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To Write Or Not To Write

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NaNoWriMo is a quarter over. Yay? I guess it depends on how you’re doing. I’m not sure how I’m doing, I still haven’t decided whether to participate.

That probably sounds strange to people who do participate. I have for years, but I have a lot on my plate this year and I’m not sure I can justify taking time to write with the devotion needed – at least not yet. I have a novel to finish, not that it will take 50,000 words to finish it. Then again, I have to rewrite the first chapter completely, so that would help. Keeping in mind I’d have to trim a lot in revisions, I could add 50k to the story. Now it’s just a matter of if I will.

It’s a hard decision sometimes, to write or not to write. I’m caught up in revising a book then handing back to the monsters who edit it and run the changes by the demons who said they don’t like this or that about the story. And I need to get this all done quickly because I need that book released. Then there are the teenagers and their issues and dramas. I don’t want to think about that right now.

But I like to write and I feel like I’ve been mucking about with teenage dramas too much lately. And book dramas. I need the escape that writing provides. I’ve been making do with reading, even going so far yesterday as to pick up an old go-to fantasy favorite – Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn. If you look it up, ignore the cover – it makes it look like a 600 page romance. Which it is. But it’s a fantasy romance and has a rich world and intrigue and it’s really more about the intrigue than the romance arc. Never mind, I’m babbling.

So to write or not to write. Not writing isn’t really an option, I will write this month and I’ll get a respectable word count (It’s November, I’m obligated to keep track) even if I don’t throw myself into NaNoWriMo. By today, writers should have at least 11,670 words. If I really throw myself into it, I can start on Monday or Tuesday and still make the 50k goal, but is it worth it? Starting off that far behind is stressful, but I’ve finished NaNo with over 60k almost every year and once I had 80k. It depends on inspiration. (I’m a pantser. If I had a plot outline, that would be a completely different story.) I know what I can do (word count wise) when I’m left alone to write and have inspiration on my side. And I know what I can do if my fickle muse is off partying and I’m left with brute determination. I can still do this. But I have a lot of other things to do, they’re time consuming, and they take priority over a challenge I’ve won several times. I don’t need to prove anything to myself or others, it’s just sort of a tradition.

I know this is coming far too late for some of you, the question of whether to accept the challenge or not, but it is a question some writers have to agonize over. Desire to follow your dreams and passion vs commitment.

I think commitment intruding on your time is the reason some people give for not meeting your goal by November 30th. Maybe. I’ve always been more inclined to believe it was a matter of being realistic with your time, at least in the people I’ve talked to over the years.

Last year I urged everyone to face harsh reality when making their schedule. Not their work schedule and commitments to family activities and such, your word count schedule. Yes, there are 30 days in November, so that equates to 1667 words/day. Not everyone will be able to write on all 30 days. Be realistic about it. Remove Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Recovery Saturday from your list. That leaves 27 writing days, so you have to write 1852 words/day. Do you always end up spending a day fussing over a sick child in November or get sick yourself? Subtract another day. Can’t write every day of the week? Subtract four more days, or five depending on the day. Redivide 50k by the realistic number of writing days and get a new daily goal. Then round up. Always round up. I round 1667 up to 2000, but 1700 might be easier to swallow. When I know I’m meeting my goal of 2000 words a day, and that will give me a safe padding of 10k at the end of the month (60k total instead of 50k) it makes it easier to accept little annoyances that keep me from writing with grace. I can make it up, and hey, I have 10k to absorb those issues.

If I start on Monday, November 9, I will be 15k behind. That sounds horrible! Another way to look at it is: I have 21 writing days left (yes, I write on Thanksgiving) so that’s 2381 words a day, round up to 2400. I’d actually round to 2500, rounding to 3000 is almost cruel given that I know the month will be busy in addition to writing sprees.

Fine, 2500/day. Will I have inspiration to help me? Yes actually. I’ve had this novel seething in the back of my mind while I dealt with other things. My fingers are twitching to get it finished. Inspiration makes words flow. I’d feel better if I had a more solid ending in mind. Right now it’s a vague concept and I’m not comfortable with that. It won’t be a problem though.

I suppose I need to work through the weekend and reassess on Monday. Will I be able to get everything done without things falling through the cracks? There’s little point in my mind about taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge if I don’t have a chance to win it. Maybe starting late will encourage me not to be so cavalier about it. Face it, it hasn’t been much of a challenge for me. Except that one year when hubby had a family emergency and I got really sick. That sucked.

This could be a good thing.*

*Always view NaNoWriMo as a challenge of opportunity. If it’s a source of stress so great in your life that you start downing entire bottles of Tums and going through a bottle of wine while you’re writing and another at dinner, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s not worth that.

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A Different Family Vacation

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I’ve been largely vacant from social media sites and remiss in blogging regularly lately. I apologize. This is due to a couple of things: First, The Boy & high school – I’ll come back to that. Second, it seemed June was vacation month.

Family vacations are something unique to individual families. Some go to the beach, the mountains, or the desert; others choose specific destinations like parks or cities. I camped as a child, hubby’s family thinks roughing it is a three star hotel.  We try to shake things up for our kids, but there is a specific type of family vacation that comes up regularly: shooting. Specifically, machine gun shoots.

There are several machine gun shoots in the country, Knob Creek is (I believe) the oldest and we’ve never traveled back to that one. Big Sandy is the biggest, although I remember it when was much smaller. There’s an age limit for most shoots (for obvious safety reasons) but occasionally there are machine gun shoots that allow kids.

This particular shoot was a machine gun shoot for charity so it was more of a family-friendly environment. It’s held in a small town every year to benefit some part of the town. One year it was the fire department because they needed equipment and it simply wasn’t in the budget. This year it was the school for the same reason. The town has its own people donate things to raffle and to shoot at. One of the local farmers has a piece of land that’s used for the shoot and for camping. The hotel offers a discount. The grocery store donates meat and one of the restaurants donates a cook to barbeque it and people can buy their dinner each night. They truck in cold drinks and ice for us to buy. All proceeds go to the cause because everyone in town is donating their time, products, and services to get money out of the shooters and spectators. Old beat up cars that would get towed off for scrap are saved and shot up first. We blew up a van this year. I’m serious, there was a reactive target under it and it flipped the minivan and broke it in half. Kind of cool. Sponsors put up prizes to be raffled. Lately even some of the chain sporting stores have been putting in some things to be raffled. It’s good PR.

We all have a lot of fun, see people we only see once or twice a year sometimes, and the town brings thousands of dollars into a depressed, floundering community in addition to what the actual charity rakes in. It’s a win all the way around.

Now, that being said, I was supremely happy to go sit in the desert because I needed a break. Really. The Boy (I said I’d get back to it) had some difficulty at school – not his fault, we confirmed it, but neither was it the sort of thing we could ignore. And the school couldn’t fix it. So he chose to switch to home/online school instead of regular public school. And it was an uphill battle from there.

Actually the first few weeks were fine. Then for whatever reason he decided he needed to be prompted to do anything. I honestly feel like I slid back into high school myself. Seriously, I sat with him through the last half of ninth grade. The thing is, I already passed ninth grade and felt no need to do it again. That didn’t matter. To make him sit through it, I had to do it too. The upshot is: I got next to nothing productive done in the last few months with my writing, although I have had a lot of teen-related angst. I should be angst-proof.

So he finished his classes, barely, and we take off on vacation. The Girl has lost interest in shooting after the first half-day and sat with her nose in a book, enjoying the chance to peacefully read something that wasn’t assigned. I sat in whatever shade I could find frantically trying to finish A Thousand Words #4 because I’m behind where I wanted to be courtesy of her little brother. We both had earbuds in under hearing protection to make it easier to ignore the pop, pop, pop, boom of gunfire in the background and occasional explosion as someone hits a reactive target. The cows didn’t seem to mind, although I noticed the sudden lack of ground squirrels every time the firing line was active. Hmm. Rodents have a sense of self-preservation after all.

The Boy threw himself into the predominate activity with gusto, especially since discovering his back-up plan of playing games on his laptop wasn’t going to happen. There was no internet. No Wifi to connect with his friends at home, and no cell service as a back up to text/call/skype them. I’d love to say I laughed at that last bit, but I was one of the three out of four family members who succumbed to a panic attack thirty miles from the site when service cut out. GPS still worked, but that was of limited interest. Hubby doesn’t live and die with his phone in his pocket, so he was the one who laughed at the rest of his adoring family when mountains finally killed our weak signal. I called him names. It wasn’t my finest moment.

On the plus side, that’s one less distraction. It was just me and my laptop. Until they closed the line for dinner and the ground squirrels came out to play again. They’re cute. (The farmer doesn’t think so, but they are.)

As soon as the shoot ended, we headed home to trade in a very heavy load of weapons and ammo for a lighter but almost as bulky cello and left on Family Vacation 2.0 – Mount Rushmore. Yes, it added a couple of days to our vacation to return home to switch out luggage and head out again, but it just seemed like a poor idea to go to a National Monument armed to the teeth, you know? Besides, The Girl wanted to find the Team America theme song and load it on her MP3 player so she could play it at Mount Rushmore. I saw this as another bad idea, but The Boy sided with her and they so rarely band together anymore I hated to break it up. I had days for that partnership to crumble before nixing her rebellious streak. (That didn’t quite go as planned.)

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Data Entry = Outlining A Novel. See How I Made That Leap.

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I spent most of the day yesterday doing data entry for Hubby. It was interesting. Why? You might ask, would I do that? Because I type upwards of 90 wpm while he swears as he types and there’s really only so much I can take. Still, I usually let him do his stuff himself as I’m just not up to taking dictation. Sorry, honey, but I ‘fix’ his sentences as he says them and twist everything into my style and it comes out somewhat different than he envisioned. (This is how I got out of doing the laundry too. I accidentally let something red slip in with the whites and suddenly he’s wearing pink underwear. I personally didn’t see what the big deal was. No one knew except us and I thought it was funny. He didn’t find it humorous so now he doesn’t let me in the laundry room. I’m serious. There’s still a complete ban in effect over a decade later. Oops.)

Anyway, so I helped my honey out by doing a bit of data entry yesterday. I got more done than he thought I would – which I suspect I should be insulted by. I also remembered why I don’t do data entry: even with headphones and good tunes, it’s mind-numbing. I kept ‘looking into’ anything I saw that was suspicious, which slowed me down but would be part of his job eventually and so that led to me getting even more done than he thought I would. At this rate, he’ll bribe me into doing it again. Chocolate might work.

I did devote a bit of time to thinking about the difference in what I was doing compared to what I usually do when sitting at a computer for that long. No, not the social media distractions, or looking at cats, or shopping on Amazon, or whatever: writing. I still do that you know. I have the next year mapped out, which is sort of annoying really. I don’t like outlines, but I’m living by them now. It made me think of outlines as data entry. Anyone see that coming? I thought I’d finally gone around the bend when the thought crossed my mind. I immediately switched playlists, but I doubt I could blame that on Nickelback or OneRepublic. Here, let me spell it out for you:

In a book, you start with an idea, right? At least I hope you have an idea. If not, go feed your muse, sweetie. Anyway, you have an idea and you take that and start writing out a list of what happens. Just the high points, that makes a basic outline. Then you fill in a few details here and there, flesh it out.

If you can’t picture the outline concept, try this: when you make your initial list of what happens, you’re making a list of chapters, maybe, or parts. You can do part I, II, III, etc, then chapters in each part, then add more detail and do scenes inside of the chapters. Does that help?

So you have your outline, just like I sat there with my long-ass list of things to enter into a database (which was not set up properly – Hello to Hubby’s so-called ‘Boss’ who should have listened to me in the first place because I used to set up databases so I know a little something about them! End rant. He’ll find out later.)

Pause for just a moment while I have a tiny fantasy about Hubby’s “Boss” having database issues in a few months – because it won’t take longer than that for this mess to crash and burn – and me just sitting there smirking, not saying “I told you.”

So you have an outline, now comes the data entry bit. I’m serious. If your outline is detailed enough, sometimes it feels like you’re just rewriting the notes into complete sentences and adding the punctuation for dialogue. It’s freaky. Those are the outlines that let you write 10,000 words a day. In truth, it’s sort of cheating, because you did so much prep work on the outline, it’s almost like you’re just rewriting what you already wrote. But you wrote that outline in layers, over time, so it isn’t like that. Try it sometime if you can, you’ll find out.

My outlines are not usually that complete. Sigh. Sometimes scenes are, maybe a chapter, but not an entire book. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve even had partial outlines at all, so all you writers out there who are reading this thinking “OMG! I don’t outline at all!” don’t freak out, it’s fine.

At heart, I still don’t consider myself someone who outlines because I suck at it. I’m still a pantser. (Someone who writes by the seat of their pants.) Just because you know the end of your book and some things that happen in the middle, doesn’t mean you’re a planner, it means you know what happens. The fog has cleared enough that you saw the high points of those mountains in the distance, unfortunately you missed the jungle swamp, rope bridge over the bottomless chasm, and lake of steaming lava in between. A planner would know about those too.

There are purists who are one or the other, but I think most writers are a little of each. It’s better that way. Someone who is 100% pantser? Wow, that book is probably all over the place. On the flip side, a book written by someone who is 100% planner would have little whimsy. I like whimsy. People who plan every move and think about everything before they say it are stiff and boring. I don’t want to read about them. Good writers fall in the middle somewhere. Some may be a lot more planner than others, and that’s just fine. If they can do it, I applaud them. Some may be more pantser, like myself. We seem to write ourselves into corners, but not quite. Our characters fight with us and tell us what to do. It keeps things lively.

Either way, the books get written, the stories get told. That’s the important part. And if we have to take time out from telling those stories to do data entry so we can rediscover things, or pay the bills, so be it. Just as long as our imagination stays active. (Hey, did you know in Philadelphia there’s a company called Alarmist Security Systems? What a name. It makes me wonder if there’s a Hypochondriacs Care Clinic. I would totally go there, just to sit in the waiting room and stare at people.)

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My Personal Hell? Short Stories

wish-promoMy mind has been going so many directions the last few days that I feel like I’ve spun my own spiderweb. It’s writer hell. And not so great if you’re not into spiders, which I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned I’m not.

So first, Make A Wish! is on Amazon for free through January 31st. This is sort of the send-off on that novel because after that it’ll no longer be exclusive to Amazon. What does this mean? Well for those with Prime and a Kindle, it won’t be in the lender’s library anymore or Kindle Unlimited. It also won’t be eligible for free promotions, at least not on Amazon. On the flip side, Make A Wish! will join my other novels (and a short story) on Smashwords. So what? It also means it’ll show up in the library for Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Oyster, and some other sites.

That’s something to look forward to, if you’re anyone other than me. I get to reformat the book again. Yay, my favorite thing to do. Right up there with looking out for invisible spiders. Plus, whenever I deal with any of the previously mentioned sites, I start thinking about short stories. I’m midway through a novel right now, and have a pressing need to finish it, but my mind is wandering to short stories. This is bad. Make yourself comfortable and let me rant explain.

First, a short story is a complete tale of less than about 8,000 words. There is some debate on word count. For example, the next step up from a short story is a novella, which starts at about 20,000 words. That’s a big gap. What if you wrote something that’s 15,000 words? Well, it depends on where you’re submitting it for one thing. For another, short stories generally lack the character development of novels or novellas. Descriptive locations also tend to fall to the wayside. A short story is just that: a story that is short. People don’t pick them up with the expectation of being drawn into a complex new world or identify with a character. The reader is there for the story. It’s plot-driven. If your 15,000 word masterpiece fits that description: short story. If it has more meat on it: novella.

Second, when it comes to writing, short stories are a different sort of animal. Some writers are more flexible than others. This applies to a multitude of things such as when, where, and how they write, but also what they write. Some write in multiple genres, others are specific. Some write single titles and series (not talking about romance categories here), some manage every length from poems to epic novels. Personally, I can’t manage short stories.

I say that, but I have one published. Hmm. Let’s back up, shall we?

I used to write short stories. The idea of a novel was just too grand to contemplate. This was in junior high, so we’re not talking starry-eyed writer with hopes of being an author. I liked to write and short stories were what I produced.

In high school, writing became uncool, and in college I didn’t really have time. Then there was marriage and career and kids. When I got back to writing, I took a short story from eons ago and started to rework it, and it became a novel. Yay! I didn’t expect that, but jump for joy, a novel. I did it again. And again. This went on.

A writing class assigned short stories and … I had a problem. I’d gained the ability to write a novel, but lost the ability to write short stories. I can’t not develop my characters enough to make it fit the word count. I can’t have one simple story arc going and leave others alone. I can’t not have a backstory for the characters or complication.

While I did figure out how to trim a lot of things off a book, I could never manage to trim enough to make anything a short story. The closest I came was taking story ideas and writing a synopsis. Presto: 2,000 word short story. Sort of. Okay, not really.

But I wrote one. There’s proof.

No, I didn’t. Meet Olive was never intended to be a short story. It was originally the prologue for Be Careful What You Wish For. I had mixed messages from a critique group and beta readers about it: it wasn’t needed and prologues aren’t necessary, but people liked it. Fine. Take the chapter out of the book and set it adrift on its own. Problem solved.

No, problem not solved. I have Meet Olive available for free a lot of places. Apparently it’s too short. Fine. I have the same situation for Make A Wish! – an opening chapter (that I cut) introducing the genie and how she came to be where we find her. I’ve been waffling over making it a short story. Maybe I’ll package them together, then it’ll be longer. I’ll wait until I finish the next in The Genie In Your Pocket Collection before doing any more short stories. I know I’m cutting chapters out of the third book, so maybe they’ll end up there too. We’ll have to see.

And with this, I return to writing a yet unnamed novel that will be the fourth in The Thousand Words Series. Then I’ll finish the third genie book. Then I’ll have to face NaNoWriMo again and decide if I’m going to continue playing that little game. And then I can finish revising A’gust and then third in The Death Of Secrets Series, yet another untitled book – sad when you remember it’s actually finished. Okay, it needs a final revision and edit, but it’s complete.

Hmm… sort of feeling like my calendar is booked, but I want to do something new and different. This would be a good time to whip out a short story. If I could. Damn.

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How To Win NaNoWriMo Even If You’re Behind (Without Cheating)

Okay, for you NaNoWriMo participants out there, we’re halfway through the challenge, and I hope you’re about halfway through your novel. If you’re not quite there, it’s okay, there’s time.

That being said, Hubby threw me for a loop after the first week. I told him I was scheduled to finish about the 18th or so at the rate I was going (things have happened since) and he said “Wow, I never thought I’d be ahead of you.”

What?

Hubby doesn’t write. He started a novel about seventeen years ago with a friend, they got fifty pages in and haven’t touched it since. I’ve encouraged him, but to no avail. It’s helpful though, he knows a little something about writing so he’s supportive when I lock myself away in a typing frenzy. He’s also unusually understanding about the whole “don’t talk to me in November” thing.

Whatever, I tried to suppress the shock and vowed to be supportive of Hubby taking up the writing challenge. A few days go by and I mentioned my plot has strayed shockingly far from my admittedly simple outline. I told him about what I wrote so far, and he offered to let me see what he had. Hubby was surprisingly vague about his plot, but said he’d show me. Okay. If he’s good with it.

We were out at the time, but when we got home, Hubby started his computer, hesitated, and turned it around to show me his masterpiece in progress.

Now I want it known that I had no intention of critiquing it. I am the supportive wife. I’ve finished twelve novels and several short stories, this is his first so I’m all about being supportive. Okay, that was my disclaimer.

I looked at Hubby’s first paragraph and it took a moment for what I was seeing to sink in.

Have you seen that text graphic circling the web about varying sentence length? That was the first thing that crossed my mind.

Although it really didn’t apply, not really. Yes, every sentence was the same length, but it was because they were all the same sentence! That’s right, he had typed, over and over “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

He had pages of it. Apparently he’d already hit 42,000 words. Yay? We had a little chat. This is not the way to win NaNoWriMo, although I have to tip my hat to Hubby for the prank.

Hubby’s distractions aside, let’s discuss how someone could win NaNoWriMo even if they were behind at this point. Some may even be critically behind.

The easiest thing to remember is Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. Seriously. Turn off the TV, close your internet browsers. Facebook and Twitter will live without you for two weeks. I promise the world will survive if you don’t +1 a picture of a cat or like some inspirational quote. Promise.

Next, once you type it, it’s set in stone. Don’t edit anything at this point. Typo? Deal with it on December 1st. Changing the name of a character? Do it on December 1st. Just realized your main character cannot possibly have been born the year you said because that would make her 982 and the story doesn’t allow for her to be a Time Lord? What did I say? That’s right, December 1st.

Now to be fair, some may not be in a predicament because of the inability to turn off their inner editor. This “Don’t edit anything” may seem a bit harsh. Correcting a simple typo doesn’t actually take that long. True, but “not that long” multiplied by a few times/page by over 100 pages adds up. (Those of us who’ve written 25,000 words, in theory have written 100 pages, with 100 to go. If you’re behind … you have over 100 to go. Get it?)

Big one here: outline as much as you can, as detailed as you can, as quickly as you can. Also preferably somewhere where you wouldn’t be writing anyway. I like to outline in the car when Hubby’s driving (until I threaten to get car-sick), or relaxing in a hot bath, or quietly while ‘watching’ a show with the kids when it would be too distracting to actually write. Outlining, for those who can do this, can dramatically increase your word count when you actually sit down to write in a couple of ways. First: you already know exactly what you’re going to write. There’s no ‘waiting for inspiration’ because it’s largely there on your notepad. Second: if you’re working with a basic outline and still need a little bit of inspiration, and just don’t have it on one scene, as long as you stay true to your outline, you can skip ahead to another scene and write that instead. There are no rules that say the book must be written in order. I frequently don’t write my novels from chapter one through twenty, one after the other. In fact, I’ve done it once. Outlines are wonderful, if you can use them effectively.

That being said, I recognize not everyone can. I try, I really do. I outlined this book, and I’ve deviated so far from that outline now that it was effectively a waste of time and effort. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve done this, and it probably won’t be the last. I recognize the value of outlines so I keep trying. Once I start writing, my characters get developed and take on a life of their own, and toss my carefully planned outline out the window. Without a safety harness. It’s cruel and painful.

Also, research later. Remember I mentioned in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo that I was doing my research in advance? It was because I didn’t want to take time to research while I could be writing. Plus I knew I did have to leave time for life to get in the way. Researching in advance didn’t help me. Did I do it? Yes. I researched what I would need based on the outline I constructed that ended up being tossed aside after the first week. So I’m in the same boat. No research allowed. If I come across something that I need to know, I mark it. (I use ‘@’ and a note so I can search for it later, a friend uses ** because it’s on her numberpad and she doesn’t have to shift.) Then, on December 1, you can go back, and fill in the blanks. If you absolutely need to know something for plot? Honestly? Take a guess and fix it later. Research is time consuming. I have written a chapter in less time than it’s taken to do enough research to decide on a location, or to look into the details of actual UV exposure and protection. It’s nuts.

Besides, the Internet is taboo. It’s not conducive to meeting your NaNoWriMo word count goals.

Sadly, you can’t control life. It happens. I spent the entire last week dealing with my daughter. She was sick, and we ended up taking her to the ER in the middle of the night. What’s wrong? Heaven only knows because the doctors sure don’t. The followup wasn’t any better. She’s feeling better, but it’s difficult to type when you’re holding the hand of a scared sixteen-year-old who’s hurting. (Although in truth, I will write on my phone, just not quickly.) While I’m glad she’s starting to feel better, I’m concerned they don’t know what’s wrong and she has a week’s worth of homework to make up. (She’s freaking out about missing her Latin II test and I’m wondering how I can incorporate that reaction into a novel, it’s great.) I’m happy to have my computer and Scrivener back, and tired of sitcoms. But I also went from being really ahead to behind. After a couple late-night sessions with grape Laffy Taffy, grape soda, and coffee (the latter doesn’t go with the former two if you’re wondering) I’m a shoulder-shrugging “Meh.” Sigh.

You can’t plan for these things. You can deal with it. How you deal with it says something about you as a writer. It says to the world how serious you are. At this point, there is time left. Focus, take a deep breath, and be a writer.

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Writing and Research

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First off, you have to research sometimes. Some things you can fake, like what happens when a vampire bites someone (let’s be real, no one knows. Or they’re not telling.) But if you guess and get it wrong, or at least really wrong, it annoys readers. Conversely, if you get it right, they get drawn into the story more. If it’s something they know, like a place or subject, then you’re more than just an author – you’re a comrade. Research can pay off.

As a rule, I don’t stop writing to research something unless I absolutely can’t avoid it. I’ll mark whatever it is (maybe something like this: @look up how a broken shoulder is treated/how long to recover) and keep going. Then when I hit a point when I just need a break, or I’m done with the first draft, I’ll go back and search for all those little marks, and fill in the details.

Obviously, sometimes you run into a detail that isn’t little. You need to know a fact now because it affects too many things in the scenes to come. Those annoying tidbits, you have to stop writing to research, but there are different ways of handling the problem.

First, if I’m on a roll and my muse is on my side, I might just switch scenes and put off the research and the scenes that will result until later. I don’t want to lose momentum at that moment. If I’m writing chapter two and got stymied by a historical fact, I will take the option to jump ahead to write chapter eight that doesn’t have anything to do with said historical fact or the fallout of its revelation.

Second, in the case of a time crunch, like NaNoWriMo, I’ll try to do the same thing and approach the problem as if I’m trying to maintain momentum. It really is the same whether I’m actually feeling the blessing of the muse or not. I need to hit the wordcount goal and I will not accept a delay.

The third point is where plotters really have a huge advantage over pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants). If you have an outlined plot, you probably know in advance where those big research points are. Do them in your down time or in advance. In the case of NaNoWriMo, do your research now.

There’s a specific bit about NaNo and research I’d like to point out: if you haven’t taken the time to actually join the NaNo community website, consider it. Yes, you can hook up with friends there and brag about wordcount, or use it to motivate yourself or others, and a lot of areas or cities have a NaNo community with write-ins and whatever. I don’t pay much attention to all of that. Okay, I do the occasional Write-in with friends to motivate them. That’s not what I want to bring your attention to here, it’s the boards. Specifically, the research board.

Everything is on the Internet, right? Finding it can be difficult, and writers know that. Also, sometimes what you need isn’t the velocity of a bullet or what gun an FBI agent who started in 1998 would carry, it’s something more personal. Like if your character carried a Smith & Wesson 9mm in a right side leather belt holster with a snap, and his right hand was smashed in a fight, how long would it take him to cross draw that weapon and fire if he were lying on the ground on his stomach? And maybe you live in a city/state/country where you can’t conduct that specific experiment yourself. Oddly, you can get a question like that answered on the research board. Or you’re a woman writing about a female character who wakes up one morning to discover she’s now male and has to contend with ‘dangly bits.’ That came up and it was hysterical to read the descriptions and advice the men volunteered.

This is where I will be distracted in November: reading the research board on Nanowrimo.org. I’ll answer what I can, ask Hubby or other professionals I know if someone’s question isn’t being answered, and read things that look interesting. Part of it is that knowledge is valuable. Part of it is that the people answering these insane questions are writers, and the way they respond is often times just fantastic. The various question sites on the web aren’t nearly as much fun.

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Hardest Book I’ve Ever Written

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I have six books published now, plus the short story, Meet Olive on GoodReads. The hardest thing I’ve ever written? Never Ready, hands down. You’d think it would be Chrysanthemum, because that was technically the first novel I wrote, and the longest. Actually, no, A’gust was the longest, and still is (working on that.) Or AKA Lexi Frost because it was the first with an erotic scene. No, those all just flowed. No problem.

I haven’t really struggled with any in the Lexi Frost series. I’ve hardly struggled with the three I’ve completed in the Death of Secrets series, other than sheer length, or the fourth that I’ve got half done (working on that too.)

The genies? Be Careful What You Wish For wasn’t difficult to write, although it was a pain to revise. It took a long time to get Viv’s character where I wanted her. Olive was remarkably easy, I mean for being such a troublemaker. The next book, Make A Wish! seems to be fine (half done with the edits, yes, working on that). Hmm. Before Never Ready, I would have said revising Be Careful What You Wish For was the hardest book I’ve done.

Writing Rerun, which next to none of you have had the chance to peek at, wasn’t this hard. It was different. Killing, a lot of killing. Darkness, but hey, it’s a thriller not a romance. But it wasn’t difficult. Okay, sure, I cried because, you know, killing, a lot of killing. Bloody doesn’t equate to hard.

No, it wasn’t until I ended the Lexi Frost series and started the Thousand Words series that trouble started. Wrapping it all up in one nice, neat package. I should have left it messy, it would have been easier. I wrote Transitions. But what about Never Ready? Didn’t I just say that was the hardest book I’d written? I’ll get there.

First: Transitions crossed marketing strategies. It started as Contemporary Romance and ended as New Adult Romance. Those assignments (as well as YA and MG) are based on the age of the main character. Well, there’s the other problem: It was kind of two books in one – choose your main character. Based on the number of scenes/focus, the main character was Dev, so I decided to make this the first book in the Thousand Words series, not the last in the Lexi Frost series and focus more on the New Adult side of marketing. And to make matters slightly more complicated, he’s seventeen when the book starts – in the Young Adult age group (not that I would in a million years classify this as Young Adult!) – but he went off to college midway through the book and was firmly twenty by the time it ended (Whew! safely New Adult).

Also, as mentioned before, it’s a ‘choose your character’ book. In romance, you typically follow only one romantic couple in a book, but I clearly had two: Teri and Flynn, and Dev and Lindsay. I start with one and over the course of the novel transferred attention to the other. It’s also traditional not to have intimate interaction until you get about 80 pages in. I didn’t necessarily break that tradition, it just seemed that way at first. No real problem there. And you don’t have intimate relations between anyone but the romantic couple, but as I said, I had two, meaning I had more than one intimate encounter between different couples. That’s kind of a no-no.

The big headache was how to let readers know what the hell I’d done with this book. It’s really two stories written together, and a progression of events. Some books are character-driven, meaning readers follow along because they identify with a character and need to see what happens to them (most Disney movies are like this or chic-flicks). Some books are story/plot-driven and the readers follow along because they have to know what happens (think Lord of the Rings, or any action-movie). Good books tend to be a mix between the two. Writers want the readers to be invested in the main characters, but also interested in the story as a whole because then cliffhangers work. We’re kind of evil that way. Sorry. This was meant to be story or plot driven and I just assumed readers would like the characters and follow along as I wanted them to. That’s not the way it usually works.

So I have this book, it’s appropriate novel-length with two couples, two love stories, but the events are so intertwined trying to pull it apart into two books just seems like a poor idea. And while I’m starting a new series for new readers of a (probably) different age group, I’m trying not to either overwhelm them with backstory or lose them entirely because they have no idea what happened in the Lexi Frost series. Meanwhile, those who read the Lexi Frost series may or may not be game for what mischief her troublemaker of a son is up to.

The whole time I was writing this book, I knew what I was going to do (plot-wise, and I won’t give spoilers) and that had me on edge. I knew it was going to be hard marketing-wise, and I couldn’t see a way around it. It was like I had a cloud over my head the whole time. Not even chocolate helped, although Hubby made a valiant effort and kept me supplied.

Even when I finished, it wasn’t really over. Revisions were like reliving the drama of writing it. And then I lost my editor. My second editor. So I gave it to the most anal of my beta readers and said ‘go for it.’ Then I washed my hands of it because I’d had enough. When it came back from formatting, and it was all perfect, I made one small change – and suddenly nothing was perfect anymore. So I got to spend all day fixing everything.

With a dramatic sigh, I stuck Transitions on Amazon – for 24 hours before an alpha reader decided to pipe up a concern that I really did need to separate the story lines. She made a good argument, and I pulled the book. There are five copies of Transitions out there. Sigh again and reach for a bottle of something mildly alcoholic. Hubby handed me Irish Cream, and thus Never Ready was born. As if writing and revising Transitions wasn’t hard enough, Never Ready was pure torture.

I figured out where the book would be divided and reassigned scenes as needed. Neither book was very long now, nor were they full stories anymore. I was already resigned to ending the Lexi Frost Series, and it was incredibly difficult to become reinvested to go back and fill in the blanks in Never Ready. I’d sown the seeds of trouble that wouldn’t sprout until the next series as it turns out.

It was also hard to go back into Transitions and finish it a second time. To be honest, I’ve written the two books following Transitions, and I went and stole scenes from the second book in the series to put in Transitions, so that made finishing that book a little easier. Although I moved a whole plot complication up by half a book and now I have to go fix the sequel. Then I had to fix Transitions to actually introduce all the characters. In Never Ready, it’s assumed you know the players, but I can’t do that for Transitions, it’s the start of a new series. Done.

Except Never Ready still leaves you with Dev and Lindsay on your mind, so I didn’t really accomplish all that much by pulling the book apart after all. The troublemaker alpha reader sort of disagrees. Never Ready focuses more on Teri and Flynn (true). Dev and Lindsay are a big part of it, but their story doesn’t really get underway until Transitions, so I can justify that book as New Adult Romance and Never Ready as Contemporary Romance. I at least solved the marketing problem. Knowing what genre your book is can be a big relief and that alone was worth the tears, frustration, and headaches. And the two pounds I gained from the chocolate. I actually put the chocolate in the acknowledgment for Never Ready. I’m serious.

Great, so I gained a specific genre, but did I solidify the story? It’s still the finale and transitional novel that I originally wrote so I’m concerned. My alpha readers think so, but they may be biased by this point. My actual readers are not given to reviews, although some do send me messages directly from my website. (I think that’s great.) Time will tell.

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Nouns Are Important

ImageEvery woman should have a little black dress/cat. Read that as you will. I have both. Considering I also have two teens, I get more use from the LBC (little black cat). I figure in that sentence, dress and cat are interchangeable. They’re both nouns . . .

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t work quite like that, but why not? I’ve long held the suspicion that someone who can write a really good love scene could write a passable fight scene, and someone who can write a really rocking fight scene should be able to write a passable love scene. The theory is: write the scene you’re good at, say sex, then go back and change all the verbs and (hopefully) nouns. Voila! Fight scene. Fine, you may have to clean it up a little, but you’d have the framework. For someone who doesn’t know where to start, it’s somewhere to start.

Have I tested this theory? No. Why? Partially no need yet. The few skirmishes I’ve had have flowed from my fingertips organically and I didn’t need to cheat. The other reason why is I’d rather stay off The Guardian’s radar. They give an award every year for the worst sex scene in a book. Usually it goes to someone I’ve never heard of, but they’ve had some big name nominees. And while it would be free advertising, I’ll pass.

That’s me being a chicken, by the way. I’ve gone back and reread some of my first attempt sex scenes, and I don’t think I’d win against those writers The Guardian picks on. The winners aren’t just bad scenes, they’re creatively bad. The avid romance reader probably knows what I’m talking about – like finding a scene several pages long where everything is described in terms of food, or flowers, or (shudder) cars. Or authors who stubbornly refused to call anything by its anatomical or common name and instead terms like ‘winkie’ and ‘hoo-hoo’ slip in there. Talk about ruining the mood. If you can’t say it, honey, don’t write about it. Granted that’s an extreme example and I saw that in a pre-publication piece I was critiquing. (Disclaimer: it might have been intentional, I’m not sure.)

So the point? Nouns matter. Writers hear over and over that adverbs are bad and adjectives are weak. Use stronger verbs. What about nouns? In romance we hear about purple prose – the practice of giving decorative names to body parts and actions. Her shimmering globes and his velvet shaft, you’ve heard it before. Romance writers are told purple prose died a painful death over a decade ago, but it’s been a lingering one. In fairness, there is a reason it’s still around: repetition. There are only so many times you want to say dick, penis, and cock in nine pages. And describing female genitalia is arguably worse.

For some small-print publishers, there is a list of terms you can’t use. Ever. I’m not just talking about the F-word, the C-word is almost always on there if you see such a list, but some publishers don’t like other phrases or words. And some authors aren’t comfortable writing some terms. Maybe it doesn’t suit the character to admire her honey’s ass – she would think of it as a bottom, where another woman would most definitely think of it as his ass.

Nouns are one of the most basic building blocks of sentences, and therefore your book. Pay a little bit of attention to them. (And I was kidding about switching out the verbs in a love scene, by the way! Although, if anyone wants to try it, I’d love to see the results.)

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I Started My Book in the Wrong Place!

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I finished the ‘sequel’ to Be Careful What You Wish For a couple of months ago, and now I’m ready to do my first revision. I usually do several, each time focusing on different things. Also, I make sure there’s time in between to give myself the best chance to forget the story and see it with fresh eyes. That way I give myself the best chance to spot loose ends, plot holes, and anything else in the storyline itself that really needs to be addressed. It’s sort of embarrassing to have a beta reader (they come after alpha readers) to point out that your hero could easily have escaped the dragon by simply climbing into his space ship that he conveniently left three feet behind him and turning on the shields. Or something. I don’t write anything with dragons or spaceships, so this is unlikely to happen to me. The point, however, remains valid.

Anyway, so I’m ready to do a revision and I start . . . humming along, fixing punctuation, tweaking sentences for readability, things like that . . . and I realize that I don’t get to The Point of No Return until chapter three.

That’s bad.

This is why we do revisions, people. Correction: This is one reason why we do revisions, people. I started my book in the wrong place and I’m not a happy camper. Or did I? Not necessarily. Yes, I have to fix it. In Be Careful What You Wish For, it took longer than I wanted to meet the genie, and I dropped an earlier hint of things to come to lead people along. This time it’s much, much worse. But did I genuinely start writing in the wrong place?

The thing about writing is it’s a creative process. It’s nice to start writing your novel at the point in the story where your novel is actually going to begin, but you don’t always have that choice. If you plan out the whole thing, it certainly swings the odds in your favor, I admit that. You don’t know until you pick it up for that first round of revisions if you pulled it off. Sometimes that first chapter was just for you to get to know your characters and has nothing to do with the reader or the story. It has to go. Take a step back, put on your critic’s cap, and ask yourself: Where is The Point of No Return for your character? In the Three-Act Structure, it’s common for the point of no return to be about a quarter of the way through. I personally think that’s too far in, but that’s me.

At this point, I’ll add that I don’t personally follow the Three-Act Structure template. I like my stories to be more character-driven and this focuses on plot too much. My characters lead me on their quest and I record it. I don’t usually plan ahead, and this makes following a structure a little more difficult. I do think this template makes a good point about how the book is divided into the beginning, middle, and end; and ensures you have the right amount of tension in each section. I think it makes writers take a stronger look at what they’ve created (plot-wise) and see if it follows the general trend. There are other plot-templates, this is just one. You see the term thrown around a lot with screenplays, but it’s applied to books as well.

Now we’ve established that I write by the seat of my pants and don’t consciously follow any real guide when I write. (With the exception of the Lexi Frost & Thousand Words series of novels, which I have a very vague outline for that should last me through about twelve books. I set things up books in advance with those.) I just sit down and start writing because I don’t want to get bogged down in needing to follow a format or structure. I don’t want to distract myself and dampen my creativity. However, if you’ve written 25,000 words and your character hasn’t left home yet to start his quest, maybe structure will provide a little guidance.

For this book, as it was with Be Careful What You Wish For, I hit that Point of No Return well before the quarter-mark the template usually suggests. It’s still farther along than I want it to be. I can provide little hooks to maintain interest until the reader gets there, but should I?

Let’s move on to look at Act I: The Beginning AKA what’s going on before the character hits The Point of No Return. Typically, it’s introducing the characters, the world, establishing the tone and voice, providing the conflict and showing what the stakes are.

Did I do that? Yes. So why am I complaining? Because it’s what I do. Deal with it.

Fine, so I want my The Point of No Return to be earlier in the book. Choices? Toss chapters 1 & 2 and fit the pertinent information into flashbacks, conversations, etc. (No, I won’t do an infodump, that’s sloppy.) There’s too much to easily fit in, and the reader will need this information before The Point of No Return, further complicating that option. All right, time to look at those first two chapters with a hyper-critical eye.

This time everything is suspect to important questions and I have a ‘take no prisoners’ policy in my mind. Does the reader really need to know this? Does the reader need to know this now? Everything that doesn’t receive two thumbs-up either needs to be moved or outright chucked. I can develop the main characters just fine starting from chapter 3. Can I eliminate enough to merge chapters 1 & 2? That would move my character’s Point of No Return up quite a bit. Can I do that without sacrificing the story’s tone and voice? Will it make readability suffer?

I’m skeptical I can trim and move that much, but we’ll see. Part of the point is showing how a comfortable, stable life is slowly turning upside-down. You can’t rush comfortable and stable too much without it showing. There’s one way to really find out: save a copy of the original work and just do it. See what the result is when I go in there with my pen/sword and start slashing. I can re-add bits, or return to the original version if I need to. At least I’ll know I made an effort to make the story as exciting as I could for my reader.

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A Quick Word About Point of View, Characters, and Voice (Plus Tense)

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You know how bad things come in threes? They say they do anyway. It’s a superstition, but it persists. Interesting and good things can come in threes too, at least we notice them that way. In this case, the triple whammy I’m referring to is about Chrysanthemum.

First, I have books out there but people persist in not leaving a review. It’s partially my fault, I beg for a review after the ‘See Also’ page at the end of the book, and most people tune out right about there. Sigh. I wasn’t thinking. Anyway, I submitted the book to a review site to at least get something, although it didn’t make it all the way to Amazon. I’ll get back to that.

While I was waiting for that review, I went searching for some files I knew I had from back in 2010 and stumbled across the original rough draft for Chrysanthemum. I mean the really original manuscript, when that wasn’t even her name, and it wasn’t written from her point of view, and boy is it rough.

I went tripping down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about this. It was mostly from Marcus’s point of view – wow. Okay, now there’s nothing wrong with writing from the viewpoint of a hunky master vampire, but I’m glad I changed it.

Quick lesson about writing: in books where you have multiple viewpoints as an option: write the scene from the viewpoint of the character with the most at stake. In a book with one point of view, such as Chrysanthemum, pick the character with the most to lose or gain. That’s the character the reader will become invested in and you want to take the reader on an emotional journey.

There’s no doubt Marcus has a lot at stake. I mean this is his soul mate someone’s trying to kidnap, and it’s probably because of him (not much of a spoiler there, don’t worry). But Chrys still has a lot more going on. Besides, being inside her head is fun. Marcus is all-powerful and hunky and all that, but face it, there are enough vampire books out there to wallpaper the White House ten times over. Being in his head makes this just another vamp book. It’s Chrys’s viewpoint on the situation that makes it unique. And because I wrote it from her point of view and, more importantly, first person, ‘her voice’ comes through which really made her character shine.

And that’s pretty much what the review said. You can read it here. What it also pointed out is that I really need to define my blurb better, and that I don’t like my cover. No, she didn’t say anything about my cover. I decided that on my own. Again. Oddly, this book was pushed back from publication several times and delayed months because I kept not liking the cover. I finally caved and said, “yeah, sure, fine, that’ll work,” and released it. Now I changed my mind again. I’m not sure how this is going to work because I’m not working with that designer anymore. Sigh. Enough about that.

Not sure about point of view, perspective, and voice? Yeah, it can be a mess sometimes. Point of view I sort of covered – write from the point of view aka the eyes of the character who has the most to gain or lose. Unless you have a narrator or other really compelling reason.

Perspective – that’s first person or third person. Second isn’t really used. First person is: “I went to the sink to get a glass of water.” Second person is: “You go to the sink to get a glass of water.” Think of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books, they use this. Third person is: “She went to the sink to get a glass of water.”

Why use one over another? Preference. Some writers can’t write first or third so they really only write one way. That neatly solves that problem. If you’re not trapped in that mindset, look at your book. First person perspective doesn’t completely trap you in the mind of one character like I did in Chrysanthemum. Yes, you’re in her mind the entire book. It’s common. It’s not a requirement. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is also written in first person perspective, but it switches between two characters – each chapter is from their eyes.

First person means the reader only knows what that character knows, what they see, hear, feel, and think, and they can feel a deeper connection with the character. It means they miss things, and they can be surprised. It also allows you to play with a technique called ‘stream of consciousness’ which is fun. I use it in Chrysanthemum, and Robin McKinley does it beautifully in Sunshine (another vampire book, one of my favorites). Basically, this is where you write as people actually think – not linear and organized as we might talk, but a little more erratic. Our thoughts wander slightly, and it shows. And it’s fun. Don’t get out of hand, obviously.

With third person, you have the option of easily handling point of views of multiple characters. I used this for the Lexi Frost series for this reason. In one scene, you’re in Teri’s head, then Dev’s, then Flynn’s, then back to Teri’s, then jump to Kenny’s viewpoint to see that everyone involved is missing something important, and so on. It lets the reader know things the key characters don’t. The reader knows there’s trouble coming and they’re on the edge of their seat waiting for the shoe to drop.

Past tense vs present tense is a debate I’m probably better not entering. I’m old school. Unless it’s a middle grade book – use past tense. There, I said it. For adult books, when I see present tense, I think “this person reads to their kids a lot, that’s nice,” and then I tend to put it down. It’s really hard to get continuity right with present tense. So many paragraphs tend to read literally impossible. But that’s me. And I’m recovering, my daughter makes me read to her, so yes, I’ve read a lot of the hot YA books that are present tense. I even ground my teeth, shredded my stress ball, and made my way through the 50 Shades of hell and didn’t pick it apart too much. The books, not the ball – it didn’t make it. On the plus side: I enjoyed the sex scenes and learned I will not be writing BDSM.

And lastly, voice. This is a vague concept. The voice is the personality of your book, your writing, showing through. If you’re naturally snarky, your writing might reflect that even if you didn’t design any of your characters to be snarky. Personally, I think voice shows through a lot more when you’re either in first person point of view, or third person limited – meaning you’re not hopping around between eight different characters. The fewer the characters the reader has to get to know, the more they can get to know them, and you – and your voice. If you have a good voice, this is a good strategy. A good story helps, obviously, but readers like writers who draw them in and showing a good voice is a way to do it.

 

 

 

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