current format still helps me understand the necessary structure of those nine important months in my characters' lives.


But what if you need to break events down even further? What if there are a few days in your narrative where everything is happening at once, and in several different places?

That’s where a jellybean timeline will help. It works essentially like the licorice timeline, but with shorter, fatter dollops of information on a Vonnegut trajectory. I recently had to create a jellybean timeline to get a better grasp of the opening five days of my story, and the result was this:

 See the cute little jellybean shapes? Or maybe they're more like gumdrops. 
But "gumdrop" doesn't quite catch the rhythm of the "jellybean, licorice, Vonnegut, line" jingle. 


·      I am severely OCD when it comes to timelines. Yours doesn’t need to be so neat, or so anal-retentive.
·      Not all of these timeline types will apply to your story. Most of you will need only one or two, and which ones you need may vary, depending on the project.
·      It’s always advisable to do the standard line timeline at least, just so you know where your major events fall, and what those major events are.
·      EXPERIMENT. I’m sure there’s another way of handing the timing aspect of things that I haven’t covered here. Use what works right for you.


If you missed the earlier Visual Storyboarding episodes, you can follow the following links to catch up:

     PART ONE: Storyboarding vs Mere Plotting

     PART TWO: Building on Your Hook

     PART THREE: Chasing Down the Details

Questions? Comments? Let me know in the comment section below!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Surprise Badges & Fairy Godmothers

So...I've been off the internet radar for most of the past week. Some of that is due to being out of town a couple days for Father's Day. The last few days, however, I've been leading a week-long art camp on upcycled fashion. It's been fun - but tiring, which means I've been crashing early every day this week. Almost as soon as I get home, in fact.

And then, in the middle of all my fantastically busy, artistic, non-writing week, I received a flock of tweets pointing me toward a most WONDERFUL surprise.

You see, I apparently have a fairy godmother in the online writing world. And she is supremely awesome. For proof, I submit the following evidence:

Isn't it wonderful?!?? A website banner of my very own, magicked into existence by the blogging Fairy Godmother herself, Donna McNicol. In honor of the Visual Dare flash fiction posted here every week, Donna made this lovely badge for the Anonymous Legacy blog.

If you don't already, I strongly recommend that you follow Donna on Twitter (@DonnaBMcNicol), and her site Write for Ten,  which is a great challenge to write every day, even if it's only for 10 minutes. Her site has a nifty cool banner as well, and you would all do well to link through and follow it:

Of course, weekly writing challenges are NOT the limit of Donna's awesomeness. She's also a writer and author in her own right, with two forthcoming novels and several shorter works already available for Kindle or Nook. Her author website can be found here:  She also has a writing blog ( and a personal blog that spotlights her traveling adventures with her husband Stu (

And you know what? My amazing badge is not the limit of Donna's sweet fairy godmother ways. She's also made a banner for fledgling writer's website Sweet Banana Ink, and recently spotlighted it on her writing blog.

See what I mean? If anyone is a fairy godmother with a double scoop of awesome AND fairy dust - it's this lady.

When I joined the Twitter/blogging/online writing community in September 2011, I was totally unprepared for the wonderfully accepting, encouraging network of writers I would find. So much of the artistic world can be cutthroat and divisive, but I have found the online writing community to be anything but. Thanks to wonderfully creative, writer-ly souls like Donna, my journey down the path toward Authorship has been full of encouragement, thoughtful questions, running jokes, and lovely surprises.

Thank you, Donna, for my AL badge. And thank YOU, wonderful readers, for making Anonymous Legacy and the Visual Dare a banner-worthy endeavor!

I hope all of you have a fairy godmother, online or in real life. Do you?
What's the nicest thing a fellow writer has done for you?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Visual Dare #10: Peeking


Below is this week's Visual Dare! Photo courtesy of Anglophonic.

(Instructions below photo.)

Use this photo in one of two ways:

     * incorporate it into your current Work In Progress - literally, or figuratively
     * use it as a 100 word flash fiction to get the brain going in a different creative direction.

Post your flash fiction, using the link tool below! (Those who don't have a blog may post in the comments.)

Happy writing!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Honeymoon = GONE

This week has been extremely difficult, writing-wise. Feeling I am so close to the brink of really nailing Castle 8 rewrites in a way that I think will shine through with my original vision, and yet feeling so inadequate in making it actually happen.

Also, I am tired. Though most of my jobs have stopped for the summer, they've only been replaced with summer employment (bills must be paid in June and July, after all), which means now instead of having three jobs, I have FOUR.

But that's not the real reason for my fatigue, believe or not. Most of my weariness has stemmed from my writing, which - up to this point - I would have told you was pretty much impossible.

I had coffeehouse meetings with four different writers this week, and I detected the same fatigue in two of those four writers. At a couple times the conversation actually lagged as we just stared at each other wearily across the polished wood table, wondering what to say next.

The meetings were entirely worth it, of course - they always are. But the truth of the thing was underscored for me: the Writing Honeymoon is officially over. For me and, I think, a couple of my writer friends.

The more strained of those two bah-humbug meetings happened this afternoon; or at least, that's how the meeting started. Fortunately, we did not give up on our writing talk, or the writing date, either. We stuck around another hour after the collective depression over our projects set in, and bought another cup of coffee. And talked some more. Compared more notes. Asked more open-ended-you-couldn't-possibly-answer-this questions.

Eventually, remarkably, a "eureka" moment came - not for me, but for my friend. By the end of the session, her enthusiasm had penetrated my funk. I wasn't feeling nearly so down, but I was still feeling tired. But the kind of tired that keeps on writing.

In exchange, my friend gave me something hard to think about concerning Castle 8. So hard that it took me all evening wrestling with it to admit that she was right: One of my major characters had to go.

Nor was she the first one to point it out. Two other beta-readers whose opinion I value highly had said the same thing. I've spent the last six months trying to argue them down, explain to them how that was dead wrong. My character was witty, charming, great with a comeback, handsome, a lover of music and poetry, and a redhead goshdarnit!! So of course he's necessary!

But wit and beauty and a love of beautiful things does not a necessary character make. I sat down and considered the hard question: What would this story look like without my pet character?

The hard-to-swallow answer: A lot tighter. Much more driven. Less prone to wandering. It eliminates several plot detours. Action goes up. WAY up. Nostalgic detours drop to zilch.

Ugly truth: I eliminate my pet, and my manuscript reaps amazing benefits. In all quadrants.

I admit I cried, a little. That's a definite a first for me. I always thought stories about writers who cried over their characters were nutzo. Now I'm one of the lunatics, I guess.

This will take a few days at least for me to get over. Won't lie about that. But after an hour of eliminating The Pet from my narrative - only an hour; he was in woefully few parts once I sat down and really looked at it - I have to admit that my narrative is already healthier, in many ways.

But you'll forgive me, I trust, if I drown my sorrows in a couple days of raging jigpunk music. Or frozen yogurt. Or maybe a good book that will remind me that I am not the first writer to realize that the Writing Honeymoon was over.....and write through it anyway.

Anyone else ever been there?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Visual Dare #9: Risk

Here is this week's Visual Dare! Photo courtesy of Les Petite Choses.

(Instructions below photo.)

Use this photo in one of two ways:

     * incorporate it into your current Work In Progress - literally, or figuratively
     * use it as a 100 word flash fiction to get the brain going in a different creative direction.

Post your flash fiction, using the link tool below! (Those who don't have a blog may post in the comments.)

Happy writing!

Monday, June 11, 2012


The magnificent Lisa Shambrook (@LastKrystalos) tagged me in this wonderful blog hop, which allows the blogging community to glimpse what our writer neighbors are working on!

I am the Johnny-Come-Lately to this little meme, so I apologize for showing up late to the soiree. But I had absolute fun putting this together, and I hope you enjoy it too.

First, the rules:

1. Answer the ten questions
2. Tag five other writers, link to them in your post so we can hop over and see their answers too.

The Questions:

1. What is the name of your book:

Castle 8

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

I was literally ambushed by the four main characters – a set of brothers, as I was driving home from an after-Christmas dinner with friends on December 26, 2010. They were so real to me in that moment that I actually turned a couple times to double check the seats. I was sure someone was in the car with me.

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

Speculative Fiction

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?  

Honestly, this will probably mark me as a weirdo, but I hope they cast all anonymous faces (If it ever does make it to the silver screen). If you follow my boards on Pinterest and look at the C8: Chars pinboard, then you know I cull from anonymous people for my characters.

That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to Andy Serkis in the role of Captain Sikes. He is such an excellent actor and has always managed such wonderful villainous roles.

5. Give us a one sentence synopsis of your book:

Following the second end of the world, four brothers fight for a way out of the crumbling subterranean network in which they find themselves entombed.

6. Is your book already published/represented?

Not yet. If I can keep my nose to the grindstone with edits (I am VERY pleased with how things are moving at present), then I hope to begin querying for my first round of rejections in August. J

7. How long did it take to write your book?

Almost precisely a year. It was on hiatus from February till May of this year, and I am currently in the trenches of rewrites and edits.

8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours? 

This may sound like the biggest cop-out, but I really don’t know. HOWEVER I've had several beta-readers comment that those who like dystopian fiction, but would rather hear more about what comes AFTER the collapse of the tyrannical society would really embrace this one.

9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

My first literary love is C S Lewis, hands down. I adore his clean prose that packs so much into such deceptively simple-looking sentences. I am consciously attempting to emulate that skill in my current rewrites.

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

Here is my working book jacket “blurb” that I plan to include in upcoming queries:

Six years after the second end of the world, cannibals dominate the Underground. The makeshift government that set this subterranean society in motion has gone quiet. Big Brother, it seems, is dead. The Underground has been left to self-destruct.
            Then rumors circulate of a nameless visitor, arrived from a bunker supposedly dead. Of an engineer, brutally murdered; and an abandoned warehouse with secrets of its own. As tensions mount and supplies run out, four brothers emerge from the chaos to find they stand on the crux of a fragile hope – not only for themselves, but all who wish to survive.

And now – to tag five other bloggers (apologies if you've already been tagged):

A Mirror Dim / @BettisiTheThird
A Spark of Hope / @JustPlainMary_
Scribbling Sharon / @sharonscribbles
Re-Raveling / @reraveler
Raven in the Writing Desk / @falcon_feathers

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Visual Storyboarding: Chasing Down the Details

Welcome to the next installment of the Visual Storyboarding Series!

If you need to catch up...

     PART TWO: Building on Your Hook

Now for part three...

All right. Now for the nitty-gritty.

Let’s review, shall we?

·      We’ve got our hook for a story.
·      We know why it hooks us.
·      We’re determined to storyboard our story visually, and not merely plot it out.

So what’s the next practical step?   RESEARCH

Researching elements that will help you present your story visually comes in roughly five different ways:

·      “Old School” Research
·      Interviews
·      Pay Attention!
·      notebooks
·      Pinterest and Tumblr

The first three methods are almost givens, but must be repeated here, if only because the advent of internet and high speed access has somewhat squashed most people’s desire to do REAL gruntwork when it comes to the realm of research.

Care for a firkin of good wine?

Researching It Old School

Your first step is to know the terminology used for your research. Get past the surface level and find the jargon for the specific thing you need. Once you do that, you’ll have the tools you need to find the books you need. Also: You'll have the right key words to sift the zillion websites that would be, for you, utterly useless.

Don’t overlook real books that might help, especially at the library. There are tons of hard copy books at your local library collecting dust that could help you tremendously, and in unexpected ways. Sometimes it pays to just browse the topical shelves in the non-fiction section and see what crops up. You think people blog about weird things? (Have you seen what people used to write books about? I mean really...)

Example: Last year I stumbled across a gem of a book in the crafts section, entitled: The Forgotten Arts & Crafts by John Seymour (© 2001). One brief perusal of this book absolutely blew my mind in regards to my current project – everything from hedge laying to peat cutting to coopering to making horse collars and smocking. And the kegs! Do you know how much wine is in a firkin? Or a puncheon?

If you read the book, you’ll know.

More than that, you’ll know not only how much wine is in a firkin, but whether said barrel of wine is enough, when dropped, to (a) break a foot, (b) kill a man, or (c) merely get him soaked through with the king’s best brew. (NOTE: I actually looked for this online to give you a visual reference – it’s not there. Yay for real books!)

See what I mean? Sometimes doing it “old school” still turns up some REAL gems for your work-in-progress.

LOOK. A railroad switch lamp! Isn't that exciting??!!?


Last year I had a lucky accident where my WIP was concerned. I met a friend for coffee – a rare treat since she now lives in upstate New York and rarely returns to Georgia – and while we chatted I got to know more about this new job of hers that had so cruelly taken her away from me.

Know what she does for a living? She designs railroad switches.

Yep. Railroad switches. That’s it. Sometimes she gets to replace them, too. But that’s as exciting as it gets in her job. Most of her days are spent with blueprints and wiring specs, and tedious measurements that I cannot fathom.

That may sound dull as dirt to you, and usually I would agree. But when she started talking about railroad switches I became absurdly excited, and started pelting her with questions.

The reason? An underground rail system exists in my current WIP, and I had realized that an understanding of wires and rail switches were critical to one specific plot point. But it meant asking some specific, quirky questions, and neither books nor the internet were answering those questions.

Behold the expert!

Sometimes you must to talk to an expert, because:
(a) they will know things that don’t show up in the books (or websites)
(b) they can make sense of the technical jargon us “normal” people don’t get
(c)  they can tell you what happens in a “what if” situation, that is not in the books and – typically – is what writers need to know so we can complicate our characters’ lives.

NOTE: If you are going to interview an expert, don’t go into it blindly as I did! Make sure you know basic terminology at least, and have a list of pertinent, articulate questions on hand. My friend was very forgiving of my blundering; but then she’s known me for years. J

Pay Attention!

This is quite possibly the oldest rule in the writing handbook. You want to learn how to give life to your characters and your world? Start by observing life. Become a people watcher. Dare to be almost creepy in your people-watching (but please, don’t do anything that would get you arrested). There will be times when you’ll want to jot down notes (see next research tip), but sometimes you’ll want to just lay all the paper aside, put the cell phone on mute, and take the ear buds out of your ears, and just……watch. An ability to do this, I think, and do it consistently, is one of the things that separates the True Writers from the Dabblers.


If you’re like me, you’ve killed several small forests worth of paper for your writing notebooks, and the Amazon Tree Fairies will show up at your door any moment with a warrant for your arrest. There is such a thing as too much paper, I guess, but judging by the state of my library (read: my whole house), I haven’t reached my pain threshold on that one yet.

When you learn to people-watch – I mean really observe people, not just watch them like a TV show and be sneeringly amused – then you’re ready to take notes on what you hear and see. And then add them to the notes from all these books and websites you’ve culled through. This will be your almanac for all persnickety details pertaining to your story.

Your notebook should include most, or possibly all, of the following:

o   basic synopsis of your work-in-progress
o   your original hook (you’ll want to revisit this one now and then)
o   list of characters, locations, key items or groups in your WIP
o   general descriptions, plot notes, timelines & maps (more on that next time)
o   articles printed out from the web
o   vocabulary and pertinent facts
o   Questions and notes from interviews
o   real-time observations, jotted down from people-watching
o   jotted down snatches of conversation

The dialogue exercise is key, for a lot of reasons, as dialogue can be such an elusive thing to nail down properly. But that is fodder for another post.

Pinterest and/or Tumbler

The old-school schoolmarm in me cringes at including this, but I have learned recently that this is far too valuable a tool to pass up. Is Pinterest a real time waster? It can be. Oh boy, can it ever.

BUT – just like Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social networks – it can also be a powerful tool.

Screencap from one of my many pinboards related to my work-in-progress: underground architecture, 
industrial staircases, warehouses, bunkers. Fun stuff that I wouldn't understand without a visual.

Pinterest is a visual smorgasbord. The whole point to the site is to find visual representations of (and links to) those things we love, admire, wish for, or want to make, bake, cook, build, sew, knit, paint or draw. OR WRITE, as the case may be. For writers, Pinterest can be an absolute playground when it comes to really nailing down those visual realities of what you’re trying to communicate.

Screencap from another pinboard - this one for characters. You notice I've already got most of the 
names and/or titles in place. I know most people cast their characters from the current Hollywood roster; 
I prefer to cull through photos of real, anonymous people with a different kind of soul in their eyes.

I won’t lie. PInterest has helped me out of several storyboarding issues lately, including several major hangups with my WIP. In fact, I was about ready to abandon it, because my plot was sagging due to my inadequate understanding of some very technical points regarding architecture, engineering, and mechanical details. I had done the research. I had put in the time. But since I am neither an architect, an engineer, nor an expert on industrial machines, I couldn’t pull together all those details into an environment I understood, a realm that I, the writer, could actually see.

Enter the following helpful smorgasbord:

 You know when you know what something looks like, but don't know what it's called?
Yeah. This is another reason why I have 21 pinboards.

I have 21 boards, and the 13 largest ones are all indelibly connected to a specific writing project. Even the “Storyboard Boneyard” - which is where I put photos that don’t belong anywhere special, but I know I’ll want them later – has it’s own special character. More than that, a pattern is beginning to emerge there…of what, I’m not sure, but I have no doubt a new project will grow out of it. Possibly several.

Next stop on the Visual Storyboarding tour.....TIMELINES.

Specifically, of the linear, Vonnegut, and jellybean sort. And maybe a few others.

Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Let me know in the comments!
And as always....THANKS FOR READING!!!!