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Posts from the ‘PAM UPHOFF’ Category

The Disorganized Writer – A Blast from the Past

(Pam is under the weather today. So here’s a blast from the past.)

“Hi. My name is Pam. I am a disorganized writer.”

I rarely plan books at all, let alone in detail. A character springs, fully formed, from the black depths of my creative self, and next thing you know, it’s fingers on the keys writing all about where he is and what he’s doing. A Classic Pantser. But at some point, if your gateway writing isn’t producing a coherent narrative, you need to consciously analyze your story and organize the chaos. Your readers will thank you.

Now, in my current NaNoWriMo story that I’m working on, I at least know from what seed the Main Character sprouted. Cue Audioslave “Like a Stone.” Add in less than accute hearing, a silly sense of humor, and you can pick out lines . . .

“By a freeway, I confess I was lost . . . ”

Ah Ha! A poor lost dog!

” . . . you led me on . . . ”

Rescued by a young lady!

“In your house I long to be
Room by room patiently
I’ll wait for you there
Like a stone
I’ll wait for you there

Yep, the plaint of all dogs, when the people go off to work . . .

But you know? I can’t blame Audioslave for him turning out to be a werewolf.

So anyway, with no planning whatsoever I’m tapping away at this story. Or whatever you call it at this stage. And I hit the first problem. Which is a serious lack of a problem. There’s got to be something that matters to Stone, that goes horribly wrong. This is the first point at which I have to grit my teeth and, ugh! ORGANIZE!

At this point I become a plotter. But just for a little while.

Well, okay, for once the story problem is pretty obvious. He was limping down the road after a fight with other werewolves. So they just need to show up again and threaten the (yes, yes, of course she’s a beautiful young blonde) woman who picked him up and took him home with her.

Umm, we may need some extra character development here. Is Stone a Bad Boy who’s changed his ways? And that’s why the pack tossed him? Or was he . . . orphaned and raised by a sweet elderly couple? And he has foolishly sought out his blood relatives to find out what he is? And discovered that werewolves aren’t very nice people.

Okay, we’ll go with that. And kick the plotter mind out the door.

And we write and write and . . . come to the end of the story.

And realized it’s pretty much a disorganized mush.

Now, darn it all, it really is time to get organized. Get back to being a Plotter. This is where I drag out “The Hero’s Journey” and checking to see how many points I’ve hit or missed.


The Classical Hero’s Journey

(1) Start in the ordinary world. This establishes what your hero’s life is like, before the adventure. Often, these days, stories open with an action sequence to hook the reader, then show the more normal life. Think about the opening of most James Bond films. Most of them are not _just_ a fantastic action scene, but help set up the main story problem.

(2) The call to adventure comes. “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope.”

(3) Refusal of call. The character refuses the call or hesitates to go. This is sometimes short or even implied. “I can’t go to Mos Eisley!”

(4) Meeting with the guide. This is not necessarily a guide. Some processes call him a mentor. Think Merlin to Arthur. Gandalf, Obi Wan . . . they tend toward short lifespans, as the Hero needs to take over and be the leader.

(5) Crossing the Threshold. “Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?” There’s no going back now.

(6) Tests, Allies, Enemies . This varies with the novel, but think of the classic fairy tales. The character meets with three people. Each of them gives him or her something that can be used on the journey, or teaches him a skill he will need. You get the point. Send your character to school, hand him a magic sword or BFG 3000, have him find companions, vehicles, whatever your story requires for the MC to win.

(7) Try-fail sequences. At least three for a novel, some of the low points being caused by the previous attempts. Interleaving these with the acquiring of allies, skills, knowledge and equipment is useful.

(8) Approach to the inner-most cave—the black moment—the nadir—the “mirror moment”—the realization—the reimagining—the commitment. Call it what you will. Your character needs to emotionally crash, then come out of it energized and determined.

(9) The TEST. This is the greatest battle. The biggest love trial. Whatever. This is where your character is put through the white hot furnace and melts or not. What the trial is has been set since the beginning – the meeting with the villain, the crossing of the perilous chasm. The hero wins, story over . . . except if you do end it immediately the reader will be upset. A gradual let down is needed.

(10) Reward. Show what the hero gets out of it, immediately. Freedom, money, kiss, whatever. The awkward version is the end of the first Star Wars movie. Try for something more emotionally satisfying than an awards ceremony.

(11) Return to the new normal.
This can be going home—or not.
Or a marriage proposal. Or goodbyes.
It needs to show the development the characters have gone through, how they adjust. Give the reader a glimpse of the future.

(12) And sometimes, the refusal of the return. The character isn’t ready to go back to the ordinary world. This can inspire your readers to reach for something beyond the ordinary. Or it may be a sign that you have a series on your hands.


This is, if you want to analyze a story, a very useful framework.

It doesn’t have to fit well. But if it fits badly, look especially at (6) and (7).

If your MC is not meeting people, learning things, or gaining useful tools—that’s something you really need to look into. While it sounds like a Fantasy Trope, it’s also extremely important in Mysteries. Interview people, find clues. Get emotionally attached to the Women-who-everyone-thinks-dun-it, pick up an amusing sidekick . . . whatever.

And the try-fail sequences. (Ouch! Think I’ve just found a problem!) In a short story, even one failure, followed by a deep dark emotional dip and finding determination before winning gives a story some emotional impact. In a mystery, you’ve found proof someone else did it, only to find out contradicting evidence (three bloody times!) Black moment. “She’s going to be convicted and executed!” Then you put the clues together differently, and Voila! You arrest the amusing sidekick! (Sorry about the sense of humor, there’s a reason I’m not a big time mystery writer)

Well, going back to my werewolf, how do you actually fit a story into the HJ?

I’ve found that I have to physically manipulate the scenes.

I print out the first paragraph or so of each scene, just enough to bump my memory. A separate page for each scene. Lay them out in order and write on them, where they match one of the steps.

What’s missing? (What? Zero try/fails? C’mon, Pam you know better!)

Would it work better in a different order? (Should the blonde find out earlier that he’s a werewolf? When should her brother-in-law the FBI agent find out?)

So I shuffle pages around, make notes. Figure out where to put in the try fails . . .

Another thing to look at, somewhere in my—and possibly your—disorganized flailings, is a look at the genre, and the genre expectations. For instance, since this is showing signs of at least a strong romance thread, there needs to be a lot more togetherness. And if, as I fear, we’ve fallen into a Sweet Werewolf Romance I’m going to need a lot more togetherness. And probably a pen name.

I fear it may wind up as silly as this one:


The flickering light of the flames, the pulsing red of the coals, the sheer sensuous pleasure of the radiant heat.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the first major change to their environment early Hominids made was the taming of fire. And then they evolved to better take advantage of that warmth in the cold, the delicious food that happened when things were exposed to fire. The safety from predators in the night, a relatively safe way to drive animals over a cliff. Read more

Character Analysis

Or Finding Your Own Bad Habits

Now, the first thing I’m going to say about creating characters is Do Not Outsmart Yourself With A Clever Naming Scheme!

I speak from experience. Ignore the weird names in the following examples. Or take them as a lesson on what not to do.

What I’m examining right now is how I introduce new characters when I’ve already got my POV character set. I have to see the new character through his or her eyes, and what the MC sees and infers is the information the reader will get.

Analyzing your own writing can be a bit surprising. Take this bit, a newly hired professor, with the head of the department . . . Read more

New Book release!

Lucky Dave’s a thousand years into the future. Looks like a nice civilized place . . . he’s about to find out how dangerous it is!

How do you keep a Prophet alive when they’re now considered purely mythical? Click on the link to find out!


Why on God’s Green Earth am I creating a collection of my stories?

Well, you see, I had all these three quarters written stories, all in my Wine of the Gods series, but I’d written and published past them. And my numbering is mixed up enough already thank you. Read more

Let’s Make a World


A friend was bemoaning the necessity of making a world the other day. Now, since I happen to think that is one of the fun parts of pre-planning a story, I found his reluctance baffling. So I decided to think about how to do such a thing in a methodical fashion.

With my gaming dice.  😀

Now, first and foremost are the plot requirements of the story that’s being planned. They can load the dice at any point, including backing up and rerolling four steps ago.

So let’s start with the big picture.

A star, or stars. Roll a die. Read more

Dream a Little Dream For Me

Pam Uphoff


“A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.”



But why?

Oh, the theories are numerous. Dreams help us incorporate memories. Process emotions. Solve daytime problems. Play out our subconscious desires.

Frankly I think it’s file cleanup and de-rezing the wetware so we can function the next day, but whatever it is, I really like dreaming. It helps sort out plot problems and throws all new situations at me.

Dreams can be like brain storming—throwing out ideas as fast as possible and only analyzing them later. And they get pretty wild.

The flat-out weird dreams are my favorite.

My Zoey Ivers books? Half BSing on the internet, meshed with this totally bizarre dream . . . I mean bouncing balls that thought they were Elvis, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin?   A computer that thought it was a T-Rex? My Dad the FBI agent walking out into a cyber desert to fight a gigantic rattle snake? WTF?

I got up at 3AM and started writing that one down. Turned into a two book YA adventure. There will be a third book Real Soon Now, and maybe more later.

OK, maybe last night’s that ended with one of my fictional characters screaming in the back room while she was being tortured wasn’t one of the better ones. (Eek! Not Rael!) Was my subconscious trying to tell me I have to be more brutal to my characters? Was this a message that I’m only showing the good side of my macguffins and eliding past some obvious problems.

Maybe it was just free association in a sleeping brain. No deep messages needing dream analysis.

But you know the thing about nightmares? You can play around with the ideas. How did your character get into this fix? How does she get out of it? Be creative. The above nightmare? Oh please, Rael was screaming so the guys in the next room didn’t realize she was actually loose and beating up the torturer, collecting interesting improvised weaponry and so forth.

And yeah, that kid in the dream has a problem! Or maybe he is the problem!

No doubt it’ll all show up in a story down the road.

If I go to sleep thinking of the possibilities for the next scene . . . Okay, it mostly keeps me awake . . . but sometimes an idea falls into place.

Sleep apnea was actually great for this. Once I got that really fun overnight test, I realized that I wasn’t actually just laying there awake, thinking about the WIP. I was flipping between REM sleep and awake so fast I wasn’t recognizing the dream state. But I sure planned some good scenes that way. And typed them half-asleep the next day.

I almost miss that. But with an oxygenated brain, I have plenty of uninterrupted dreams to stock the idea cabinet.

So . . . what do your dreams do for you . . . and what do you do with them?

Oh, and the new book, a complete stand alone unconnected to anything I’ve ever written: