Take Off Your Pants – Libbie Hawker’s advice

One of our special guests at the HNS North America 2021 conference was Libbie Hawker. Libbie is a prolific and excellent writer with many novels to her credit. A recent favourite for me is The Ragged Edge of Night under the pen name Olivia Hawker. But I digress. Libbie put on two master classes, one called Take Off Your Pants and the other called Making It In Historical Fiction. Both were very well attended and received.

Libbie’s master class, Take Off Your Pants, was based on the advice packed into her book by the same name. The subtitle is “Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing”. After writing my first novel by the seat of my pants – what folks call a pantser – I adopted an outlining technique cobbled together from a few sources such as Elizabeth George’s Write Away. But Libbie’s advice has added another important layer that I plan to incorporate in the next novel (whatever that is!)

During the three-hour class, Libbie spent most of her time taking us through the outlining technique using a simple document which she develops for each main POV character.

What stood out for me?

  • the notion of specifically identifying the main character’s flaw, something that is a deep, personal flaw and a source of tension for the MC; something that makes interactions with others difficult
  • the need for the main character to recognize and acknowledge his/her external goal
  • finding a way early to to display the MC’s flaw
  • defining an ally for your main character who is someone that helps the MC at their most difficult moment and forces them back onto their path; someone who has power to move the MC’s heart; someone they always say yes to
  • the external goal is something a main character will obsess about, a goal that will compel them throughout the story; a goal that will push the story forward
  • identifying a theme that will help determine scenes that should be in the story; a unifying concept for the book that isn’t too broad and sweeping and that applies to all main characters in the novel

Libbie uses the outline to help build pacing into the novel and to create the sense of urgency that keeps readers wanting to find out what happens. With more than one main character, Libbie encourages writers to use different colours for each character so that when you weave the beats together, you can see which character is carrying the story at which points of time.

This is a very cursory look at Take Off Your Pants. Based on the master class, I feel there is something in Libbie’s book for every writer no matter what stage you’re at in your career. I’ve already purchased my copy!

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker ~~ When it comes to writing books, are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” Is one method really better than the other?

In this instructional ebook, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting time or words.

Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve your writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

19th Century Paris

As you can imagine, writing a novel set in 1870 Paris requires lots of research. Historical events are critical, fashion is important, issues of the day, culture, social norms and so on. But what about the homes where Parisians lived?

Ian and I had a research trip to Paris that involved 3 weeks in an AirBnb apartment designed to provide an experience that was closer to living in the city, rather than staying in a hotel. Three weeks of walking the streets gave me a different appreciation for how Parisians live.

Of particular interest were the hotel particuliers – grand homes – we visited: Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée Jacquemart-Andre, Musée Carnavalet, and Musée Nissim de Camondo. I wanted to understand how my two main characters, both from well-to-do Parisian families, might have lived including the layout of such homes, the décor, the furnishings, the paintings and other accoutrements of their lives.

Museee Jacquemart-Andre – Paris

The splendour and luxury of these grand homes were astonishing, and although they inspired relatively brief descriptions, they gave me images to carry in my head as I wrote.

Musee Nissim Camondo
Musee Carnavalet

At one point in the writing process, I became obsessed with understanding the layout of Camille’s and Mariele’s homes. A search brought forth some floor plans which helped me add further details.

Mariele’s home – principal rooms
Mariele’s Home – adjoining suites for her parents

Gardens, kitchens, breakfast rooms, wardrobes, beds, desks, chairs and more created a world in which I and my characters lived quite comfortably together while I wrote their story.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUSAmazonCanadaKobo and Barnes & Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Shaping a hook

Two weeks ago, I posted a draft of a hook I’d developed for Paris in Ruins on Facebook. I knew it needed something more and my Facebook friends were the ideal test group.

Version 1

Charlie asked: Where is the peril or the tension? R Ann said: I would like a titch more, while Ruth said: It feels a tad generic. Heidi suggested a couple of words about the women involved. Janet felt that “lives changed forever” is too generic. Liz suggested I add something to clue the reader in on the relationship between the two women. Many others offered suggestions for which I am very grateful. Back to the drawing board.

Version 2

Version two felt stronger to me. And a few people agreed. However, my friend and fellow Toronto author, Patricia Parsons gave me this feedback: “It feels heavy – laden with background research. Four out of the six lines are about the history. Only two lines are about the story.” She suggested that I focus on the story of the women in order to appeal to a broader audience. “I believe that in the best historical fiction, the story comes first and the historical detail provides context and colour.”

Several people agreed with Patricia. Liz added that there was too much detail and not enough emotion. She wanted to know: “What’s at stake, what’s at risk and why should we care about them? Are they allies or enemies? The theme sounds fascinating, now pull me in.”

Hmm. So I asked Patricia if she would noodle on the problem with me. Two heads being better than one!

Here’s the new version we came up with on Tuesday:

Version 3 … or maybe it’s version 10 by now

Would love your feedback!

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.