Monthly Writing Prompt | September 2022

You wish you knew how this would turn out. As you hesitate, everything that could go wrong swirls together in your head. You feel dizzy, shaky; the stakes suddenly appear much larger than they were just a moment ago. But then, what if it all goes according to plan?

Muse Stimulators:

  • What is the POV hesitant to do?
  • What are some things that could go wrong?
  • What are the stakes?
  • What will happen if it all goes according to plan?
  • What happens next?

Happy Writing!
~MJ

Petey says hello!

Ultimate Writing Tool: The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck

Let me tell you a story…

My name is MJ and I’ve been in love with storytelling since I was a child. 

I never had trouble coming up with a rough plot or concepts for my stories, but once I started the actual writing part, I would always come to a place in the story where I would realize I hadn’t worked out an important detail. So, I would backtrack and try to weave it in. More often than not, this caused a snowball of issues that would quickly become overwhelming, and I would end up starting over completely from scratch or abandoning the story altogether.

So. Frustrating. 

Does this sound familiar?

To help me figure out where I was going wrong, I started the Augusta Writer’s Critique Group on Meetup in August 2018 to collaborate with other writers, learn from them, share my experiences, and support a community that loves words and assembling them into sentences as much as I do. Now boasting over 550 members, the Augusta Writer’s Critique Group has given me the opportunity to work with many writers who have become successfully published authors. 

Augusta Writer’s Critique Group

And it’s also given me the chance to work alongside writers who get stuck just like me.

My experience as a critique host has helped me to pinpoint the key questions that successful writers answer during their planning stage and unsuccessful writers do not. 

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck was born!

 I had 3 basic principles in mind when I was forming my vision for this project. 

1) I wanted to make a product that was straightforward and simple to use for any genre of fiction. 

I’ve acquired a lot of writing tools over the years, but a common problem in all of them was they were overcomplicated and hard to keep organized, not applicable to the genre I was writing, and most were too jargony. I found myself looking up more terms to understand those tools than doing actual research for my novel. 

Another problem, and perhaps the most impactful, was that none of these tools took my unique writing style into account, and I found the rigidness of their application very stunting for my Muse, which only added to my frustration.

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck is simple and easy to use.

There are 54 cards, comprised of eight categories shared across all genres of fiction: 

  • Muse
  • Plot
  • Main Character
  • Side Characters
  • Antagonist
  • Macro-Level Worldbuilding
  • Micro-Level Worldbuilding
  • Exercises

The cards are color-coded by category and numbered 1-54 so you can tailor them to YOUR unique writing style:

1) Go one by one from start to finish for a more structured approach

2) Select the exact color-coded category for a targeted approach

3) Or shuffle the deck for a spontaneous or randomized approach

Whether you’re writing a children’s picture book, a gruesome horror, a complex high fantasy world, or whichever section of the bookstore you imagine your novel displayed, the Writer’s Muse Focus Deck’s questions are applicable to all genres. 

2) I wanted to make a product that would be useful for both experienced authors and new writers alike

The biggest obstacle for new writers is not having a clue what questions to ask to create cohesive narrative and compelling characters, or to introduce page-turning tension into the story to hook readers and keep them engaged until the very last word. 

Even as an experienced writer, I still need a focus; a one-stop shop to invoke my Muse and pour my inspiration out into a cohesive, complete, and clear path to novel writing success. 

When it boils down to it, writers just want to write, to complete novels and get them out into the world for reader consumption. Spending weeks or months eeking out the details of a plot or characters, then finding out halfway through a draft that something important was overlooked and major rewrites are needed to resolve them is a nonstarter. 

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck is a smooth, fast, repeatable process that all writers can use to iron out the important details and get writing with confidence.

The deck’s eight color-coded categories address critical elements of storytelling shared across all genres of fiction. No matter how complex your story, this deck is specific enough to uncover the finer details, and high level enough to reuse multiple times in your planning stage to address more complexities if needed.

  • Four separate planets? Run through the Macro-level worldbuilding questions for each one. 
  • Eight main characters? The Main Character cards will enable you to give each one their own unique voice. 
  • Six antagonists? The Antagonist cards will help you sort out all of their devious intentions. 

3) I wanted to make a product that could be valuable for every stage of the writing process

As an experienced writer, I fully understand that a first draft is not a perfect specimen, no matter how meticulous your planning stage or process is. Once you start writing, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the story and move your fingers faster than your brain can keep up. A few things are bound to need a bit more fleshing out after that first draft is done.

That’s why I also wanted a product that would help writers revise their first draft, and pinpoint exactly what needs more development to polish their efforts into something that’s ready to send to an editor, a beta reader, or an agent.  

The Writer’s Muse Focus Deck lets you easily identify areas in your narrative that need more development so you can get to work on your next revision with a clear focus. 

So where am I in the production process?

The Kickstarter has officially launched!!!!! And you can see it for yourself by clicking here: Kickstarter Campaign

Watch the video!

The questions are written, and the vendor who will be printing them selected. 

The decks pictured in the photographs above are prototypes

I’m still narrowing down the cardstock I want the cards printed on. I have experimented with two different cardstock options so far: smooth and linen. 

The linen cardstock is by far the more durable and pleasant to touch than the smooth, but it’s slightly more expensive. 

I’m waiting on a third prototype made of eco-herbage cardstock to arrive to determine if the durability is up to the standards required for novelists who will be using this product again and again. 

Follow the Kickstarter to be updated when I receive the eco-herbage prototype and compare all the options.

Pledge your support for this product on Kickstarter and reserve your Writer’s Muse Focus Deck to experience how this game-changing card deck can help you focus your muse and get writing!!!

Available on Kickstarter!

Inciting Incident How-to

The Inciting Incident is one of the most critical plot points in your story: it justifies why your story is even happening, so it needs to be well developed out and executed for maximum impact.

The Inciting Incident is the transition point between your Introduction, where your reader learns about your main character and what their day to day looks like, and the Rising Action, where your MC is going to grow, learn about the big bad, wreak havoc, make mistakes, and inch closer to that Climax of tension, suspense, and resolution.

The Inciting Incident needs to have a large enough impact that your MC is either willing to leave or change their normal day to day, or it needs to pose a great enough impediment to prevent them from coming back or returning to it.

Try to include foreshadowing for the Inciting Incident somewhere in your Introduction phase, maybe through character dialogue, in something they hear, or even in a thought or behavior. Think of how you can keep this foreshadowed thread active throughout the book to avoid the Inciting Incident becoming a “Convenient Catastrophe”.

Convenient Catastrophe’s are inciting incidents (or other events) that happen for a singular purpose and then are forgotten about or dismissed for the rest of the book. The issue with this is that significant events always have a lasting impact on the world and the MC, especially if it interrupted your MC’s normal day-to-day. So without any resolution, Convenient Catastrophes often feel shoehorned in and disconnected from the rest of the story, and they can take away from the believability of what happened to your MC.

Inciting Incidents and other significant events are going to be memorable to your MC, so as you unfold the Rising Action, have your MC think about it, experience emotions, or change behaviors as a direct result of the Inciting Incident. Doing this will make your inciting incident realistic to the reader and add depth to your narrative and MC. You may even want to include a deeper resolution for the Inciting Incident in your Climax or Conclusion by having your MC come to accept what happened, repair the damage done, or establish a new normal in spite of it or because of it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful!

This video explores this topic as well, I hope you enjoy!

Happy Writing!

~MJ

5 Critical Tips for Writing Short Stories

How do you write a short story? What short story elements catch a publisher’s eye?

In my role as first reader of an online speculative fiction magazine, I have truly been blown away by all of the things that I’m learning about regarding the story selection process. So many well-written stories get rejected because they do not adhere to these 5 simple, but not all-inclusive, standards below.

1) Make everything that happens in your story matter

Eliminate extraneous details, if you say it once, it’s enough. And be concise with dialogue and descriptions, purple language and paragraphs of backstory doesn’t get brownie points if it doesn’t enhance the story/arc.

2) If it’s critical to understanding the punchline, make it clear in the narrative

The most unfortunate thing is getting a really well-written story with a fuzzy/muddled plot. Make it clear what you’re trying to say with your story, don’t veil it in mystery.

3) Foreshadow twist endings

It really sucks to read an amazing story with great characters and action and then BAM! Something crazy happens at the end that comes completely out of nowhere. While this may seem like something clever to do, it’s almost guaranteed to end in rejection. Foreshadowing is paramount to twist endings. Something in the twist needs to tie back to the rest of the story and tension build-up.

4) Avoid a setup that is too convenient or too disconnected

Too many well-written stories move the plot along in ways that feel too convenient to be believable or are too disconnected to make sense, and this eliminates the tension in the story. The solution really boils down to adequate foreshadowing. Anything can be written in a story, especially genres like speculative fiction or magical realism, but just make sure your critical plot points are adequately foreshadowed.

5) Make your character motivations clear early in the story

If I can’t connect with your character, then I honestly don’t care what they’re about to go through in the next 5000 words. Make it clear to your reader what your character wants early in the story so we can view what happens to them from their perspective and understand why they do/think/say/respond the way they do.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful in your writing and publishing journey! Thank you for being a member!

Happy Writing!

~MJ

I’m Editing my Novel | January 2022 Highlights

Editing is a painful, but necessary process. Blegh.

And to complicate matters, it’s not a process that is easily repeatable from one chapter to the next.

In preparing my manuscript to begin querying agents this year, I am dissecting each chapter, slashing content, adding content, moving content–everything I possibly can to make this novel the best it can be. And in this process, I am incorporating feedback from my critique group as well.

Objective third parties are amazing! If you don’t have a critique group, get one.

Here are my youtube shorts for this month describing the issues I discovered in my manuscript, what I decided was the best method to resolve them, and what my critique group thought about those methods.

There are a few general writing tips in there as well that you will hopefully find useful whether you are writing a new story or editing an existing one.

Please subscribe to my blog and youtube channel for future videos!

Chapter 23 was a total rewrite vs just an edit, which can be tricky when polishing a manuscript as a final draft. Predictably, my critique group found a few residual issues.

Chapter 25 went under the knife! See why moving half of the chapter to another character’s POV was necessary, and why I thought my characters needed major reworking here. This one made me nervous too because there’s a steamy sex scene in it!

What did my critique group have to say about my sex scene and my re-characterization of these two characters?

The small changes I’ve been making so far are beginning to amount to some pretty drastic plot alterations, resulting in another complete rewrite of a chapter, but for different reasons than chapter 23.

My critique group had some great feedback for my edit of chapter 26 here, providing an excellent example of “Author Blindness”. With the right tools, this writer’s ailment can be remedied.

“What do my characters do while they wait for the big battle?” Enter the mid-novel slog and exactly where this chapter lands. This is a BIG issue. Mid-novel slog is never a good thing.

Critique group comments on mid-novel slog and my solution to this problem: add more chapters!

Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

Petey says hello!

Editing | An Introduction

Are you struggling with identifying why the novel you completed during NaNoWriMo isn’t ready for publication? Are you curious if other writers experience the same first draft issues that you do?

I am launching a new series on my YouTube Channel: Editing Series (kinda lame name but oh well) which will explore exactly that and offer some writing tips along the way.

I finished a rough draft of my novel during NaNoWriMo 2020 and it needs a lot of work, but I’ve made it my goal to get this novel ready to start querying agents in 2022.

If you are interested in learning how I am going about reaching that goal, and what issues I encounter along the way, please subscribe to my YouTube channel because I will be breaking down each chapter’s issues as I complete them in the hope that it will help me stay on track for my publication goal, and also provide insight into what might be missing from your first draft.

Check out my Introduction video below to learn more:

If you enjoyed this video, please like and subscribe and I’ll see you in a future video!

If this series is helpful for you and you want to learn more about how I can help you polish your novel:

-Check out my writing services

-Follow me on twitter

Happy Writing!

MJ

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