Tag Archives: writing tips

…Nor Do I Play One On TV

but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Today I want to talk about expert knowledge. This take on the “write what you know” trope is inspired by a recent post from Larry Brooks, whose brain you know I admire greatly. In it, he observes how the biggest name authors, the ones we all recognize, even if we never read their genre, have taken their expert knowledge from a previous career path or life experience and use that to write books packed with inside information and perspective, to create a story that no one else could have written.

As a young writer, it can be frustrating to read an author like that, to feel that you have it in you to tell that kind of a story. The writing inspires you, and you start to spin your own genre-similar tale in your head. You love the idea. It would make a great book–if only you could get the experience as a fighter pilot to fill in the gaps. Sadly, watching Top Gun a dozen times in one weekend doesn’t seem to make that happen, now you’ve got “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” stuck in your head, and you’re seriously bummed because you’re pretty sure there’s no cooler name than Maverick, but it’s already been used, so screw this whole thing.

One thing Larry says:

There’s nothing wrong with a housewife from Wisconsin setting out to write a sexy novel about a drug dealer operating out of Havana.  Research is a beautiful thing.  But the truth is, the real ex-Havana crack dealer writing the same story already has a leg up on her, and no research in the world can supplant the vicereral, minutea-bound credibility of someone who knows.

This, by the way, reminds me of a writer I know who was drawn to a particular kind of story that she hadn’t lived, and got so wound up in perfectionist research that she was letting the minutia run the story. Her thinking was much more about what would happen next according to real procedure in the real world, and not so much about telling a story and using the research to color it and fill in the blanks.

Anyways, a lot of us are writers because we love to read, and a lot of us love to read because we love the escapist fantasy of it. Because we’re not ex-FBI agents, nor did we stay at the Holiday Inn Express last night. So while Larry’s talking about these big-name authors having a leg up because they’ve been LA crime reporters, forensic techs, spies, pilots, etc., he also says:

Sure, it’s fiction, we get that.  But you have to bring it to life, and life is about truth.  And everybody has lived a truth worth telling.

This is what I believe. And you know who really inspires me in this regard?

La Nora.

That’s Nora Roberts. Now, you don’t have to be a fan, you don’t have to like her books. But you can probably bring yourself to admit that she’s done mighty fine for herself as a writer. If you go back and read Larry’s post, and you read about the big-name authors who have “lived their way in” to their type of story…I think La Nora probably smokes them all in terms of fame and earnings. (I don’t have to be right about that and don’t much care. It’s enough to say she’s at least on par for the sake of argument.)

So what’s her expert knowledge? The story goes–and I read it in The Official Nora Roberts Companion which has a lot of interesting stuff in it–that Nora started writing in 1979 when she was snowed in with her two boys and turned to writing a novel in a spiral notebook in an effort to save her sanity. The story paints a picture some of us–ahem–can relate to. It’s a picture of family, together, sometimes driving each other nuts.

The concept of family plays a huge role in her work. Whether it’s the family you were born into or the people you choose, the family themes, plots, and subplots in her works are part of what make them different from a lot of what’s out there, and part of what helps readers relate to the work, draws them in, and contributes to her popularity. There’s a very strong component in many of her works, a connection between characters that’s almost like ownership. Whether it’s a relationship between a hero and heroine, a relationship between brothers, or the relationship between a cop and the victims she wants justice for, there’s a sense that this person is mine, mine to care for, mine to protect, mine to stand with.

I think that if you look back at what Nora chooses to reveal in her origin story, the story of a harried mother of two young boys, it’s pretty obvious where at least part of that is coming from.

She has never been, to my knowledge, a spy, a pilot, an FBI agent, a cop, a cowboy, or a vampire. Part of what amazes me about Nora, and part of why she’s managed to put out well over 100 novels, is because it seems like she can write about anyone she wants. The research is there, the feel of it, but those professions–and their attendant minutia–aren’t what her stories are about. They’re about relationships, not just romantic relationships, but relationships of all kinds. They’re about family, something nearly everyone has or at least longs for, something to which everyone can relate.

So you’re just a high school student, or a retail clerk, or a server at Applebee’s, or you’re the night person on the desk at the Holiday Inn Express, so what? Something in your brain, in the way you think, makes you so different that you’re absolutely fascinating. If you weren’t fascinating, you’d never have started writing because you’d bore the crap out of yourself. And you’re human; you’ve got something that makes you just like me. That’s why I’m going to connect with what you write and have to read every book you put out.

I think that’s the magic. If you’re Grisham, you can write about all the little lawyery details we don’t know about, and that, in and of itself is interesting, especially since we get it in a gripping tale instead of having to sit through law school. If you’re not, then maybe your tales will have lawyery flavoring and a dash of artificial attorney color #5, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about something that only you bring to it out of your experience.

At least, this is what I understand about me: I can write about things I know in an academic sense, but I can write passionately about things I’ve felt my way through. And when I write with passion, it’s a whole other level.

So, expert on all things youish, what parts of your own unique journey are you using for your current work-in-progress?

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Giveaway: My favorite book marketing how-to guide

ETA: Read on for more about this very helpful book, but please note that this giveaway is over and comments have been closed.

My daughter’s scheduled outpatient surgery (getting a bunch of gum-chewing teeth taken care of because she tried to sock the dentist, even with laughing gas), was canceled due to snow. It’s certainly not a ton of snow by our standards, but for this part of the country, everything has to shut down. I hate snow, I really do, and my daughter told me, “If you hate snow, you hate Christmas.”

But, I really don’t. I’ve “Bah Humbug”ed more than once already, and I’ll do it again, but underneath this stress-ed out exterior, I really do love Christmas. And to prove it, I wanted to give away something I’ve found very useful this year.

Yep, I’m talking about We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb. I talked about this book when I was reading it back in September, but I just got around to writing an Amazon review yesterday. Bad Susan.

I’d like to believe you all hang on my every word and that, when I mention a book, you all run right out and buy it. But hey, you don’t, and this one’s 8 bucks for the Kindle version! And we’re all starving artists, aren’t we? But thanks to the magic of Amazon’s Gift as a Gift button (how much does that rock?) (and my magical Amazon credit card), I can easily offer you this book that I found so helpful, encouraging, and entertaining.

Note that this is the Kindle edition, and is DRM’d, so you’ll have to read it on a Kindle-compatible device or on your computer.

It would be lovely if you’d use the sharing buttons below to mention this to your friends and get more people to check out Kristen’s book, but I’m keeping this simple and all that’s required is that you leave a comment, saying that you’d like to win the book (to distinguish you from the other people who have to comment to gush about how great Kristen is). Let’s have an end to entries at 9am Eastern on Friday, since I’ll have another 1-day giveaway for you on Thursday. That should jog my memory to, you know, pay up. Then I’ll choose one random winner from among the entries. (ETA: it looks like I’ll be doing that other giveaway tomorrow, FYI. Doesn’t affect anything for this one, though, except my ability to remember to hand out a prize.)

And if you already read this book, will you please drop by Amazon and leave a review? Just your 5-star rating (I assume) with the line “I found this book really helpful” or “Great introduction to social media for authors” or something like that. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but ratings really help. In a world of corporate-branding For Dummies and Idiot’s Guide how-to books, let’s help out one of the little guys who deserves it.

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Filed under Contests

Beware Groundhog Day

Probably the thing I loved most about this movie was just getting a new term for the same ol’-same ol’ phenomenon.  My husband walks in. I say, “Hey, sweetie, how was your day?”

The movie gives him another option to choose from:

  • Grunt
  • Same shit, different day.
  • Groundhog Day

What was cool in the movie, though, was that it wasn’t ACTUALLY the same day over and over. Not for the viewer. Part of what makes it enjoyable is looking for the things that are the same, and for the things that Phil does differently and the way that changes events. So Groundhog Day, the movie: sweet, funny, entertaining.

Groundhog Day

  1. A movie in which a character must relive the same day over and over until he gets it right.
  2. A description of a day, or other experience, that feels tediously repetitive.

Movie = good, in life = blah, more often than not. But what about books?

The reason I bring this up is because lately I’ve noticed a personal intolerance for Groundhog Day.

The way a lot of books are written now is very visual and very TV/movie-like. Which I like. And in TV and movies, there are often only so many sets. So in a story, there are going to be places that are familiar to your characters and your reader, places they keep going back to because they have to (like school), or because they’re comfortable there (like a favorite coffee shop). Some familiar places that come to mind would the Sunnydale High library, Roswell’s Crashdown Cafe, Keith Mars’ PI office, Clark’s loft in the barn.

Having these kinds of familiar places in books is good, partly because it provides a kind of shorthand for the reader. We once we’re into the story, we don’t have to keep describing places as much because the reader already knows where we are, what it looks like, and how it relates to the life of the character. We can all concentrate on what’s happening.

But I think I get fouled up when there’s too much sameness. When there’s a combination of same place and similar sequence of events that feels like a Groundhog Day. When I feel the characters and I are experiencing a similar set of events, a change affects a different outcome to the scene, but the scene itself doesn’t give me enough that’s unique to make me feel the gift of having read it. (I’m big on gifts to the reader. Don’t get me started because I have to out this morning and there’s a towel on my head.)

I’m lazy. Even in my head. If you take me from one location to another, I like there to be a reason. Because, yes, people meander and take drives and go to coffee shops for no reason (even though they invariably stink like coffee). But characters aren’t really people. That’s why we don’t need to be in on their brushing and flossing habits either, unless it has something to do with the DNA trail or there’s a zombie behind the shower curtain.

So if we have to go into school again because that’s the time of day this scene takes place, that’s cool. I get the necessity of that. But I don’t need to go through the whole approach to the school, the bell rings, visit my locker, get a dirty look from the same person in the same place as yesterday. Too many same place, same sequence things feel like tedium, rather than a gift. Start where the new stuff happens. If there was something important in that sequence for me to see or experience, it’s important to find a way to make that new for me.

This is on my mind because I’ve complained about it a few times recently, and I’ve got a Groundhog Day twin-set of scenes in Heroes that I know will have to be combined or in some way fixed. It’s such an easy thing to fall into when you write because you know it’s different this time, and sometimes don’t realize–it’s really not different enough.

So what about you, readers? Is this all in my nit-picky head, or do you experience Groundhog Day when you read too?

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Filed under tips, writing

Love and Romance: Do You Believe in Magic?

Before I get onto this, a few things:

  • Hush Money is featured today at Indie Books Blog
  • It’s doing really well. It broke into the Kindle top 1000 early last week and though it’s fallen out a few times, it’s been holding position fairly well (it’s at #888 while I’m writing this).
  • Coming up, I’m going to have a post on getting to the top 1000 within the first 8 weeks of release, talking about some things I did that I think helped and a series of posts that concentrates on those things in a bit more detail.
  • Still have the Help Me Find My Dylan contest going.
  • You know the paperback is out, right?

And now, on to the post…

When it comes to Love and Romance, I absolutely believe in magic. Here are some things I believe in:

  • Love at first sight
  • True love
  • Fate
  • The idea that there is a perfect mate for every person
  • The idea that you can fall in love in a week, in a day, in a moment

And I’m going to cut that list off there before the sweetness of it gives us all cavities.

For me, these, and similar notions found in romance lit, are true possibilities in our world. Even if some of them haven’t happened for me, I can still believe in them in the same way I can take your word for it that things are made up of molecules, or that the Earth orbits the Sun.

  • I don’t have to experience everything in the world in order for it to be true for someone out there.
  • I know that people experience different things, and experience the same things differently.
  • I WANT to believe.

And so do other people. For a lot of them, that’s why they read romance.

Some people absolutely do not believe. These things haven’t happened for them, or, if they have, they didn’t see it that way. After all, love and romance, like anything good in life, require effort, work. And when you frame love as something purely mystical (which I don’t think it is), it confuses the issue for some people. It’s doesn’t make sense for their somewhat more practical take on matters.

In fiction, a disconnect between author and reader often comes about when the story falls too close to one end of this magic to pragmatic continuum.

You have that story where two characters meet, they feel this immediate, overwhelming attraction, connection, and even things like devotion and intimacy, which possibly should grow and evolve out of what they experience with each other, just kind of magically exist between them. This kind of romantic setup will be accepted by readers far at the magical end of that spectrum, but you won’t go far along the line before readers are finding this weak, thinking the author was a bit lazy in supporting the romantic elements, and the pragmatists are throwing the book at the wall and using words like “tripe.”

For me, the incredibly logical characters can be just as maddening. These are characters who are SO practical, who need everything proven to them, everything spelled out. They can be so unwilling to just feel. To take leaps of faith. Isn’t love worth taking a leap? Sometimes they come across, to magical me, as so ungrateful of the gift they’re being offered in the story. They’re so unwilling to allow themselves to feel within a context that (to me) is supposed to be about feeling.

Just because there are two people with relationship potential, doesn’t make it a romance.

What I’m getting at here, is that there’s a middle ground. A good romance finds it, finds a way to please the widest range of readers. Showing the evolution of a relationship, supporting the True Love and Fate angles with moments that allow the readers to say “this is when she fell for him” (and “oops, I just fell for him too”), deepens the experience of the romance even for the reader who would have accepted the magic of it. Allowing the characters to just feel things because they feel them, even if they need to question those feelings, allowing them to sometimes act on things they don’t quite understand yet, and to just go with the flow once in a while, can create and ebb and flow of tension, rather than frustration for the reader. It can make the characters seem more real, since sometimes people have unguarded moments, sometimes they do take chances, just because they want to, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Romantic elements, unsupported, can seem ridiculous. Characters who approach love like Mr. Spock can be maddeningly unromantic and frustrating.

But in the middle ground, between the ridiculously love-struck and the frustratingly logical, there’s room to create something special, something more than just magical.

Romance.

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Filed under books, characters, love, romance, tips, what not to do, writing

Setups, Flawed Characters, Ginger or Maryann?

Last night I finally got my files uploaded for the print version. They’ve been reviewed, and I had a problem with my title page, so I have to get that fixed this morning, and then upload the interior file again. But it seems like that was the only issue, so I might be able to order a proof copy tonight.

This morning I’m doing some thinking about first acts, how I understand them, and how I approach them. What follows may be a lot of me talking to myself, so don’t let all the yous get to you.

For me, the first part of a book is all setup. The actual story, the thing your characters are going to have to work through—you’re not into that yet. In fact, the point where you actually get into that doesn’t even happen until the end of this section.

Now, you can’t just do nothing here. You can’t just go about describing the characters, their environs, their backstories, etc, and not having anything going on to engage the reader. That’s about as much fun as watching someone else play Barbies. There should be something going on, something the reader is going to want to know more about.

So you’ve got a character (or characters) and a something going on. And part of what the reader wants to know is: how is this something going to affect the character? When is she going to a) either become aware of what’s really going on, and/or b) have to deal with this? And then what’s going to happen? While she’s reading on, to get to that moment when things come together and you come to that point of shoving your character through the door into the story world, you’re feeding her lots of important information about the world and the people in it, you’re planting seeds, doing a little foreshadowing, but, most importantly to me, you’re setting up your character arc.

The stories I love best are those in which a character learns and grows, is changed by the events of the story. I think I probably especially love characters who seem a little hard to love when they’re first introduced.

Take Lost’s Sawyer as an example. (Oh, I’d like to.) He’s not a nice man. In fact, he’s a criminal. Not only is he nasty to everyone on the island with the name-calling and the constant lashing out, he also does things like gathering up and “claiming” as many supplies as he can so that he can profit from everyone’s plight. I think there’s a part of Sawyer that remains inherently selfish at the core, which keeps his character consistent. But in a show in which the challenges presented by the island transform many characters, helping them find the inner hero that may lie within all of us, I think Sawyer is the one whose change is the most dramatic, and therefore the most moving. (Or I could be just blinded by the dimple. It happens.)

Spike is another example of this kind of character. Someone who starts off really enjoying the killing, especially of slayers. Until he falls in love with one, and is changed by that love, and by his story into someone who ultimately—does something spoilery that’s pretty selfless. You know what I’m talking about.

So yeah, I guess I’m into that. Characters need to have a starting off point in which they are somehow less that they’re going to be at the end point. And in a series, in which they’re going to appear in more than one story, that means they’ll need even more room to grow.

They have got to be likable in some way, and often, with flawed characters, that’s a matter of empathy. When a reader talks about characters that seem real, what they’re saying is that they felt empathy, they recognized something that they’ve felt, or at least something that they understand, in something that your character feels. There has to be something they connect to. This is why they tell us to make the character care about something.

Spike had Drusilla, for example, showing that he was capable of some kind of love, even if it wasn’t the nicest relationship to watch. Later, he formed the same kind of obsessive attachment to Buffy. And we really got to see how it hurt him, to be so constantly rejected by her, to feel that she was so unattainable, because he was so unworthy. To feel the hopelessness of that obsession, even if one hasn’t been a vampire obsessed with a slayer who won’t have them–a lot of people can still relate to, and be moved by, those kinds of feelings. And that’s what keeps them tied to Spike as he waits for his moment, his opportunities for growth (internal, not always conscious), and to win the Slayer’s affections (external).

But be advised, it doesn’t work for all readers all the time. If you present flawed characters, not everyone is going to connect, empathize, or wait around for them to get better. Sometimes a reader will be so turned off by something your flawed character did or said that, not only will she give up on them, but the book, and you as an author. Our different tastes, experiences, the issues that can pull us in or make us throw the book at the wall, that’s all part of what it is to be human and sentient, and makes all these varied stories possible.

After all, it’s this variation in taste that makes possible questions like:

  • Angel or Spike?
  • Sawyer/Kate or Sawyer/Juliette?
  • Marvel or DC?
  • Ginger or Maryann?

And where would the internet be without that?

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Filed under books, characters, Hush Money, ideas, love, romance, story structure, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing

Fire bad, tree pretty, sequel hard

It seems simple enough, right? You already know a bunch of your characters, you’re comfortable in your world, you’ve got a solid story under your belt, and you know what you’re doing, right?

Oh, no. This is not as easy at it looks.

But you knew that, right? I mean, you’ve read enough sequels to know that getting it right is a dicey business.

Here’s my problem with reading sequels: I read them back to back. I hate waiting to find out what’s going to happen next, and waiting six months to a year?? Oh no. Lack coping skills. So yeah, I have to stick my head in the sand to avoid spoilers, especially on the big ones, but it’s a small price to pay. Equal opportunity binge-er here! I also don’t watch TV and instead wait for the entire season or, preferably, series, to be out on DVD before starting to watch the episodes back to back.

Anyway, when you don’t have six months to forget the details, when you’ve just read the book, tossed it aside, and pounced on the next one, eager to find out what happens, re-reading everything you just read is incredibly frustrating. As the ebook trend grows, as “out-of-print” becomes a thing of the past and more people are able to find all the books in a series, in order, whenever they stumble upon it, this will be an issue for even more readers.

The answer, I think, is to start each book like it’s totally new and fresh. Forget about the previous book and every adorable word you put in there, every remarkable moment you lived through with those characters that you want to reminisce about (but suggesting that they want to reminisce). The reader’s here to find out what happens now.

In the first book, when you’re starting out, you know that you’re developing a character for the reader. You’re not dumping her, her vital stats, living arrangements, most traumatic moments, and grocery list on page one. You’re doling out tidbits as you go, as they become relevant to the story.

Well book two? Same goes. The event of book one are now part of the character, part of the backstory of book 2. You know better that to dump a lot of unnecessary backstory into your book, right?

Objection, your Honor! Relevancy?

Now, in case you haven’t figured this out, this is me, talking to myself. Heroes ‘Til Curfew is kicking my butt. What I know about not bogging a story down with irrelevant backstory and useless detail, and what I seem to really want to write, are two different things.

This is way harder than I thought it would be.

I’ve never written a book two before. I’ve never completed a book one I thought was worth following up on before. So now I’m in this whole new world in which I see this whole series of books before me…

This is a skill-set that I seriously need to learn. And I will.

While I work on this, any thoughts? Advice? Commiseration? Are there book twos you’ve just thrown at the wall because you didn’t want to hear about book one anymore?

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Filed under Heroes 'Til Curfew, Hush Money, story structure, Talent Chronicles, tips, what not to do, writing

Indies: Why I haven’t read your book

The #1 reason is simply that I haven’t found it yet. But since I shop a lot and meet with a lot of buyer frustration, I thought I’d make a list of the most common reasons why I don’t click the buy button. You may have your reasons, and that’s your business. This is one person’s experience and what you do with the info is up to you.

Preface: I’m an avid ebook enthusiast and I DO NOT OWN A KINDLE! Clutch the pearls, I know! You just don’t even know what to do with that one, do you? The fact is that there are a number of people who, for whatever reason, pass on the Kindle in favor of other ebook device brands. These brands include, but are not limited to: Sony, Nook, Kobo, iPad, Cybook… In fact, let me just link you to a list of examples. As far as I know, Kindle is the only dedicated reader device that reads the secure (DRM protected) Amazon format(s).

With ebook sales currently representing such a small percentage of the total book market, I am constantly asking myself why indie authors choose to alienate any part of that population by not offering their books in other formats.

So, we’re already into the list:

#2. You DRM’d your book on Amazon. Amazon has become THE place to shop for indie reads, without question. I go there first. And I try to buy there because I think that buying your book in Kindle format helps your rankings there which will ultimately be more helpful to you than if I buy it elsewhere.

But I can’t buy it there if you DRM it. In the details, it must read “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited”. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to convert it to a format my reader can use after I buy it. And if I wanted to read it on my PC, I would hardly have dropped a couple hundred bucks on a device, would I? And I’m a reader, not Gadget Girl. I’m not about to run out and tie myself to a cell phone contract, with an extra $15-$30/mo tacked onto it, to get a phone I can’t figure out, so that I can read your book on its dinky display. (Yes, the next shock, I neither have nor want an iPhone.)

#3. You’re not on Smashwords. That’s usually the next place I go to see if you’ve got other formats available someplace else. I search the title first, and then the author. I usually don’t find what I’m looking for.

(If DRM is the deal-breaker for you, if this “protection” is what keeps you from offering your book to ALL ebook device owners, I urge you to do two things: read up on some of what Joe Konrath has to say about ebook piracy on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Publishing [here’s one link, but there are more], and poke around MobileRead forum to see what formats have already been broken [um, all of them?]. Understand that the pirates don’t care about DRM because they’re the ones who CAN and DO break everything. You’re only keeping your books out of the hands of those who wanted to pay you. Do not flame my comments, because I do not want to argue about piracy.)

#4. Rarely, but it does happen, I will do a web search for you and your book, in hopes that you have a website at which you offer your book for free download (ok, I can hope), or offer the various formats through a service like Payloadz.

#5. Your book is too expensive. It’s not about what your work is worth, it’s about my budget. (It’s not you, it’s me.) We’ve gotten past the auto-no part of the list that’s just about availability, but now you’ve priced yourself out the market–the market of me, anyway. What I want to spend on an unknown is $.99. I will spend up to $2.99. I probably won’t spend more.

I rarely spend over $5. If I do, it’s because someone else really liked your book and told me I have to read it, or there was something so incredibly intriguing about the concept that I pretty much had to. But that is sooooo rare. Seriously, if you’re not selling like hotcakes, please don’t count on this. A 70% royalty x no sales = $0. A 35% royalty on $.99 is more than that.

What if you got me to read that first book for $.99? What if I bought your next 3? What if I told my friends?

(Those of you who have given your books over to epublishers who are trying to price you like NY books, while not making you look like NY books…I’m sorry. It’s just too high. If I wanted to pay that, I’d buy from an established name.)

#6. Your blurb/product description didn’t grab me. More than likely, if I take a pass on your book because of the product description, it’s because it actually turned me off. Maybe it wasn’t well-written. Maybe it failed to describe the story or made it seem like you and I wouldn’t be a writer/reader match. Often I see product descriptions that look like the author just didn’t try.

#7. I couldn’t get through the excerpt/sample. Now, I do a lot of impulse buying, but I’m really trying to get in the habit of taking the time to read at least a page or two of the free samples provided. This will save me a lot of pain. I’ll admit that I read and pay attention to the excerpts A LOT more when the price is higher than $.99. Because that purchase is a bigger decision.

This is finally where it gets to the point about your work. It may not be that I think it’s “bad”. Sometimes I just feel that it’s not for me. If your language is the really…flowery or purple, if it feels overwritten to me, or clumsy, or drags… These are things that make me suspect I’m not going to enjoy the book and it’s going to be a pass for me. I do the same thing to paperbacks in the bookstore when I can, so you’re getting equal treatment.

#8. Only after all that do I even get down to the reviews. Seems odd because reviews are something I go to right away for trad published books. And part of that is because trad published books are all pretty much equally available to me through various outlets, priced at about the same rate, generally have more compelling descriptions, and may or may not have excerpt material. I read reviews of trad published books because, again, the price makes the purchase a much more significant buying decision and I need to be careful about it.

To be honest, I’m hardly buying any trad pubbed books since the Agency pricing model for ebooks put the smackdown on discounting and made trad pubbed books in my price range practically extinct. I’m getting a lot more of my reading from the library than I was before Agency pricing. (The library and Adobe DRM support: the reason I don’t own a Kindle, now you know.)

Last word on reviews: by the time I’m looking at reviews, I’m looking for reassurance and a reason not to buy.

Other factors:

Cover art- A lot of people say professional cover art is a big deal. It’s not so much, for me, but I know it is for a lot of people. If your cover is really good, it may have a better shot at grabbing me. I don’t know.

Length- I like to know how long the book is, and I’m more likely to buy if I know the word count and what I’m getting into. The likelihood of me buying an indie novel over 100K words is very small. I prefer shorter novels, between 50K and 100K. I have a hard time believing that novels over 100K won’t be full of tangents, thoughtologue, redundancy, and an overall lack of editing and author attachment to every precious word. Maybe yours is different, but it’s probably not for me. I’ve read too much filler in the realm of “full-length” traditionally published novels.

Paper only!- Again, an availability issue. I understand why indie books cost what they do, and I do not hold that against you. But I won’t take that kind of risk with my money. Plus, I don’t want to read paper anymore. I’m in the process of getting rid of my paper books. The only thing I buy in paper anymore is manga/comics, some non-fiction stuff, and books for my little one. There’s just no way I’m spending $15-$20 on a book. But if you put it up in an eformat, at a reasonable price…

If I like your book, I will tell my friends. I’ll probably leave you a review. Maybe post about it somewhere. If you have other stuff, I’ll probably buy it all up.

If you can refrain from arguing with me about DRM and piracy (understand that I do so rabidly detest DRM, and how I feel it’s being used by the distributors to manipulate me as a consumer, and offers you, the author, no substantial protection against piracy–I actually can’t talk about it without getting worked up, so I won’t), I would love to hear why you’re in print only, or only in Kindle format, or how and why you chose your price point, etc.

And for readers, what makes you pass on books? What’s your price-point? What device are you using?

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Blueprint Series part 13: Battling Threads

Now that we’ve learned how to plot from beginning to end, I’m going to talk about what to do with the subplots and other threads you might have hanging around in your story. (For Part 1 in this series, click here.)

I’m calling these threads because sometimes “subplot” feels like too much word for these. So we might be talking about subplots in the way you think of them, or we might be talking about themes, or just things you want to develop and remember to follow.

A friend recently had a specular, freak-out meltdown over her WIP because she went to look at her outline, and there were points there that didn’t make sense, things that seemed left out or left hanging, and the outline itself was no longer a treasure map but sort of an encyclopedia of Huh?

There were a number of reasons why this happened, but essentially it all came down to her not having spent the time to understand her threads, work them through, and tie them into the plot. Consequently, when she had thrown an idea onto the outline that made sense when she thought of it, she later had no idea how to relate it to the story. And this story was an intrigue that really grew in terms of having a lot of different threads to follow. Complexity is great, scary fields of tangled threads and seeming randomness are not.

It took hours of talk therapy to get all the information out of her. It was all there, and it was mostly all good, it just took a long time to straighten it all out, tie it all together, and show her what she really had. On the bright side, it taught me stuff about the process.

But after all this work, and getting to The End, I don’t think you’re going to like it…

Step 13: Battling Threads

  1. List different the different threads/subplots in the story.
  2. For each thread, list its major plot points, and/or how it relates to the plot point moments in the central plot as described above.

Things you might list as threads:

subplots

themes

the constant battle against the inner demon

your romantic relationship

another relationship the character has, like a friendship

a mystery

something a secondary character is doing that will affect your main plot later in an important way

something going on in the background, like events in the town that enhance the setting

Like some of the things we talked about with regard to characters and setting apply here. Namely relevancy and connections. While you’re working through these threads, trying to build them as plotlines, look for ways to tie them back in to the main story. When the main plot points in your main storyline take place, how are these threads affected? How can you use what you already have to build on these ideas? If you need a distraction for your main characters or a red herring to distract the reader, choose from threads you’re already using rather than making up an unrelated incident.

Not all threads will have all their major plots–or at least, if they do, those won’t necessarily happen on the page. It’s probably not true for all stories that plotlines should interweave. I’m sure there are some that keep seemingly independent storylines going without tying them together until some shocking reveal at the end. If that’s how you roll, more power to ya.

I’d guess the important thing is just to be aware of your plans. Keep good notes for yourself, so that you don’t lose any of those great ideas, and you’re not letting threads slip and lie half developed and forgotten as you work.

After this, the only thing left to do is to actually outline. I continue to do this in Word, just making a list of scenes with brief descriptions or bullets of what needs to be shown and why. I then work through the writing of each of the four parts, stopping in between to make notes on changes or new things that developed during the writing.

After all this, I think I need a bit of a break to finish up my own outline for my current project. If you’ve followed the series, I want to say a special thank you. I hope you’ve found it useful. Please feel free to come back and comment (any ol’ where) and tell me how it’s going.

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Blueprint Series part 12: Fleshing Out Part 4

You know what you need to bring your story to a conclusion, but how are you going to make that into a whole quarter of your story? Does it have to be? We’re going to talk about that and some other stuff today as we work prepping part 4 of your story. (Click here for part 1 of this series on story development.)

To answer my own question above, my personal opinion: No, your 4 parts do not have to be equal quarters and your Part 4 doesn’t have to be quite as long as Part 2 or Part 3. But neither should it be so truncated that it seems a lot shorter.

This is one of the many balancing acts we face in writing. Your final act should be that exciting thrill ride we talked about yesterday, full of jarring impacts and forward motion. But it also should not be over so quickly that your reader feels she’s just invested hours in a build-up to something that was over too quickly. That’s a risk if you move from your SPP directly to your final showdown against the antagonist. At the same time, if there’s a long and complicated sequence of events to set up that showdown, your risk slowing everything down and disappointing your reader in a different way.

I just thought I’d throw some worries at you while you think through this, because I’m mean like that. As you’re outlining, you may find that you have more scenes or fewer scenes in your Part 4 than you did in other parts. Maybe it will take you more words to describe all that action, and that will maintain your balance. Hopefully you’ll be writing your climax using the kind of exciting language that will make it a fast read, make your reader power through to keep turning pages to see what happens, and that will provide the balance you need.

What you do not want to do here, is to plan a lot after your exciting climax. Don’t you DARE make me walk back to the Shire with you. Seriously. I’ll go home with your character to see how it all worked out, to see her get her reward, but I don’t need another journey right now, and I certainly don’t want another adventure of any kind.

I’ve got my post-victory buzz on. Don’t bring me down, man.

So let’s look at the Blueprint…

Step 12: Fleshing out part 4

  1. What is the climax of the story?
  2. How do the characters come to terms with their inner demons?
  3. Are there any loose ends to tie up?
  4. What is the happily ever after moment?

Not a lot of questions to work with there, but, at this point, you don’t need them. There is nothing extraneous in your climax. It deals with setting up the antagonist and knocking him down. And to do this, the protagonist overcomes her inner demon, that thing that’s been holding her back all along. It’s her grit, determination, and what she’s made of herself through the training that living through this story has given her, that allow her to win. Not luck, not some guy (unless he’s a co-protag and she saves him right back), not some kind of out of nowhere magic. Your protag saves the day and defeats her foe. She couldn’t have done it back when we met her, but she’s a different person now. Right?

Do you have any loose ends to tie up? Any subplots that need resolving, mysteries to be explained, identities to be revealed Scooby-Doo style? Like I said above, once you’ve impacted the reader with the emotion of the win, getting to THE END as quickly as possible is usually best for everyone. Every page she has to turn after that risks diluting the emotional high she paid for in the book price and hours invested in reading.

(It’s probably obvious that I don’t believe in epilogues. Epilogues that do not advance the series are most often gratuitous frolicking in the story world for an author who just doesn’t want to let go yet. Some readers also don’t want to leave the story world and these characters, and enjoy a drama-free scene of martial bliss 9 months later or whatever. Put it on your website and give those readers a reason to check that out and look at your other projects. The only epilogue type I favor is one with the purpose of dropping a seed that will grow into the next book. Horror movies are good at that type of final scene, but then, making you uncomfortable is the point of a horror movie. And making you feel WIN! is the point of romance, IMO.)

What’s your Happily Ever After moment? You’ve just saved the world from a monstrous, soul-sucking demon from hell? What are you going to do next? This is where you give the protagonist her reward, or the clear promise of it, for all her hard work through the story. Because what’s harder than changing and growing? Sometimes part of this moment in your story is about your protagonist realizing what she’s learned and how she’s changed, especially in stories for younger readers who expect that moral of the story, -what we’ve learned from this after school special- type moment. Often stories end with a punch line. This isn’t so much a joke (although it is often humorous and further breaks reader tension) as a bit of an emotional punch, and is often particularly affected when it is seeded throughout the story in some way.

It seems like we’re done (except for writing), but I still have at least one more thing I want to talk about. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about Battling Threads in your story, and how you might consider dealing with your subplots. Even if you don’t plan to add a subplot, there are still threads of different types that weave in and out of your main action story, and it’s important not to leave them hanging or let them grow into a tangle that impedes your main plot.

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Blueprint Series Part 11: Fleshing Out Part 3

I hope yesterday’s post helped you start to think through what my CP calls “The Valley of the Shadow of the Middle.” Middles are hard for a lot of writers. Today we’ll be working our way through the second half of this often desolate landscape. (If you’d like to start from the beginning, check out part 1 here.)

Part 3 of the story takes us from the MP (midpoint), which changed everything yet again by providing us with a whole new picture of what’s going on, to the SPP (second plot point), the event that will send your characters hurtling toward the story’s climactic end. Smack in the middle of those two points we’ll place PP2 (pinch point two), a reminder of the antagonistic force that’s more terrifying than ever.

Step 11: Fleshing out part 3

  1. How does the hero react to the Midpoint event? What’s different now?
  2. How does the heroine react to the Midpoint event? What’s different now?
  3. How do the characters take proactive action?
  4. How are the characters fighting their inner demons? How will you show that?
  5. What is Pinch Point 2? How will you show the evolution of the antagonistic force?
  6. How do the characters react to PP2?
  7. Is there a Black Moment in the sense of a break-up or break down of relations between the hero and heroine?
  8. Is there an all is lost moment where everything seems impossible for your characters? How do they react to that?
  9. How does the SPP come about?

In part 3, your protag is a different person than the one we’ve seen before. She’s not doing this for the same consequence avoidance reasons that dragged her into this mess. She’s in it now, and she’s becoming the Warrior we always knew she could be. If she could just learn that lesson, fix that skewed world view that would let her get past her inner demon, you know she’d be kicking some serious antagonist tail. But she’s not quite there yet.

So yesterday we talked about what a big deal the MP was. Something happened that really changed things in the story. How? What’s different now? How does it change your characters, and how will you show that?

Now that your characters have survived the the first half of the story, they’re hardly the wilting pansies they once were. They’re done running and hiding and trying to avoid conflict. What’s their plan of action now?

Remember how I said your protag wasn’t quite ready to win because she has to overcome her inner demon first? Remember to remind the reader about that too. Because this flaw she has is probably going to cause her problems come PP2…

Know who else has survived the story this long? Your antagonist. Remember that you’re keeping the odds stacked against your protag team and as they evolve, so does your antagonist. He’s bigger, meaner, and more bad-ass than ever. And he shows that by whooping your characters’ butts at PP2.

This may lead to an all is lost moment for your protagonist. I know I’m often very moved by those story moments in which the protagonist has taken such a beating, the odds seems so impossible, you almost want them to give up and go home, to stop taking all this punishment in a battle that seems hopeless. But that’s not who your protag is. It’s just not in them to give up (because you’ve got a fabulous climactic ending planned!), so they’re going to have to pick themselves up. Give them a story moment to wallow first, if you want to.

Note to romance writers: So much of romance now is action-oriented. Back in the day, we had a lot of historical and contemporary tales that were mostly two people moving through a story together, and much of their conflict was with each other. Today, with the huge popularity of subgenres like romantic suspense and paranormal romance, it seems wise to follow the advice of those who write in the thriller and suspense genres. But to do it with the kind of character depth, interpersonal drama, and loads of sexual tension that make romance what we love.

The “Black Moment” in romance, is something that happens that breaks your two characters apart, at least for a time. It is often followed by a “dark period” in which the characters brood separately and secretly long to patch things up. If you’re writing romance and working with this popular construction, your Black Moment and dark period will probably happen through this second half of part 3.

And now the SPP. In this scene, we turn that last corner that sends us into the sequence of events that make up your climax. In roller coaster terms, we’re at the top of the big rise, and the SPP is the thing that’s going to push us into a downhill sequence of terrifying and exciting events over which we have no control. (Ok, we do, but this is what a good part 4 often feels like for a reader.)

So what is the Second Plot Point? One way I like to think of it is as the delivery of the missing piece of the puzzle. After PP2, your characters are pretty defeated. It doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to go on. But the SPP brings some information that allows them to act. And through acting, they bring about the story’s final showdown.

And look! A middle! As someone who’s wandered the Dreaded Valley many times, there’s not much that’s more satisfying than laying out a rich middle and seeing my characters’ path running through it. I hope this helps you map out yours. And if you get bogged down and depressed listen to The Middle for a pick me up.

The last of the 4 main parts tomorrow! We’ll be filling in some of the detail that lead us to The End.

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