Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Trello for Writers, Part 2: Templates

If you use Trello to manage your writing projects, you might find it useful to create cards that you can use for multiple cards.

STEP 1: Create a "Templates" Board


Let's start by creating a Trello board where you can keep the cards you want to reuse. Open up Trello and click Create new board. Give the new board a title, such as "Templates," and click Create.

That's it. That was easy enough, right? You now have an empty board, waiting for your cards.

STEP 2: Create a List

Now that your board is ready, it's just sitting there empty. An empty bulletin board isn't particularly useful unless you pin something to it, and the same is true of your Trello board. Unlike the blank slate of a bulletin board, though, Trello expects you organize your cards in lists. The kinds of lists you create on your template board depend on the types of templates you want to keep there. For this demo, let's keep it simple. You can always take what you learn and get fancy later. Let's create a single list.

That's easy enough. Turns out, your board is not exactly empty. Turns out there's a box waiting for you, where you can type a name for your first list. Let's call it "Novel Cards."


Click Save (or just hit Enter) and you'll have a list, ready for your cards.

Step 3: Create Cards


Your cards can be anything you want, but because we're keeping it simple for this demo, let's go with something high level, like the following:


  • Character
  • Scene
  • Setting
  • Submission
In your new list, click Add a card, then type the name of the card, "Character," Hit Enter, and type "Scene. Continue this process until you've created all four cards.


Step 4: Add Details

The point of these cards is to contain information that you want to reuse, so we'll need to add some details. Think about the details carefully, so you add what you want and don't have to go back and make changes.

Click one of the cards, and create a comment with the outline of the details you want. Remember, that hitting enter will save the current comment and create a new one. This is good if you want each characteristic to be its own comment, where you can add more details. If you prefer a lighter card, press Ctrl+Enter to move down a line in the current comment.

For example, for the Character card, you might want details like name, age, birthday, best friend, address, appearance characteristics, personally traits, and so on. What you include and the amount of detail depends on your preferences. Click outside the card to close it, then click on the next card.

For scene, you might want a name, summary, goal, characters present, conflict, resolution, and maybe a sequel if you write using the scene and sequel method. 

Do this for each or your cards, adding the types of information you are likely to want in each project. Once you copy the card to a project (we'll do that in another lesson) you can always edit the card to add any project-specific info that you don't necessarily need in a template, such as whether your character is on Team Zombie or Team Pirate.

Next Steps

As you can see, Trello is flexible enough to adapt to your style and preferences. 

After you've created your templates, we'll copy the template cards into a project and look at how to use them to plan your story. 



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trello for Writers

Lately, I've been using Trello a lot at work to track tasks and projects. As often happens when I'm using cool software, I automatically consider how it can be used to improve my writing process. Turns out that with a little creativity, Trello can easily be adapted to be anything you want.

I guess I should start at the beginning. What is Trello? Trello is a task management system, which is a fancy way of saying it's a way to manage your To Do list.

Trello is set up like a bulletin board where you pin cards with each task into a list. Typically, you might have three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. When you start working on one of your To Dos, you move it to Doing, and when it's completed, you move it to Done.



Of course, the cool thing about cards on a bulletin board is you can make the cards whatever you want them to be, and you can arrange them however you want. That means the ways you can use it are limited only by your imagination.

Trello is very easy to use, but there are some tricks and tips that add extra power, which you can use to improve your writing processes. If it were just about making cards and moving them around on a board, this would be a short post.

In this series of posts, we'll look at ways to use Trello to manage a writing project. We'll use it as a kind of sketching tool to map out our plot, start developing characters, and build our fictional world. I'll also show you how you can use Trello as a way to organize your actual written documents, and to collaborate with others, whether it's a co-writer or your crit partners. And once you have everything written, you can, of course, use Trello to track submissions.

The first thing, of course, is getting it for yourself. That's the easy part. Go to trello.com and sign up. Trello is a web app, so you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection. In addition to the web app, you can get free apps for iOS and Android. The mobile apps let you do almost everything you can do on the web, except for a number of customization options and some advanced management. You'll probably want to use both the web and the mobile apps.

Trello is completely free. You can create an unlimited number of boards and cards without paying a cent. There are a couple of paid versions, but you probably don't need them. The paid versions give you a few extra features, like emojis you can use as stickers on your cards and the ability to create more personalized backgrounds for your boards. The one bit of functionality that is nice in the paid version is that you can attach bigger files to your cards--the free version limits you to attachments that are 10MB or less--but unless you work with very large files, this really won't make much difference to you. Everything I will show in this series will take advantage of the standard functionality in the free version.

I recommend that you download Trello and get familiar with the basic functionality. Create a test board and some cards and lists. We'll start digging into the details in the next post.

But for now, I've finished this post, so I can move my Intro card to the Done list. Moving a card to Done always feels like a reward!



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Character Arc, part 2: the Lie, the Want, the Need

In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.

Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.

People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.

A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money. 

The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.

Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.

At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.

Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.

Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Character Arcs

A question came up in my writer’s group. One of my critique partners asked, would not my main character behave differently in that particular situation? That led me to wonder where the MC is along their character arc, which in turn caused me to ponder character arcs in general.

What the heck is a character arc?

For the simple answer, I turned to a favorite expert, KM Weiland. Her Helping Writers Become Authors site is excellent chalk full of great advice on many aspects of the craft. But Weiland’s stuff on character arcs was not simple at all, rather a fifteen part series on the topic. 

Weiland says character evolution is at the heart of any good story. Whether the protagonist is changing herself or the world around her, character arcs are the whole point of fiction. The journey from one spiritual/emotional/intellectual place to another is the story of humanity. The author’s primary job is to learn how those fundamental changes work in real life, then present them in fiction with enough realism to connect with readers.

There sometimes is a debate among writers as to the importance of plot vs character. Weiland says they are connected. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”

But that is not all. Plot and character are related to theme. The three of them are symbiotic and can’t work alone. Weiland says that the character arc is the theme. 

There are three type of character arcs. In the positive change arc, the protagonist starts with varying levels personal dissatisfaction and even denial of the lack of fulfillment. As the story proceeds, she will question her beliefs about herself and the world until she finally defeats her inner demons. In flat character arcs, the MC tries to change the world around her. She is already a hero operating from high moral ground and are often a catalyst for change in others. The negative arc is similar to the positive arc except the MC changes toward a more darker side.

Writing a great character is more than just a character changing over time. Writers need to learn how to structure a character arc. Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

In the next few weeks, Weiland’s fifteen part series will be boiled down and presented here. Clicking on the above link above will get you to her site where she can explain the whole thing in full detail.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When Your Writers Group Grows Up

I'm in a group that has had a sudden explosion of success. With one writer (out of five) having published a few books now, and two others recently finding agents, the need of the group is changing. We still do the standard critiques, but it has changed. There's sometimes more time pressure, or at least one writer is too busy making a deadline to dedicate much time to a traditional group in a certain week.

With these kinds of changes and under these kinds of pressures, some groups might collapse. Not us. We're changing though. We're more about support, providing feedback when needed and not necessarily in scheduled get-togethers, cheering each other on, pushing each other to write in scheduled or impromptu writing sprints, and encouraging the two members who are still trying to join the success party.

This creates some growing pains, but we've been together long enough that, so far, we've weathered the changes. It's almost a new group with the same people, and we continue to make adjustments so we can keep helping each other. It's been interesting to watch, and it will continue to be interesting as the group matures and evolves in the face of success.

For those of you who have been through similar changes in your groups, what advice do you have? How have maturing and success affected your groups?

Monday, April 27, 2015

I AM

I Am

Where are you from? they ask.
Your moms from here. Your dads from there, they say.
Im from here, from today, same as everyone else, I say.
No, where are you really from? they insist.
I ask Abuelo because he knows everything,
and like me, he looks like he doesnt belong.
Where am I from?
Abuelo thinks. His eyes squint, like hes looking inside his heart for an answer.
You come from the Pampas, the open free land, he says.
Youre from the gaucho, brave and strong. From the brown river that cleanses and feeds the land that gives us the grain for our bread, the milk from the cows.
Youre from mountains so high they tickle Señor Cielos belly,
where the condor roosts his family
 and the jaguar prowls the night.
But youre also from the warm, blue oceans,
and the elegant palm trees that stretch their fingers to caress the waves.
Youre from a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep.
Youre from hurricanes and dark storms.
From the copper warriors that rode the ocean and worshipped the silver moon.
Youre from sea explorers, from their courage and their maps.
From two cousins that escaped war in the land that Jesus walked,
 From these new shores where they built a home for all of us.
Youre from the grandmothers who look for their grandchildren, waiting, always waiting  in a plaza, their white handkerchiefs wrapping the sorrow of their thoughts.
Youre from Pacific and Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean.
You come from the sunshine that lights our path in this world and the rain that washes away our mistakes.
But Abuelo, I ask, Where am I really from?
Abuelo laughs. You want a place?
Then know that youre from here, he points to his temple,
from my dreams of freedom and books.
He points to his heart,
 Youre from here, from my love and the love of all those before us,
those who dreamed of you, free to ask questions and have a future.
Youre from all of us.
I am.
Im not from here, and Im not from there. Im from dreams and hopes,
from hard work and love. 
I am.


Yamile Saied Méndez was born and raised in Argentina, but has lived in Utah half of her life. She's a mother of five, lover of futbol, Irish dancing, and books. She's a free lance writer and a MFA candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her musings can be read at www.yamilesmendez.com 

Monday, April 6, 2015

30 Day, 30 Stories: The Beast

Today's contributor is Miranda Snow. It is a wonderfully told harrowing tale.

                 Like the candle sitting before me, my fire is slowly fading and thus, my friend, I write to you now. The first signs of the sickness are upon me, my head burns with fever and the painful lumps are beginning to form. Given the examples of my peers, I would guess I have but a week.
                  The night before last I had a dream. I believe it was to warn me of this oncoming affliction. It started out as a beautiful dream; I was in the wood among many animals. We were happy there, enjoying the sweetness of the morning air that brought with it the smell of flowers. I laid down to rest among my animal friends but when I awoke everything was different. It was the same beautiful place, but it seemed as if darkness had fallen upon it. I looked up and realized my grandmother was standing in a clearing before me. At first I was elated to see her but as she walked towards me I realized something was very wrong.
                  The ground beneath her feet rotted and died with each passing step, her skin was a pale gray and the air around her sizzled as if she were the sun itself. Dark blood-filled lumps covered her body and as she came closer I saw that puss and blood leaked from them.
                  Her face is what brought me to tears; it was laden with pain as if all of the hardships of her life were expressed in this one, fatal, moment. As she stepped into the wood the trees around her wilted and formed hideous flesh like lumps, much like her own, and died. I wanted to run, but the strength had been sucked out of me. Instead, I was possessed with a need, a desire, to help her and found myself standing but how I came to be I do not recall.  I reached out my hand toward hers but as our fingers met I let out a scream as I too became covered in painful boils and lumps over the extent of my body. It was then that I awoke to my grandmother's screams, it was that very morning my grandmother died.
                  Despite my knowledge and experience in healing, I have never seen anything like this heartless disease before. I have tried numerous methods to rid us of this plague, from bloodletting to forced vomiting, but none has seemed to work. It is as if the earth itself were hungry for the dust of our bodies. 
                  There are many theories surrounding this affliction and where it came from. Whether it is the waters, the meat or from the angry wrath of God himself; I do not think we will ever truly know why this has happened.  
                  I write to you now my fried to record the events of this plague for those after my time, for those who seek comfort that they are not alone, and for my loved ones already fled to the countryside. Perhaps they will find you and know that I did everything in my power to rid us of this beast.
                  It started almost a year ago, in the year of our Lord 1348. All it took was a single man to kill off over half the city. He was sick upon arrival and though the local physician and I did our best he died a few days after. It was then that everyone began feeling ill, the first victim a mere babe.  I can still remember its mother's screams, I think if I could go back and save even one it would have been that babe.    
                  The first of the symptoms was a headache, then chills and a fever, which left them exhausted and prostrate. They then experienced nausea, vomiting, back pain, and soreness in their arms and legs.
                  Within a day or two, the swellings appeared. They were hard, painful, burning lumps, on their neck, under their arms, and on their inner thighs. Soon they turned black, split open and began to ooze puss and blood.  
                  After the lumps they began to bleed internally. There would be blood in their urine, blood in their stool, and blood gathering under their skin, resulting in black boils and spots all over their bodies. It was these very boils that had earned this fearsome disease its name - the Black Death.
                  When the Pope left in May many followed him. Some of my fellow plague doctors took it as a sign and ran also; whether or not they are still alive today I do not know. But perhaps they were the wise ones.  If only we had known that this disease was beyond any of man's tools, we would have all fled to the countryside then.  Perhaps if we had, my grandmother would still be alive today.  
                  When everyone left they left their dead and their dying where they lay. They were afraid and they had a right to be, but to leave their dying behind, to die alone like that…there are times I can still hear their haunting screams echoing down the now empty streets of this cursed city. Now that I myself am in their position I understand just how much more painful it is.  
                   Most would not go near the afflicted, priests stopped giving the dying their last rights, the dead were left where they lay in their beds, and even most physicians would not dare to help. That is except for us, the plague doctors, how could we just let them die? To let those children die? I suppose I am paying for that decision now. As you read this, know that this plague has brought out the worst in humanity but in a select few it has brought out the best in us. We stayed; we fought the dying battle, and while we may have lost perhaps my story, our story, will inspire others.  

                     If those traveling through are speaking the truth then more have perished than I could possibly fathom. If history has its way it will be cruel and erase the memory of our lives. So, my friend, I write within your tear sodden pages now to try and defeat history's cruel wrath. To those that read this I have died, perhaps long ago, but I plead with you now to remember our story. Remember us.