Monday, May 29, 2023

What to Watch Out for When You Write in Chunks

By Elaine L. Orr 

A previous article on Irish Roots Author suggested that authors consider writing pieces of a novel out of order (or perhaps before the order is clear) so that ideas keep flowing to paper or computer. Sometimes it's possible to envision and write an entire scene. Other times, a 'chunk' is more appropriate.

Achunk as one of several things: a discussion between two or more characters, a dramatic segment (which does not need to include physical activity), or a short explanation of anything related to a story. Whatever's in your head, get it out.

Though writing short segments can keep the author moving, the products may not end up in the story or book. What are some of the things to watch out for when writing n short bursts?

1) Including excessive background or description. You may have a very clear understanding of a character's motives or life history. The reader may not need to know all of that. Put in too much extraneous information and readers will skim over paragraphs or pages.

2) Having a hard time organizing the pieces. This is sort of a chicken-or-egg scenario. Some action or information has to precede other actions For example, before a character discovers a lost family treasure, it has to be clear that it's missing, why it matters, and what the implications of finding (or not finding) it are.

3) Avoiding the planning that goes into well-thought-out scenes or story structure. Writing can be hard and/or frustrating. To do it well takes a lot of preparation. Since you have to plan eventually, why not do it instead of writing chunks?

4) Wasting time by writing material that will never be part of a completed first draft.

The more you write the easier it is to stitch pieces together. Thus,you might be able to write in chunks without producing too much or ending up with disjointed pieces that don't relate to the plot or a character's motives or dreams.

I began writing scenes or dialogue out of order when I realized my primary stalling tactic. In early works, I'd get to a point and stop, always intending to finish. Where did I leave my characters? Always (literally, always) on a mode of transport someone else controlled. Once on a city bus, another time on a subway. I must have figured that putting someone else in the driver's seat would keep the story moving. 

Didn't work. 

Finally, I finished Falling Into Place (my favorite piece, a novella) by skipping ahead and not worrying about the middle. Once I wrote much of the last third, I knew what I needed to write to take the reader to the end.

Ultimately, writing short scenes or parts of them keeps me moving. I can't say I'm stuck, because there's always something churning if I don't worry about how it will fit with everything else. You need to decide whether (for you) writing in chunks is a worthwhile tool or a delay tactic.
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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Writing in Chunks When You're Stuck

 An earlier post on Irish Roots Author discussed writing scenes out of order. Why? It can keep the creative juices working when the flow for getting from action A to Action B is murky.

Scenes take a lot of thought, some authors would even say planning. They definitely need a beginning, middle, and end. Eventually they need to be placed in the most logical part of the book. But, I digress.

If a scene is more than you're prepared to write today, how about a chunk? By my definition, a chunk of writing is one of several things: a discussion between two or more characters, a dramatic segment (which does not need to include physical activity), or a short explanation of anything related to a story.

Perhaps your mind sees what a young child wears on the first day of school or what the amateur sleuth views the moment she discovers the agitated spider monkey trapped in a bread box. You don't want to lose either image. Write them -- if only a few sentences.

You may not need the chunk technique if your mind has the equivalent of dozens of paper or digital file folders and you have a good memory and you can easily get to your notebook or computer.

If you're like me, one or more of these criteria may not exist. Or, like many authors, there are many facets of your life and ideas leak out of your brain.

No matter how busy you are, you can have a three-by-five card in a pocket or note software on your phone. Jot a few sentences. Maybe half of the jots will look dumb next time you peruse them. But some will lead you to a scene or a way to express a character's motivation.

Give it a try. Check back for a blog post next week that discusses things to watch out for if you try the chunk technique.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

What Rules Your World?

By Elaine L. Orr

I think about what rules our lives on different days. For example, when getting ready to move, cardboard boxes and masking tape rule your world. When arriving in a new town, a map (on paper or digital) becomes most important. If you really want to learn your way around start on paper so you can see how locations relate to one another.

Today, I'm thinking about -- literally -- rulers. A teacher at the school where I substitute teach a lot had a box full of old rulers. Most were too tattered to use anymore, but they each had a story. 

Take this Strateline Ruler. Several postings indicate this ruler would have been from the 1940s or earlier. Could easily have been in the kind of one-room schoolhouse my dad's family attended in southwestern Missouri.

The two in the next phot0 -- especially the bottom one -- are more like what I used in school in the 1960s. This "newer" one was made made by Falcon in Auburn, Maine. The one pictured has no metal piece at the bottom, which later ones did. Metal was added, so it wouldn't wear out as quickly when hundreds of pencils drew a straight line with the ruler. 

The top one was made by Westcott, and is older than any of their vintage products for sale on ebay or etsy. It's very thin, not quite balsa wood thin, but close. 

What do you notice about all three of these rulers? No metric numbers.

And then we have the "New Math Ruler." That term will mean little if you're under age 60. If you're older, you were caught in the transition for 'regular math' (think long division) to what my eighth grade teacher called new math. This ruler needed two sides. One had twelve inches -- very familiar.

Then came the back side -- negative numbers and metric! What the heck? In the world I knew, something existed or it didn't. Now numbers could be negative. If you look at the top line of the ruler, there is a zero in the middle and (in half-inch increments) the numbers 1 - 12, positive and negative.

In addition to finding it hard to grasp the concept, I missed all of December that year because of a burst appendix. I pretend  that math would have remained easy for me had I not been out so much.

Now, even rulers come in cute colors. I put the metric numbers (centimeters) on top, since the entire world beyond the U.S. has the good sense to measure in units of ten.

So much for rulers ruling my thoughts Back to final edits on New Lease on Death. However you measure it, dead is dead.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

When the First Draft Becomes a Way to Reorganize

By Elaine L. Orr

I am a fairly efficient writer -- I wrote nonfiction for work for years, articles for journals or magazines, and detailed holiday letters. Fiction was a challenge because it has to flow totally from me, but I didn't feel intimidated by the process.

However, there are pros and cons to being fast when writing fiction. If you have good notes on your story and the characters, charging ahead is good. However, if you change direction at some point, you may not consider how this affects other aspects of your story.

In working on revisions to a fist draft of New Lease on Death, I realized I had not made my antagonist evil enough. Their motive to kill was solid, but they needed more character flaws. I also needed better misdirections for readers, so-called red herrings.

By the end of the book, I had figured out better ideas than were in the first draft. But making changes at the end brings the 'whack a mole' theory into play. Change one thing and then have to change action or emphasis in other parts of a book.

That brings consistency to the forefront. Readers accept an occasional error (maybe) but not something such as describing a character differently from book to book, or having them live two blocks from the ocean in one and four in another. (Unless you mentioned that they moved, of course.) And they really don't like when you spring something on them at the end of a book. They want to be able to say, "That makes sense" -- as opposed to, "Where the heck did that come from?"

A couple of times I've been tempted not to do certain revisions -- they are so much WORK. And I want to be DONE. But that can't be. I would always know a book could have been better.

Every time this happens, I tell myself to plan better when I start. And I do plan fiction better than I did 15 years ago. It's just new ideas pop up. 

That made me look up whack-a-mole, a phrase I've used but one I learned through observation. One meaning is "a situation in which repeated efforts to resolve a problem are frustrated by the problem reappearing in a different form." Sounds about right. Better to figure out 99 percent of character flaws or misdirection before the fingers hit the keyboard.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

When You Want to Write Something Other than Books

By Elaine L. Orr

In another universe, or at least another part of my life, I didn't view myself as creative. I liked to write, but wrote articles, a few (bad) poems, and some essays. I still have a clippings file that contains a bunch of freelance articles I wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Eventually, the notes I jotted about story ideas became more real to me and I began to write some (bad) fiction. It's like learning a foreign language as an adult -- you have to be willing to do it badly as you strive to do it well. Fortunately, you don't have to show the bad writing to a lot of people.

A reader of this blog (Emma C.) recently sent an email saying she enjoyed some of the resources discussed on Irish Roots Author. Even better, she shared a comprehensive blog post on aspects of becoming a freelance writer. I wish I had seen this a few decades ago.

Author Bethenny Carl first presents what she terms a Cheat Sheet that gives the basics -- finding work, building a portfolio, negotiating with clients, and managing finances and your time -- among other topics. She discusses the ability to choose projects you want and work at your own pace, but also points out the challenges. These start with that awkward trait: self-discipline. 

You not only have to write well, you need to keep track of deadlines, handle invoices, perform all administrative tasks, and pay taxes when no one (other than you) is managing payments throughout the year. Blah, blah, blah.

I perform all these tasks  as a (largely) self-published author. They aren't fun, but are a small price to pay to do what I want for a career.

A freelance career builds slowly, but if you are diligent it can be steady growth. I got off the freelance bandwagon because a firm I wrote for eventually had enough work that I wrote and edited largely for them. Eventually I even had benefits! 

At the same time, I watched a neighbor continue to purse her freelance work. She worked consistently and published under her name in a number of general interest and consumer magazines. She was so organized! And, of course, a very good writer.

With so much online content, there are far more freelance opportunities than a few decades ago. (I'm dating myself.) Not all of it will give you a by-line, though you can ask online clients if they will permit you to include an article or blog post in your portfolio.

You don't need to search for work on your own. There are a number of websites, such as The Write Life, that list organizations that publish jobs for freelancers. Start with ones that don't charge for the information. However, you may come upon a group that charges a small fee if you learn of a job through them. That could save you a lot of time.

Whether you are considering freelance work or already doing some, take a look at Bethenny Carl's extensive blog post. You could save yourself time in selecting clients and doing what I think of as the backstage work.

Most important, keep at it!

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, March 31, 2023

So Many Writing Resources to Choose From

By Elaine L. Orr

First of all, I was so tempted to say, "From which to choose," but I chided myself to write without sounding like a formal author.

I like to read about what other writers think, but you could spend all day going through blogs. Then I came across a daily email option from Feedspot.

You've probably heard of them as the group that posts about the 100 best writing blogs. Their selections are excellent; I look at many of them.

What I also did was go to and sign up for a a daily email on writing blog posts. You can quickly go through the 10 or 20 titles offered and pick those to read. I generally spend about 10 minutes on it, and occasionally save links to some of the posts.

There is an option to pay a monthly fee o $2.99 (paid annually). However, you can choose to "pay now" with PayPal, and you get the email without a fee. There are additional services for the fee, but I don't need them. 

Essentially, you have a curated list of good posts about writing and publishing. Saves you time and you can literally learn something new every day.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Focusing on the First Sentences Really Matters

By Elaine L. Orr

Anyone who writes fiction or nonfiction will tell you that you either grab a reader with the first few sentences or you don't. If they've read other books you've written they may keep reading, but you want those new readers.

For New Lease on Death, Jolie's work appraising houses is at the forefront even more than usual. I chose that profession because she can move around town and interact with a lot of people -- and because almost everyone buys real estate at some point. We can relate. 

However, there are many aspects to her life -- friends, family, and the food pantry she's the nominal head of. I try to blend in all of it without "telling" too much about what she does. 

I'm reworking the draft, and decided to retain the focus of the first chapter but shift the emphasis. Let's call these Opening 1 and Opening 2. Opening 1 has been in place for months.


EACH TIME I CLIMB the steps to the Ocean Alley boardwalk, I figure it won’t be long before I can’t keep up with my twins. Today reinforced the point. Lance and Leia stopped abruptly at the top of the boardwalk steps and I almost rear-ended Leia's day-care backpack. "I thought you two were in a hurry."

Lance turned to his sister and frowned. "Don't you know you're supposed to look before you cross the street?"

"It's not a street," Leia said. She moved past him and walked right, toward Java Jolt  Coffee House. "I want my apple juice."

Lance followed. “Me, too.”

"I need you two to drink your juice and talk quietly. I have to go over the notes from a house I just visited before I talk to Uncle Harry about the appraisal I have to write up."

In tandem, they said, “Boooooring.”

Since they were now ahead of me, they couldn’t see my eye roll. Every week or so it seems they test a new expression. At the moment, boring things included breakfast cereal, the stories Scoobie and I read at bedtime, and apparently quietly drinking juice after day care.

“I know you guys practiced saying that.”

Lance glanced at Leia and his smirk gave them away. They began to trot and I picked up my pace.

(A few paragraphs later, we get to real estate.)

As much as I would have liked for us to take a leisurely stroll, the appraisal I needed to finish was for a home Buck Brock had made a purchase offer for. Unlike realtor Lester Argrow, Buck hopes appraisals come in low. He’s buying houses to add to his inventory of short-term rentals, which he manages himself.

Lester is generally selling houses as a traditional real estate agent, and he makes more commission if the houses go for a higher price. As he regularly reminds me.


I LIVE AT THE JUNCTURE of Arrogant and Stubborn. On one side of the block is Buck Brock, a property developer who is pleased when real estate appraisals I do show a house’s value is less than the contract he has offered to a seller. He may get to pay less.

On the other side is Lester Argrow, whose aim in life is to sell houses for top dollar so he gets more commission – a common goal for realtors. However, since Lester entices buyers from larger cities with well-placed ads on social media, the hopeful homeowners may not be familiar with the Ocean Alley market. They offer larger sums than an appraisal will support.

Both men argue with me. I remind them the banks who will underwrite mortgages are my clients. Banks don’t want to lend money and later learn a house isn’t worth much more than the paper the mortgage is written on. The banks also pay for the work.

What is a woman to do?

Since she’s a woman with a multifaceted life, this Friday afternoon she’s going to take her four-year old twins to Java Jolt Coffee House. She will sip brown goodness while she interprets the handwriting in the notes she wrote when she conducted a recent appraisal visit.

As I climbed the steps to the Ocean Alley boardwalk, I figured it won’t be long before I can’t keep up with our twins. Today reinforced the point. Lance and Leia stopped abruptly at the top of the boardwalk steps and I almost rear-ended Leia's day-care backpack. "I thought you two were in a hurry."


The first opening let me get into the story by traipsing to the Jersey Shore boardwalk with Jolie and her twins. I needed to write that to get in touch with key characters. But it's not what the reader needs to experience at the start the story.

Opening 2 will includes the twins' chatter after Jolie's musings about what will pertain more to the core of the story -- real estate arguments (some fatal). . 

I take this as a good reminder of why we need to truly regard early versions as drafts that can be taken apart and stitched together differently.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.