Monthly Archives: November 2013

Being Able to Write Anywhere

It’s 3 am and I’m wide awake. I suspect it has something to do with hubby snoring loudly in my ear. Okay, 8 inches away. Anyway, I woke up and wanted to write. At first I thought my NaNo project and started thinking of scenes, and then I thought of last year’s creativity question asked in the forums and all over: is your creativity/productivity linked to a particular location? For a significant percentage of people, it was.

This can be a both a small advantage and a serious handicap. I had a favorite writing place before we moved where my ideas flowed easier and I wrote more than when I wrote elsewhere, but I still could write elsewhere. Some people can’t and I get it. I was severely shaken when we moved and I lost my writing place. It took a year for me to find my groove again in the new house. That’s a problem. Having a writing place your muse just lives in is great. Just being there can put you in the groove. But being able to just sit down anywhere and write is handy. Having both options available to you is clearly optimal. Here are some little tricks I use to get me going when my muse seems to have stayed in my preferred writing spot:

Instead of picking up where I left off in my book, I start a new scene. I always do this if I’m writing on my tablet or phone (as I’m doing now) because I rarely have the actual book loaded onto them. This gives me flexibility, I don’t have to remember where exactly I was, only that this scene was coming up. I’ll have to write it eventually, why not now? (For anyone who’s wondering, I almost always have phones with physical keyboards for this reason. I can type faster, longer with fewer errors and frustration on a physical keyboard so it doesn’t bother me to write long passages on a tiny device. Also, small bluetooth keyboards are available. They’re cheap and about the size of my Droid Bionic when I carried that. It worked well.)

If I’m still struggling, I pick a better scene. I have sex scenes written for books I haven’t officially started in the Lexi Frost series because of this. I have the series loosely outlined, so I can do that. Many of the key pick up and reveal scenes are written too. I’m only partway through book 6, but I have scenes written that are probably for book 9 or 10 looking at the rate the story’s unfolding. Scary.

But what if you’re such a pantser you don’t know what a future scene is going to be to write that? Well, figure it out. If you’re partway through a scene and find yourself away from your happy place, you have a choice: you can try to finish the scene, or you can imagine it’s done, your hero has slain the dragon (you’ll go back later and figure out exactly how and write that) and now it’s time for the after party.

Outlining a book can really get your creative juices flowing. In truth, I’m terrible at it. My outlines, when I have them, aren’t a pretty formatted classical outline with roman numerals and indentations. My outlines are just a list:

Intro Viv: 70, divorced, kids’ reaction, haircut, cruise
Doesn’t drink
Meets Charlie, warns her abt drinking, talk abt cruises
They play poker a lot,
Charlie drinks scotch, Viv experiments with fruity drinks w/ umbrella
Charlie takes to fav shop of shipwreck items
Buys her locket
On way back to ship meets diver, charlie haggles
Viv rummages through box of salvage, silver flask breaks
Genie…

That’s part of my outline from Be Careful What You Wish For and it covers about ten pages. It was my NaNo novel in 2009, and proves it can be done. For your outline, it’s okay if it starts really general, like:

Introduce MC,
Intro sidekick
Intro goal
Intro villain

You have to admit, that’s basic. Fine. Now add to it.

Intro MC – she’s awkward teen flunking math w/crush on football quarterback, also has power to freeze things.

Great. Now more that applies to the opening scene. (since we seem to be starting at the beginning)

Intro MC – she’s awkward teen flunking math w/crush on football quarterback, also has power to freeze things. She’s sitting in class staring at back of quarterback’s head, gets excited & freezes her pen. It leaks all over her hand & notebook.

Fantastic, I’m starting to see a scene in here, it just needs to be filled in. Like a sidekick was mentioned? Best friend perhaps? Villain who is…? Goal…? I’m not writing this, you get the idea. You outline, then keep adding more details until it’s really just a matter of connecting the ideas in book format. You know those “write 10,000 words/day” methods? This is how they do it. They outline the hell out it first so it’s essentially prewritten. It really does work.

Even if you don’t write much outside of your writing place, if you can outline so you can be more productive when you get back to that hallowed ground, you’re doing great.

 

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A Review and a Confession

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Okay, I got a one star review on AKA Lexi Frost the other day. This is the point where authors cry and/or freak out. No. Not even when I first saw it. It’s one star, and she was mad, but I can’t actually say it’s a bad review. Sound a little odd? Let me explain myself.

Ms. Upset-With-Me put spoilers in her review so I won’t quote it here. As a reader, I hate it when reviews do that, but I can see her point and it is a warning to others who are just looking for something typical to kill an afternoon. She read Be Careful What You Wish For and liked it and moved on to another one of my books. Logical, except she didn’t post a review about the book she liked, only the one she didn’t. Sigh. The Lexi Frost series is a little different. I didn’t have a warning on Amazon that I don’t think like other romance writers, and perhaps I should have. I’ll do that now.

Anyway, she picks up the book, clearly expecting me to play within the range of typical romance themes and I didn’t. I really, really didn’t. Here’s the thing with romance, there are a limited number of tropes out there. By ‘tropes,’ I mean the theme. At the most basic level, there aren’t that many. It’s not just the romance genre, this problem effects every genre. If you read enough, the stories are familiar. (Avatar & Pocahontas for example.) And just because a trope has been done a million times doesn’t make it bad, it makes it popular. It also wears it out and readers may go looking for something fresh. A new trope, a new genre, or maybe something as simple as a new twist.

Tropes I see a lot are:

  • Love Triangle –It’s a cliché, but it’s still around for a reason. Who doesn’t want to choose between two hotties? It’s a fantasy. But it’s old, and writers have to do something, anything to wake it up. Although, according to my reviewer, I went too far.
  • Surprise pregnancies/babies – This is almost always from a brief encounter, which usually means someone was behaving irresponsibly but that’s usually glossed over. There are only so many ways to make the hero noble and the heroine pure of heart when they had a hot one-nighter and then have to pay for it. And every way to soften this has been done.
  • Amnesia – Always fun and rarely are there moral qualms, but again, there are only so many ways to approach this, and they’ve been done.
  • Finding someone who’s been right there all along – A sweetheart of a theme, and it gives you a lot of flexibility as a writer. The innate awkwardness of the situation can be great, and sometimes you have an ‘it’s inappropriate’ to make the ‘choice’ seemingly harder. It almost always has the “aww,” sigh of satisfaction at the end. Because of this, there are a million of these in the marketplace. Good news if you like them, but these books don’t stand out because it’s been done so many times.
    • Rediscovery – A specific spin off theme, rekindling an old romance is somewhat popular, but limited. I swear every way there is to write this has been done repeatedly.
  • Mistaken identity -– Like amnesia, there are a limited number of ways to make this work. Readers will overlook small plot holes (usually), and they’ll suspend disbelief (to a point), but making this theme fresh is hard to do.
    • Servant or someone lower in the social ladder posing as something they’re not is a common idea in the mistaken identity trope. There are multiple movies in this trope, which shows how popular it is, and they’re all the same.
  • Redeeming a rogue/rake – This is big in historical romance, and is frequently used in support of or supported by other tropes in contemporary romance.
    • Forced marriage – Usually you see this in historical or time travel romance. It’s hard to set up in contemporary romance. Women today are intelligent (usually) and independent. When I’ve seen it in contemporary, it’s usually associated with blackmail or the need for money or the like. That doesn’t put your hero in a good position and makes your heroine appear weak. Still, characters are meant to grow and change and they have to make some big strides to come to a satisfying end.
    • Marriage of convenience – Again, usually in historical. Like forced marriage, it’s hard to sell in contemporary romance, we just don’t want our heroes too sleazy or our heroine too pathetic. This often forces them to compromise too much of their character and that they would go for it in the first place lingers even when they salvage the situation.
    • Changing a woman/man hater – Another common sub-theme in this category and more common in contemporary romance.
  • Forbidden love – This is common in historical settings, but there aren’t as many barriers in today’s world. If your characters are sufficiently restricted for some reason, or unusually shallow, social standing will still work. There’s potential with the trope, but this is hard to pull off without the reader wanting to scream at one or both of the characters in contemporary settings. In case you’re wondering, that’s bad. Writers of contemporary romance usually tie this with another trope. It can’t stand on its own anymore, the world has evolved.
    • This is frequently tied up with the “Finding someone who’s been right there all along” trope as a psychological reason why they can’t be together (Hero loves his ex-wife’s sister or such). I used this as a hurdle in AKA Lexi Frost as a companion to the Love triangle theme as did Stephanie Meyers in the Twilight series. (The two books otherwise have nothing in common, just so you know)
    • The teacher/student and guardian/ward themes are touchy as it implies youth in one partner but not the other. Doctor/patient or other professional barriers have a place in contemporary romance, but you need to address the risk. If there isn’t a risk, then is it really forbidden?
    • Waiting for the heroine/hero to be old enough is one that’s out there, but it’s so hard not to imply your hero is a pedophile or at least a predator. Some people like it. It makes other people uncomfortable.
  • Rescue me – The hero or heroine needs help to accomplish something. Hopefully something interesting. Both characters can remain strong and this can stand alone as a theme. Every time I see it though, it looks familiar because it is somewhat limited. I can see potential in this trope breaking down some walls, the challenge is to be truly original.
    • Save me from myself – I’m not sure what to say about this one, I don’t care for it as a rule because the characters frequently are weak and I want to scream at them. That’s me, some readers really love this. This theme is often tied with another theme to make one hero/heroine feel obligated to help the other. This one is frequently associated with redeeming a rogue/rake if the rescuing is internal, it’s just a softer version of it. 

I’m sure I missed some. Don’t sweat it, a complete list wasn’t the point. The point is: I’d like to see more original thinking in romance. To me, these themes are old and I’d love to see something completely new. (Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t new, it was the BDSM backdrop that made it shocking/go viral. It’s a redeeming a rogue/save me story.) I’m not sure something completely new is even possible at this point. Instead, my challenge to writers of romance is to shake it up and think outside the box. Don’t just write one that fits in nicely with what’s already on your bookshelf. Be original.

To the readers: who cares if the trope is overdone if you like it? It means you have a ready supply of books. But when you thought you recognized how the story was going to unfold and there’s a twist, it can be a nice surprise. Of course, what one person likes, another may not. That’s why I’m not upset about the review. Reviews are personal opinion. When people read books they may like it, they may not. That’s the risk of breaking out of the mold a little. Readers may not be ready, they may not be receptive.

Okay, confession time. I knew my twist on the forbidden love aspect of my love triangle might get some push back. As a writer, it’s not going to stop me from trying to write something new and different, I’m willing to accept the consequences.

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NaNo is for Those Who Struggle

ImageWe passed November 15th, so in terms of NaNoWriMo, we’re halfway done. Maybe. If you’re participating and on track with your word count, you’re halfway done. If you’re ahead, great. If you fall into the other category, this is for you.

Word count obsession is a form of OCD and it’s contagious. I fought it for years and Word Count OCD relapse is one thing I don’t like about NaNo. I’ll only ever be eleven months Word Count carefreeless. And I worry a little about my peers, particularly the ones who struggle.

This is about what’s best for you. Maybe it’s a pep talk, maybe it’s a reality check, that’s your decision. If you’re using every trick in the blogs to legally pad your word count, or if you’re farther away from your goal than you like, take a step back and look at what you’re doing.

NaNo is a lot of things. It’s not meant to be easy. Don’t compare yourself to those who already have 50,000 words. Depending on the type of writer you are, there are tricks (mostly involving plotting and organization) that help you write 8-10,000 words/day. You’ll get there. To me, NaNo really isn’t about that. To me, NaNo is for those who struggle. It’s for those who haven’t finished a book yet, or only one and did so only at great personal cost. This is for the beginner, and it’s meant to be challenging.

For those that really and truly benefit from NaNo, it might take more than one or two attempts to finally meet that goal. That’s fine. The secondary goal is to develop habits and learn.

If you’re reading NaNo blogs, you’ve heard already to put your inner-editor away. This is no place for him, he fights with your muse. A lot of people who start to write a book never finish because they keep going back to rewrite that first chapter or two until it’s perfect, and they never get any farther. NaNo is about breaking that habit. That first chapter is not going to be perfect in a first draft, and it shouldn’t be. Actually, it’s common to finish your book and then have to go back and change the first chapter significantly. I’ve had to cut one altogether. If your inner-editor is on vacation, this isn’t a problem.

Sometimes writers never finish a novel because they get stuck. They get their characters to a point and then don’t know where to go next. Writer’s block has as many causes as cures and it’s different for everyone. This is trickier, but also a reason for NaNo. If you’re in a hurry, you don’t overthink it. If you absolutely cannot decide whether your character turns left or right, you should try letting your character decide. Put yourself in their shoes – with their goals, strengths, weaknesses and motivation – and decide what they would do.

If your character has no idea either, flip a coin. With NaNo, you don’t have time to debate it. Make a list of possible next steps and throw a dart at it. If you’re wrong, then: A, you learned something and B, you can fix it.

If you’re so overwhelmed you can’t even think of possible next steps, skip ahead. Books don’t have to be written in order. If you’re stuck in Chapter 2, but you know XX is going to happen at some point, write it. How you got from Chapter 2 to Chapter 6 is something you’ll obviously have to fill in later, but hey, 6 happens. Frequently I find that, looking back, I can see what had to happen in Chapter 3, 4, & 5 in order to get to 6. Or I come back to it when I’ve had more sleep/caffeine.

Sometimes life gets in the way. There may be little you can do on this one, but there are some things. There is a valid reason to track word count other than NaNo. When you sit down to write, make note of where you are, what time of day it is, day of the week. Details. Keep a log for a while and then review your productivity. Many writers have a best time of day to write. They’re either more productive or more creative first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, for example, or late at night when the house is quiet. It’s not uncommon to have a favorite place, and not being there throws you off your game.

When you don’t have a lot of time to write, make sure the time you do have is optimal. The right time, place, conditions, mascots, whatever you need. It takes time to discover this.

Where do you waste time? Find out, fix it. I look up most things on my phone to keep me away from the internet on my computer. Cats on the computer are funny, on a cell phone – not so much. There are blogs, use your resources. After your fingers are tired and you can’t write anymore anyway.

The end-all of NaNo is not 50k in 30 days, no matter what the banners say. More important than winning NaNo is: are you learning anything from it?

 

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A Word on Cell Phones in Schools

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I used to work for a cell phone provider. I’m not saying which one. A big one. It’s not relevant. The point is: I’m somewhat addicted to smart phones. But that’s not the point of this particular blog. My purpose here is to get as many people as I can to face-palm. If you don’t know what that is, see above. I prefer the Picard version. I’m a die hard Star Trek Next Generation fan. Sorry.

Okay, so the kids prior to this year went to a charter school. The policy on cell phones was simple: No. And it was enforced. For those who aren’t familiar with the bizarre world of charter schools, they’re public schools that act like private schools. You have to apply, they get a little bit of state funds so they have to obey certain rules, but only a few of them. Because of the ‘little bit of state funds’ thing, two things happen: they don’t charge tuition like private schools, and they’re always begging for volunteers and grants. Ours manages not to be broke. 

This year, The Boy is still in the charter school, The Girl is in a public high school. We’re being gradually reminded why we put the kids in a charter school to begin with. The public school system is ridiculous.

At the beginning of the school year, I checked the cell phone and electronics policy at The Girl’s high school. It’s a little complex. The school district has a ‘no cell phones’ policy, specifically cell phones with a camera. If you already have a blanket policy on cell phones, why go further to eliminate a specific type? It’s like saying they don’t like dogs, but they really don’t like dogs with four legs.

The school has taken the school district’s policy and acknowledged that they follow all district policies and guidelines. And @xxx is the school’s Twitter feed, please sign up to follow school pride events*. (*Please note that Tweets may be sent at times throughout the day so make sure your phone is on vibrate and only check the feed between classes or during lunch.)

A curious position, but sure. So, The Girl takes her phone to school every day. Thankfully. Her AP History teacher had the class do projects. Everyone taped their papers to the board, then he had the class take out their cell phones and take pictures of each paper so they would have a copy to critique. 

Um…aren’t cell phones, and phones with cameras in particular, against district and therefore school policy? The Girl knew this, of course, and shook her head with silent laughter as she obediently went from paper to paper taking pictures. She waited until she got home to rant. (What if someone didn’t have a phone? Or the phone didn’t have a camera? Or if the battery died?)

Is she going to get her assignments via Twitter next? I wouldn’t be surprised. (Face-palm)

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Amazon’s Been Up To Things

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Amazon’s been doing some interesting things lately. I see it differently as an author than as a reader. As a reader, I have a Kindle (not just an app) and I have Amazon Prime. Some of the other authors I chat with didn’t even know everything Amazon’s been doing lately. And not everyone who has a Kindle is even taking advantage of the lending library, so it seemed worthwhile to mention these options were out there.
The Matchbook program launched recently. It’s pretty cool. If you buy a paperback (from Amazon of course, they’re not idiots) you can get the eBook for a discount. For participating books. I enrolled all of mine and listed the eBook as free at least through the holidays, kind of a “Buy one as a gift, get one for yourself” idea. When you look at a book’s page, it’ll show you if it’s part of the Matchbook program. Point of obviousness: the title has to have both an eBook and a print version. Less obvious point: it doesn’t work in reverse. Buying an eBook doesn’t give you a discount on the print version. Maybe someday, but not yet. There’s less of a margin on print books, so I don’t see it.
Countdown Deals is also new. You know how you can look at the top books, paid or free, in each genre? Well, there’s now a time-sensitive discount option. This just started, so we’re still experimenting with it, but the page is active. For example: on Saturday, a book could be $0.99; then on Sunday, it’s $1.99; on Monday, it’s $2.99; and on Tuesday it’s up to its regular retail of $3.99. I’m going to run AKA Lexi Frost on this promo starting November 9 to see how it goes. If it goes well, I’ll toss the other ones up there.When it first launched, there were 12 books in the romance category. When I listed the promo for AKA Lexi Frost, there were 5 pages.
And last, but not least, Kindle First. This is for Prime members but doesn’t require a physical Kindle. Amazon editors pick four books to promote, and Prime members can choose one for free before their official release date. I suspect it’s their way of getting some reviews in place for when the books launch. Next month, you can do it again.

On Kindle First, these aren’t going to be your average indie books. These authors have sold enough in the past that Amazon Publishing editors have tried to woo them. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily better, there’s some fantastic indie books out there waiting to be discovered and some books published by the big publishing houses that aren’t good for much more than leveling a table. Sorry, you know it’s true and I’m not naming names. As a rule, these should be worth your time. Keeping in mind taste is subjective.

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