PAY IT FORWARD by Miko Johnston

I’ve supported many worthy causes throughout my life. In addition to monetary donations to charities, I’ve baked elaborate pastries to be auctioned off at a scholarship dinner, left canned tuna, dried beans and boxes of pasta for my local food bank, and brought gently used clothing and household goods to thrift stores. However, this year I made a new donation – myself – to what I believe is a very worthy cause. I began a volunteer program for students at a local high school.

 

It began when a teacher who offers a creative writing class at the school contacted my writers group. Several of her students wanted to pursue writing, either as a passion or a career path. However, they needed guidance and she asked if we could help.

 

I took the helm and gathered several writers, all published authors with years of experience, to begin a mentor program. Students in the class send us pages to critique and we supply feedback, guidance, and (I hope) encouragement. We began the program with a class presentation, where each of the volunteers had seven minutes to discuss some aspect of writing. I will share my contribution with you:

 

 

 

Miko Johnston: THREE HABITS ALL WRITERS MUST DEVELOP

Writers may differ in how and what they write, but most will agree to that be successful, all writers must know some basic principles. Here are three key ones:

 

I           Develop the writing habit:

Write and keep writing. Too often, writers will get a few pages or a chapter written and then go back and tweak them, over and over, until they have it ‘right.’ Or they’ll stare at a blank page, waiting for inspiration. Resist the temptation. Keep going, even if it isn’t perfect, or brilliant. Even if it isn’t good. Things may change as you progress in the story, but you won’t know that until you have more, or all of it, written. It’s why many writers begin with a ‘vomit’ draft, where you get it all out now and clean it up later. Remember: it doesn’t matter what you start out with, only what you’ve got when you’re finished. That’s what rewriting is all about. Develop the writing habit and practice it regularly. Finish what you’ve started, then begin again.

 

 

II         Develop the grammar habit:

Master the rules of writing. Learn how to use grammar and punctuation, because once you do, you can consciously break the rules without it seeming like you don’t know what you’re doing. To learn how todo it right, get a dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide.Then pick a style, any style, and stick to it. There are many ‘right’ ways to write. You can debate over whether to write 2017 or twenty seventeen, if a comma is needed after the next-to-last word in a list, or whether next to last should be hyphenated. For example, the current trend is to leave out commas except when they’re needed to make the point clear (“Time to eat, Dad” vs. “Time to eat Dad”) or put a pause in a sentence. Which style you use matters less than whether you’re consistent about it.

 

 

III        Develop the fearless habit:

There’s a tendency to keep your work private. However, you won’t know how people will react to your work unless you have the courage to share it with them. Join a critique group or find like-minded writers to form your own group. Meet with people who’ll read your work and offer genuine critique, which is different from criticism. You will do the same with their writing. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn from evaluating others’ work. If you’re reluctant or afraid to show your work to others, don’t be. You might think that having someone read your work and tell you it’s bad would be the worst thing to hear, and you’re right. However, it’s not because their comment is hurtful, but unhelpful. What’s bad about it? If someone can point out what isn’t working in your story, and how to fix it, that isn’t negative. As for useless comments like, “It stinks”, ignore them.

 

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It’s been such a pleasure working with these students. They’re anxious to learn and receptive to our feedback. I can see marked improvement in their work already. We’re on summer hiatus now, but all of my volunteers are looking forward to resuming the program this fall. A few of the students have real potential. Perhaps in the future, after they’ve been published, some of them will pay it forward and help a new generation of young writers.

 

If any of you are interested in starting a mentorship program for young writers, there are many opportunities to help in your community. Check with your local public or private schools. Community organizations like the Boys And Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other youth groups might welcome your help as well. You’ll be amazed by how much you’ll learn through teaching others.

 

You’re welcome to contact me at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com for more information.

 

 

Miko Johnston first contemplated a career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a television and print journalist before deciding she preferred the more believable realm of fiction. She is the author of the A Petal in the Wind series as well as several short stories. Miko is currently working on the fourth Petal novel as well as a mystery set in a library. Contact her at: mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

YOU CAN’T EAT A BOOK, BUT…. By Miko Johnston

Spring has finally arrived. The season of renewal. Rebirth. Intensive house cleaning. Today I’m cleaning out the attic, a.k.a. my brain. Feel free to take what you want from the pile. 

I’ve been so impressed with my fellow WinRs. Jackie Houchin bravely entering the world of book publishing. Jill Amadeo sacrificing personal glory to ghostwrite someone else’s story. Gayle’s generosity in sharing her excellent writing tips. Linda’s encouraging words about writers’ groups. Then there’s Rosemary’s wonderful “Yak Shavings” and the heartfelt way she shares her life with readers. And Madeline’s musings on writing always inspire me.

In fact, Madeline’s recent post sparked an idea, which I promise I’ll get to eventually. I’m about to lose the cooking channel from my cable subscription, so I’ve been semi-binging on my favorite competition shows. I often hear contestants stress the importance of passion in cooking. To me, passion is fine, even helpful if you want to work in the food industry, but it doesn’t make the cut for the top three criteria of a good cook. I’ve known plenty of people who are passionate about cooking and aren’t very good at it, while others who have no passion for it are quite good.

In my opinion, the three most important qualities needed to be a good cook are:

1 – An understanding of the ingredients. Anyone can go into a store and buy food, whether an apple or a piece of fish. Knowing how to distinguish quality, and which variety will be best for its intended purpose, is the beginning of good cooking.

2 – A knowledge of cooking techniques. You can start with good ingredients, but they’ll be wasted if you don’t know what to do with them. Knowing how to use those ingredients, season and prepare them, is fundamental. This knowledge can often salvage less than pristine ingredients, like that fish you forgot about for a few days.

3 – (This may be the most important of all, although I never hear it mentioned.) You have to eat good food. Good food doesn’t necessarily mean haute cuisine or the latest “it” dish. It can be burgers, branzino, or blini. It’s food that’s prepared with skill and care, whether in a Michelin starred restaurant, the corner diner, or Grandma’s kitchen.

Which brings me back to Madeline’s post about reading books by great authors and learning from them. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know I’ve frequently recommended re-reading the authors who’ve inspired you to write, writers whom you’d like to emulate. It bears a similarity to sitting down to a great meal in a restaurant, or watching a talented chef prepare a dish on TV. You learn from theirskill and care. Like cooking, writing requires the same three qualities: an understanding of the ‘ingredients’ that make a good story, a knowledge of the techniques of good writing, and most importantly, reading good books. Much like eating a fine meal inspires us to cook something wonderful, reading a superbly written book or re-reading one by an author we admire, to paraphrase Madeline, teaches, inspires, and rejuvenates us.

Yum.

 

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, including recently released Book III – The Great War .  Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

 

DEDICATION by Miko Johnston

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, including recently released Book III – The Great War .  Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

 

As I begin the fourth book in my Petal In The Wind series, the only thing I know for sure is the novel will be dedicated to my father, George.

He was born in a province of Germany in July 1919. Do the math – his mother gave birth to him about nine months after Armistice Day. Not a unique event in Germany, or any nation involved in World War I. Add eighteen years to that and you get a new generation of men ready to fight in 1937. Within a year German expansion had begun with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. World War II loomed. Being Jewish set my father on a very different path.

*      *      *

When you face something monumental, seemingly impossible to get through, you can do one of three things. You can retreat. You can plow through no matter the obstacles or odds. Or you can detour around it. When it came to difficult conversations, my father picked number three. Always.

 

He talked to people, including my brother and me, in a kind of code. When he couldn’t be direct or graphic about something, he’d use humor or quote American isms to elucidate. He’d occasionally fall back on a childhood joke or expression. We learned, over time, that he was what is called a Holocaust survivor, an unfortunate victim-label. To ensure we understood what happened, he spoke to us about that time in his life, but never about the worst of it in highly descriptive words. He kept that burden to himself.

 

My education on the subject began simply enough with a question that was dealt with in an equally simplified manner. When I asked at age three about the numbers tattooed on my father’s arm, he told me it was his phone number.  As a kindergartener, I asked him about an orange book, missing its dust jacket, shelved in our bookcase. It fascinated me with its odd-looking letters dancing along the spine – I thought it was Chinese. My father told me I could read the book when I was old enough to read the title.

 

Several years later I looked at the orange hardcover’s spine and suddenly the fancy font letters had transformed into English words. I brought the book to my father and said, “It’s called, The Tiger Beneath the Skin”. I began to read it that night.

 

Today I would describe the book as a selection of tales about Jewish experiences during Nazi occupation with a hint of paranormal, like a cross between an anthology of parables and episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. I recently saw a copy on Amazon, wearing a dust jacket, and learned for the first time that the book has a subtitle: “Stories and Parables about the Years of Death.” At the time I read it, some of the stories sent chills up my spine and some intrigued me. I’m sure many went over my head, which is why I can’t remember them all, but a few were unforgettable. The stories all had a peculiarly uplifting message, whether of the Nazi officer driven insane by his murder of a blind Rabbi, or the man who brought a sense of calmness and dignity to a trainload of Jews walking into the gas chamber.  Something of a selective chronical of events, the book gave me an inkling of what had happened. It also began my quest for knowledge about that period of history, and my father’s life.

 

My curiosity ripened by the time I’d reached my teens. I questioned my father about everything, and he answered my questions in his inimitable style. He had a knack for getting the information across in a way that wouldn’t lead to nightmares. Part of it was his own attitude. Despite everything he went through, he still maintained a positive look on life and could find humor in the darkest situations. He once hosted a reunion with fellow Auschwitz survivors. I heard the three of them laughing at one story. When the men left I asked my father what was so funny. He explained that one man, who’d been charged with filling “holes dug in the ground” with rocks, was so weak that he fell into the hole with the rock. Of course, he never said why the holes were dug, or what they contained.

 

I often gravitated to people who had survivor parents, thinking we’d have something in common, but we often didn’t. My friends’ parents always seemed more damaged than my father. They held onto that terror and sense of danger all their lives and passed that fear onto their children. My father’s biggest mishegas (craziness) was stockpiling non-perishable food in the house. That my father survived physically was remarkable, but that he survived mentally was absolutely miraculous.

 

*          *          *

 

I went to Berlin in September 2003 to visit the villa known as the Wannsee-Conference House, headquarters of the infamous SS during the Nazi era. It’s where my father had been kept in slave labor until the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, when fifteen Nazi officials drew up a doctrine known as the Final Solution of the Jewish Question.  The answer was total annihilation; all remaining Jews were to be sent to concentration camps, including my father. In 1992, the building became a memorial and educational site. My father had worked with the museum’s curator and Berlin’s mayor to create a permanent exhibit dedicated to slave labor during the Nazi era; his picture still hangs on the wall. Unfortunately, he never got to see it. He passed away six weeks before the exhibit opened in January 2003, so my husband and I went in his place.

 

We both found the museum very moving, especially the Final Solution exhibit, but I didn’t fully sense my father’s presence there due to his verbal detours. Oddly, it took a stop at a local hotel to bring me to tears. I stood in front of the building, staring at a large empty banquet room with a wooden floor and picture windows overlooking Lake Wannsee. One night, my ‘slave’ father had snuck out of the villa and went to this hotel when they held a dance. The SS guards in attendance, who knew who he was, sat and laughed as he danced with several clueless fräuleine. Standing there, I could vividly picture the story my father had told me forty years earlier, and wept.

 

The fourth book in my saga moves into the 1930s. I can’t help but think of my father and what he endured. He may be gone, but his story lives on and will continue to do so, thanks to what I’ve written and will continue to write. That is why the book will be dedicated to him.

 

THE METAMORPHOSIS OF WRITING by Miko Johnston

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series; Book III – The Great War has just been released and is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

 

Happy New Year, everyone. A fresh year, a fresh beginning. Time to dig out that half-finished novel, or start a new one. There’s nothing better than curling up on a winter’s day and writing, which made me think….

Where do you write? For the past year my preferred spot has been a comfy chair in my bedroom, but I have a number of places that suit me, both at home and elsewhere. The reason is simple – I own a laptop computer. This has changed not only where I write, but how I write.

Like many of us in the craft, I began writing when I learned how to in first grade. I’d sharpen my yellow pencil and print words in my composition book – the ones with the black and white ‘marble’ cover – eventually switching to ballpoint pen and spiral bound notebook after I’d mastered cursive and good penmanship. That allowed me to write at home, the library, school cafeteria or a friend’s house, as long as I had a good light source. It worked well, except when story ideas erupted; I couldn’t write as fast as I thought.

I learned to type in high school and purchased a used manual typewriter when I began college. It sat on my desk, set near a window, with a swing arm desk lamp for writing at night. My typewritten work looked more professional, but the carbon copies were awful and my creative spurts still outpaced my typing. I hated making mistakes, a nightmare to fix until I discovered correction fluid in the eighties. However, typing forced me to think about my work since it was tedious to redo significant portions. I usually began with a hand-written copy and transcribed it to typing paper.

The electric typewriter worked much better; I could type faster, which allowed me to keep up with my thoughts. Mistakes were easier to correct, though major changes still required major retyping. Being electric it required a nearby outlet, and it wasn’t portable, so I had to resign myself to type at my desk. I sat with my back to the window for natural light and kept my desk lamp. Pad and pen filled in for other locations.

In the early nineties I worked in a windowless cubbyhole. That’s when I began to use my desktop computer at work for writing. The ability to not only make corrections, but to cut and paste, became a game changer for me. I could let my thoughts pour out, then go back and rearrange them, condense them, or flesh them out with ease. For the first time, I could write faster than I could think. I still had to work in one spot, but pen and pad filled in when I was away from work.

My first personal computer was ‘totable’, about seven pounds that could be moved and operate on battery power for a few hours. Suddenly I could work anywhere, with the portability of a pen and pad and the advantages of a word processor. Lighting wasn’t an issue; in fact, rather than sitting with my back to the window, I could now face it and have something other than a blank wall to stare at while waiting for inspiration to strike. Email allowed me to electronically transfer my work between home and office.

I currently write on a compact laptop that weighs about three pounds and has a battery life of at least six hours, longer if I turn off the wifi. It has its own black ‘jammies’, a padded slipover case to protect it when I travel. The portable computer fits in my larger purses, tote bags and suitcases. I can write anywhere. And I have. In just about every room in my house. On my deck. In hotel rooms, airport lounges, airplanes, boats, coffee shops and friends’ houses. I no longer have to plan out what I’m going to write before I commit it to the page – the ease of changing words, paragraphs and whole chapters means I can work freeform. Get my thoughts down and clean it up later. Of course, it’s also made it easier to constantly tinker with my pages, tweak a word, delete a comma, or cut that wonderful line that doesn’t serve the story.

Technology has changed the way I write in other ways as well. I presently do not have a desk. My handwriting, which used to be neat and easy to read, is neither without great concentration. I’m not as disciplined about organizing my thoughts as I was in the typewriter era, when changes or corrections required a major effort. I must always write a draft version of any notes or letters before committing my words to stationery. Then again, I’m also not obsessed with getting it ‘right’ on the first draft. Storing earlier drafts and critiques of my work in progress no longer requires multiple shelves of loose leaf binders and cartons filled with copies of printed pages covered with hard-to-read scribbled notes. I also love the idea of sending e-copies of my manuscripts to my publisher instead of mailing hard copies.

What about your writing journey? How has technology changed the way you write?

 

HOLIDAY MEMORIES by Miko Johnston

Miko first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. She is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series; Book III – The Great War has just been released and is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

 

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I grew up in 1950s Brooklyn, in an ethnically mixed neighborhood of mostly Irish-Catholic and Jewish households like mine. Living in a community where part of the population celebrated Christmas and part didn’t made the holiday challenging for Jewish families. We may have been religious enough to keep a kosher home, observe the holidays and go to Temple, but we also watched television, listened to the radio, and read the same newspapers and magazines as everyone else. Therefore we couldn’t avoid Christmas, which in this country was beginning to be celebrated less like a religious holiday and more like a national day of celebration. Jesus never drank Coca Cola, but Santa Claus did. He apparently preferred the soft drink to his traditional beverage, milk.

I don’t recall when I first became conscious of Christmas. I knew my family didn’t celebrate the holiday. I figured that was one of the reasons we lived in our apartment. It had no fireplace to hang stockings, not a problem for Jewish tenants. I remember my mother taking me to see Santa at Macy’s Herald Square – yes, the one from the movie – shortly after I turned four. She didn’t prepare me at all for the visit, but as I waited on line, another parent instructed her child, “Don’t pull on Santa’s beard.” I clearly recall sitting on Santa’s lap and seeing tiny cross stitches on the beard along his cheeks. I felt very sorry for him. I thought his beard had been sewn onto his face.

When Santa asked me, “What do you want for Christmas?” the question took me aback. I blurted, “I’m Jewish.” Without missing a beat, he asked, “What do you want for Hanukah?” I recited my wish list.

Jewish parents usually fell into one of two camps: surrender or compensate. The former would succumb to buying a Christmas tree, or the more guilt-inducing Hanukah bush. The latter would remind their kids that at Hanukah, you got eight presents, one for each night of the holiday. Granted, seven of them were usually practical things like socks, or small, inexpensive items, with the big finale – the toy or game – on day eight. But it sounded better than getting only one gift.

My parents were big babies. They lacked the patience to dole out presents one day at a time, which led to an innovative way to counter some of the draw of Christmas. It began in 1957, the year I turned six and my kid brother was old enough to comprehend the joy of receiving. That’s when we learned of the existence of an amazing magical being: The Hanukah Man.

The Hanukah Man would show up every year on the first night of Hanukah, bringing gifts to my brother and me. Hanukah usually began on a school day, so when we arrived home from class we were always thrilled to learn he’d stopped by earlier in the day. Naturally, my curiosity about him grew with each year, until I longed to see him, catch him in the act. Whenever Hanukah fell on a weekend, I would stay home and wait for him to show up. I’d wait and wait. Then my parents would suggest I go downstairs to wish a happy Hanukah to my aunt, uncle and cousins, who lived in the apartment below ours. I’d rush down, not wanting to miss the Hanukah Man’s arrival. But wouldn’t you know it? No matter how little or long I waited to leave, how quickly I dashed to my aunt and uncle’s apartment and back, I’d just miss him. Sometimes by only a minute! Still, how could I stay upset for long when my home was filled with presents?

Now came the fun part. The Hanukah Man never left packages in one spot. He would hide them throughout the apartment, in places we could reach without causing any damage to us or the furnishings. Wasn’t he thoughtful? But I still wanted to see him, although part of me feared that if I ever did, he would stop coming. Maybe that’s why I don’t recall asking my parents what he looked like. Instead I made up his appearance in my imagination. Average height, with brown hair, slender body and lots of agility. He dressed in ordinary clothes so no one would suspect who he really was. Brown corduroy pants, tattersall shirt and a camel cardigan, as I recall. No hat.

As soon as we knew he’d arrived, my brother and I would tear through the house, opening drawers, looking under the bed, crawling beneath tables and chairs, and poking through closets in our search for presents. The Hanukah Man never wrapped them, but that was okay. The surprise wasn’t in the opening, but in the finding. Then we’d compare our loot. One year, months after the holiday, I looked for something in a drawer and found a previously undiscovered gift. It even surprised my mother, who had apparently lost track of what the Hanukah Man had hidden.

I once mentioned the Hanukah Man to some kids in school. Their reaction made me feel embarrassed. I wouldn’t talk about him after that except in the safety of my family.

I never had children, nieces or nephews, so I couldn’t continue the tradition of The Hanukah Man, but he lives on in spirit. I married a grandpa, and when our grandchildren were young, interfamily relations became tricky for a while. My husband and I didn’t want to make their parents’ lives more difficult, so we told them we’d come to celebrate and exchange presents whenever it was convenient, which usually meant days after Christmas. By that time, the grandkids had received gifts from their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and two other sets of grandparents. But no one except Grandma Miriam would come over and hide their presents throughout the house, sending the three youngest to search high and low for every wrapped box and gift bag. They’d bring whatever they’d found back to the living room, and then open their gifts.

I don’t know if any of them will continue that tradition, but hopefully they will at least have some good memories. It brought me joy to share this tradition with them, not as the receiver, but in the way my parents enjoyed it. Which is why the Hanukah Man will always be special to me.

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?” by Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of the “A Petal In The Wind” series. Her third novel, “The Great War”, will be released next month. Miko lives in Washington (the big one).

 

Ah, inspiration. Creativity. The stuff that propels people like us to write.

 

I once took a course in creative thinking. It emphasized that creative ideas will come to you when you’re thinking about nothing. They’ll pop into your mind when you’re out for a walk, or unloading the dishwasher, or brushing your teeth. Sometimes they do, but not with assured reliability. The same is true when you’re trying to solve a problem. Creative ideas may come, but often the idea has no connection with what you’re focused on, and you rarely get struck by “problem-solved” lightning. Even if you come up with a brilliant idea, then what? Brilliant ideas are a pressure chamber. They set the bar stratospheric. How can you possibly be creative when you absolutely, positively must?

 

Therefore when family and friends have asked me, “Where do you get your ideas from?”, I never could answer that question. Until now. It all comes down to check and balance.

 

I’ve taught myself to focus on writing problems – ideas to launch a story or fix a stumbling block – and find a workable solution, not count on one spontaneously appearing. One of my tricks is to forego creativity and focus on the problem logically. Often when right brain creativity fails, left brain logic can nudge forth a wisp of an idea that you can build onto until you at least have a direction. For example, if I’m inspired to write about a young girl who wants to leave home, I could come up with dozens of scenarios of why and how she leaves. But logically, in order for this to be a story, I know one thing for sure – she has to leave home. Then it becomes a matter of when – is her leaving the inciting incident that launches the story, or will it be the climax?  That narrows the choices, and the focus, therefore maintaining the check and balance between creativity and logic.

 

Then there are times when logic isn’t the answer. To balance that, I switch my thinking from left brain to right, using free-form writing when I’m stumped in a scene. I select two characters and begin writing a conversation between them. I don’t bother with punctuation or tags, I just write. It usually takes between two and five minutes, but eventually my brain switches over and what comes out aren’t my words, but those of my characters’. Then I check it for any insight they may have and usually garner an idea for moving the story forward.

 

Sometimes the present solution lies in the past. Throughout the decades, I’ve jotted down many detached ideas that seemed worth saving. Sometimes it’s a clever line. Other times it’s a plot twist from a book or TV show that struck me as ingenious. I won’t repeat it, but I’ll take the basic premise and re-twist it. I did that in my current novel, A Petal In The Wind III, to solve a mystery in a way that will keep the middle of the book from sagging. These are one-time-only ideas, though, hence the balance. Why waste a clever idea on a project that doesn’t deserve it? That would be like breaking your diet with a graham cracker, not even a s’more.

 

I’m very fortunate to be at a point where life is good. While I want to enjoy it for as long as it lasts, sometimes it concerns me. I worry: What if I let it go to my head and I turn into an a-hole (hereon referred to as “that word”)? I keep myself in check and balance by thinking of the most ridiculous, outrageous “that word” examples I can, and then find the silliness in them. It isn’t hard. That’s how I get many of my humorous ideas.

 

These different methods share one commonality. I believe that inspiration, creativity, and ideas are all most likely to happen when you’re immersed in writing. Not just writing, working on it. If we don’t write, keep writing, work on improving our writing, we don’t leave ourselves open to ideas. It’s like searching china replacement websites to find pieces from your discontinued pattern to replace the ones you broke. There’s no guarantee they will be found, but it’s more likely to be found.

 

Consequently the best answer I have to, “Where do you get your ideas from”, is: “From writing.” As Linda O. Johnston pointed out in her recent post, writing is writing. Even something as specific as novel writing is “writing”, whether you’re trying to summarize a 400-page manuscript into three paragraphs for a query letter, distilling the story into a single logline, or expressing the proper gratitude in your Acknowledgements page. Then there’s everyday life writing – from letters of condolence and congratulations to reviews and critiques, emails, thank you notes, journaling, and more. All writing challenges us to form a series of words that unite into paragraphs and pages, sentences and stories. Words that will elucidate, or entertain, or maybe both. For those of us who call ourselves writers, writing is a part of who we are, and each type of writing expresses different parts of us. It keeps us in balance, and if we’re lucky, in checks.

The Art Of The Sequel – Part 2 by Miko Johnston

 

Previously, we looked at some of the challenges of writing a multi-part series. Now a few tips on how to incorporate them.

 

1 – Study the masters

By that I mean writers whose series you read and love. Movies and TV series fall into this category, but since authors can’t rely on visuals, book series are particularly helpful in demonstrating how to update readers in each new volume. How does the author handle the reintroduction of characters, for example? Carry over events from the previous book? Deal with the passage of time? Regardless of the genre, you can learn a lot by analyzing other writers’ works, not to copy their ideas, but to emulate their techniques. I can’t overemphasize this.

 

2 – Review your synopsis

Do you write a synopsis for every book? You should, even if you don’t follow it exactly. It can even be written after you’ve finished the novel and kept as a summary of the story.

A good synopsis will feature the protagonist and the primary characters. It should cover the key plot points and steer readers toward the climax. Use this as a guide for what information should be updated or repeated in your next book. Also consider what will transpire in the newest novel. Anything relevant to the plot should be included. You can plant the seeds for a plot line that will develop in a future volume as well.

 

3 – Create a folder for organizational charts/files

Creating a place to store character bios, floor plans, timelines, synopses and other details is helpful when writing a book, but it’s essential when working on a sequel. Lots of interrelationships between characters? Chart it. Need to know what the town you invented looks like? Map it. Your character’s office? Diagram it.

You don’t want to describe morning sun streaming through the bedroom window in book one and watching the sunset from that same window in book three. You also need to remember how old your protagonist is, whether Joan is his first or fourth ex-wife, and if Harry is his uncle or his barber.  You can create an electronic folder, or file hard copies instead.

 

4 – Build on what you already have

If you get stuck when writing a sequel, reread your earlier book(s) to see if something there can be used to launch a new plot point. A scene in my first book inspired a mystery subplot that I introduce in book three and will complete in its sequel. I realized what happened could be interpreted in more than one way and was amazed by how well that scene pointed to the culprit. The unexpected turn surprised my beta readers – they didn’t see it until the final reveal, but it made sense to them because I’d laid the groundwork.

If you’ve ever had a reader come up with a fascinating interpretation of something you’d written, something that you never saw that way, then you understand how this could happen. For that matter, some writers have gotten inspiration from readers who’ve had questions about a plot point in an earlier book. If one of your readers asks or suggests something useful, run with it and see where it leads.

 

5 – Move the story forward

You don’t want to rehash the same old business in each new installment. Characters have to develop – marry, divorce, give birth or lose loved ones. They’ll have personal and professional triumphs and setbacks. People will enter and leave their lives. These elements can be integrated as backstory or put up-front and center, but they must be there.

Those organizational files/charts that I mentioned earlier will become invaluable in keeping your overall journey on point, intact and moving along. If you don’t have a good idea of where the saga will eventually end, then you should sit down and think about it. You don’t have to have a precise path for the character’s journey, but you ought to have a destination. Then, with every installment, check to see how far along that path your protagonist has traveled.

 

 

Writing a good series is challenging, but rewarding for readers who love them. I know I do. Part of the pleasure of reading each sequel is following the characters’ lives along with them in each new book. It’s like a reunion with old friends, for that’s what they’ve become.

 

What challenges have you found in writing sequels? Do you have any tips to share?