Category Archives: Writing – how to

In which I tell anyone who will listen things about craft I have figured out the hard way.

I write today in Uttar Pradesh

THE MOUNTAINS I CAN’T CLIMB ARE MINE

Years ago, when I set Pride’s Children in 2005-2006, I worked out Book 1, PURGATORY, in a little more detail than the remaining volumes of the trilogy (there being only so much you can carry in your head at a time, and Book 1 was quite a lot to handle).

I emphasize that the rough draft was complete, Book 1 to the end of Book 3. I know what is happening – I’m an extreme plotter, and little of importance has changed since 2000.

Some of my research has come back, not so much to haunt me, but to challenge me, as I work through turning an unbelievably rough first draft (don’t be fooled by the perfect spelling, and all the punctuation marks being in their places) into the final draft, a one-step scene by scene process for me.

Victory after a month?

I finished a scene, which took me over a month to write, yesterday. I listened to it (one of my final steps) and declared it finished to my exacting standards (hehe), posted in my victory journal, and started working on the next scene immediately.

And immediately ran into a road block at a deceptively-simple plot point:  What time do we leave the hotel in the morning?

Did a bit of quick research on distances, times, and roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, and realized I had a whopping big plot problem.

One part of the research held: I had changed the date of the scene by three days, but the sun still rose within two minutes of my original date. Don’t laugh at me – it’s a plot point, and I pay attention (so the readers doesn’t have to) in great detail when I can. I think I need that degree of detail myself, when writing, to fully go somewhere inside my head which I can’t go to in reality because of time or distance – or because it’s in the past.

Research tools have changed

But when I wrote the rough draft, I was not concerned with details of traffic and distance in India. I did a quick pass, found the things I needed, figured I could nudge or hedge enough to make it work – after all, the scene had bridging a time and spatial gap only as a minor part, and moved on to the more important character plot points.

Today, I had to pay for that.

I had to have characters be somewhere at that particular time – which meant they had to get in a car at an appropriate time, and go to bed at a time which went with the rest, and have dinner first (all of which should be transparent to the reader), and fly in from the other side of the world.

Google Earth: villain and hero

Google Earth showed me it wouldn’t work. Not as I set it up originally, because they do such silly things as calculate how long it will take you from Point A to Point B at a PARTICULAR time of day on a day which might not be in 2005 (that calculation is lost), but can be extrapolated, with some care and patience, from what it might take today. Or next Tuesday.

It’s designed for commuters and tour guides. It is amazingly useful for me.

I hope some day to have a host of Indian readers – it’s a huge market of English speakers which has been barely tapped because of other problems such as rural electrification, vast population density, and its immense size. But I’m not going to be successful with them (assuming they actually like and read my writing) if I mysteriously shorten the distance between two Indian cities in an area where people actually know how long it takes to go from one to the other. The suspension of disbelief will go Poof!

There are many side benefits to spending time with errant details

The area is more real to me than ever before. And it was pretty solid then.

Other details that are important – and peripherally hooked in – such as who sits next to whom during a conversation, suddenly have answers from logic, not imagination. Thank goodness for real-world anchors occasionally! It gets a little rarified in the cloud-cuckoo-land of making it all up as you go.

And because I started Pride’s Children to tell myself a real story, real in the sense that it could happen, not necessarily that it did, I can believe my own lies.

 

Advertisements

Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?


What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!


How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly

LET ME SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR FLY

Let me show you around.

Let me show off the carefully constructed room I have created for myself, and I want you to see.

Constructing the tough scenes

I have spent over two weeks crafting the scene I just finished.

I have known for almost all of this century what would happen here: this scene has ONE main job.

It is a pivotal scene: without this one scene, the second book of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, comes to a screeching halt.

The way I write, though, that is not unusual.

Perennial preparation

Outside my window a pair of goldfinches is systematically eating every single seed on the drying heads of the coneflowers planted just, it seems, for them and for this purpose. I never see them at other times of year – the little yellow and black birds, tiny compared to the big fat robins that eat the worms, tinier still compared to the crows and pigeons, and microscopic compared to the hawk that lives around here somewher (in themiddle of suburban NJ!), but bigger than the hummingbirds whose feeder I need to replenish today.

But for the goldfinches to have this feast, a whole host of details must have gone perfectly: the perennial plants were introduced years ago, the weeds have been removed (now by my assistant, as I can’t do much of that any more), the fertilizer was applied, and, most importantly, I have kept that same assistant from removing the drying seedheads of this year’s crop as garden debris. Yes, it would look a lot tidier, but the whole point of the garden was hummingbirds and butterflies – and the other wildlife that eats the various seeds and drinks the different flower nectars.

It is still a surprise to the writer

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m an extreme plotter. Hundreds or thousands of pieces have pre-planned scenes (yes, there is a bit of give – I’m not a psychic) where they will ‘happen.’

This particular scene had the regular mix of other bits attached – some pieces are identifiable as recommended by Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s books for screenwriters, and others come straight from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction.

I have known about the details for the past two years.

But the details as executed, oh!

And it was still very hard work – three weeks of it – to turn this collection of plot points and character bits, events and revelations, new leads and old connections – into something that I felt would take me there, and be so real I couldn’t imagine changing any of it (now – the weeks have been nothing BUT changing the HOW).

So I can take a reader there with me, invite that reader into this scene, one of the rooms on this long house tour of mine, and have the reader feel at home and comfy in the plush padded armchair whose footstool has a hand-embroidered tapestry cover.

It is finished now

And it is real, and reliably causes my brain to load the experience.

So it’s ready to eventually share. Here’s a taste:

Andrew snippet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What? Where? Why? I promise it all connects.

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.

 

 

Character motivation fail last ditch solution

SOMETIMES, LOOK AT THINGS BACKWARD

I’m STILL a new author. Millions of words written over more than twenty years, but only one novel published.

It’s always something

And I’m surprised to land in a situation I haven’t had to write before? Gimme a break! There a huge numbers of situations I haven’t landed characters in and had to write them out of yet.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. After the headache from pounding my head against the wall goes away, of course.

Book 2 of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, has been giving me writing problems since the minute I got started on it – that should have been a clue.

There is no point in writing scenes and circumstances similar to the ones in PURGATORY, because I’m finished with PURGATORY. I know – have always known – that NETHERWORLD has to kick everything up to a new level, or I’m just going through the motions to finish a story I could be bored with.

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

Only I’m not. I have a whole new set of story pieces that need exploring. Plotting with Dramatica does this. And writing with it has been described as going through a four-story house, thoroughly exploring every room on each floor before going up the stairs to the next floor. Everything on the second floor is new. Sitting on top of the first story, but not requiring me to go back down to the first-floor rooms, because they’re already done.

What I have to do, instead, is listen to the gut feeling that tells me I’m NOT writing something the way I want to (I know when it’s right; this scene isn’t).

And yet the process is complete. I know how to gather all the pieces of a scene, how to get it (or something like the final version of ‘it’) started, how to organize the flow, how to end a scene with a line that leaves a question.

Notes from the current Production file:

I have one per scene; that’s where I work all this stuff out because the inside of my head is not usable workspace for complicated stuff – I lose too much.

All this agonizing really means is there’s work to be done. So do it.

Other writers have written outlandish things – there are solutions. Only I will have to figure out my own.

And in all those years of stuffing my head with reading material, I must have absorbed something useful. Making the effort will bring up any pieces I can’t find in my writing books. It’s just work.

The Production file notes (pieces removed, so as not to give plot away at this stage, marked by ellipses):

Nope, there’s still a motivation problem. We know why Z is unhappy – Y is being a stinker about the …. We know why Z pushes X and wants W there.
But we don’t really see why X ultimately agrees to assist.
X is stuck – things are NOT moving forward.
X thinks W might be able to help.
W can say no, and X will be off the hook.
But X is the one who has to write a letter to go with the … Z is sending.

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

Let’s look at it from the other side: X DOESN’T write the letter. X argues with X to attempt to see what’s bothering X. X figures it out: sort of screwed either way.

Then X looks at consequences further down the line – and doesn’t like them.

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

Then Z goes ahead with his plan (and Z’s now pissed at X); W comes or doesn’t.
If W comes, W will wonder what the hell, and why didn’t W even get a whiff of warning from X.
If W doesn’t come, does W interpret it as X being protective? Or as X not warning W – for X’s own selfish reasons?

Ethical dilemmas in real life

I need to remember that in real life, if the answer is clear, an ethical dilemma doesn’t exist or is trivial, and it is BORING.

And that readers pay to see someone other than themselves grapple with consequences as a way to see a different possible solution.

I’ll work it out. Soon, I hope. So I can write it – and go on to the next one.

 

 

 

Structure and me we’re old buddies

STRUCTURE – FREEING, NOT CONFINING

Doing my visits to my favorite blogs, I ran into a new post on Maverick Writer (recommended because has such novel ways of looking at writing) about a writer for whom the hallowed three-act structure, re-examined, provided new insight.

Catana writes in a number of fantasy sub-genres, and we’ve had some interesting conversations about many topics, but I didn’t realize until this post that she’s a dyed-in-the-wool pantser (at least I think she is, from the posts and her comments).

I always find it fascinating when someone tackles long-held beliefs and finds something usable in the opposite to what they’ve assumed, whether they change or just incorporate some of the ideas, because writers, especially older writers like me, NEED to do that and remain flexible and open to ideas.

I, myself, can pants for as long as maybe ten or twenty pages (which need revision). I have to work hard sometimes to bring my own posts into some kind of logical format before I send them out into the void, some days more successfully unified than on others.

Structure is how I manage to write

For me, with the brain fog and the CFS, who can’t remember from one day to the next sometimes what she had for breakfast, structure is critical.

I don’t have to create a soaring 150 floor building all at once – I can set up the structure, and decorate one apartment at a time. On bad days, I can decorate one room in the apartment. And on really bad days, I can paint the cabinet door in one room.

I’m very aware other writers can hold their entire book in their head. I might have been able to do that now had I not gotten sick, but that ship has sailed (I routinely carried an awful lot of subroutines in my head when I programmed, and their connections, so it’s not too farfetched).

But I can’t. And, to tell the truth, it’s an awful lot of stuff to carry around.

The three-act structure, revisited

She’s giving it a chance. I hope she finds some useful pieces, as the desired result is always a story that hangs together.

I was going to comment, and it got too long, so:

As for me, extreme plotter that I am

I live and breathe structure, because it FREES me from the plot after I set it up. Then I can concentrate on characters, and themes, and just the right amount of scenery, and language…

Today I was working on a scene which is pivotal to Book 2, even more than many. I started from scratch – the old rough draft is hilarious. But I knew why this scene needed to be here, and what would happen if it were not (the story comes to an abrupt halt). I knew who was probably in the scene – and it didn’t change the structure to make a few small changes there. The scene had no preferred physical location, as long as its aim was accomplished (and it is in Uttar Pradesh, India), so I had the fun of brainstorming – and came up with something I never would have thought of before that I think will give it a great punch.

When I got to my question on foreshadowing (every scene gets asked that question), I saw oooh! a perfect opportunity. In it went – because I know the foreshadowed event will be happening, and this will make it not seem to come out of nowhere. Moving an interaction from a later scene into this one – because the structure allows it – lets me add some conflict which actually affects the aim in a usable way.

Etc.

Getting the whole to hang together

Otherwise, each one of the ideas that come to me while writing could be a dead end, and waste hours and pages, and mire me in mud.

I hate throwing away usable words, because I work hard now while writing the words to make them be good from the beginning. I toss lots of stuff – but compare it to the structure as I decide to toss (or move it elsewhere – after all, my brain gave me those words for a reason).

I think this one will be fine with around two beats, and the material is starting to organize itself into two piles that ‘go together’. Beats are my in-scene structure. Each scene needs a first and last line – which connect the scene to the chapter and the book. Within the scene I need (as per The Fire in Fiction) an outer and an inner turning point so the scene is coherent as a whole.

Anyway (nobody ever asks about structure, and you didn’t really ask, but I love it), when I start tomorrow, I will have all the sequins – and the costume cut out, and the assembly may take as little as a day (assuming my brain is on). Works for me.

Like making a collage: first I gather substrate and pieces, then I affix them where they please me, then I hang it where I always intended to.

Reader or writer, what is your gut feeling about books that do – and don’t have structure?


Stencil gets my thanks for making easy graphics possible. Give them a visit.

Check out PC’s reviews on Amazon – just got a sparkly new one!


 

Spent today pitching a movie never to be filmed

READING SCREENWRITING BOOKS IS GOOD FOR NOVELISTS, TOO

It counts as research.

I’m reading – rereading in many cases – Blake Snyder’s three Save The Cat books.

These are well-known screenwriter tools, as is the Dramatica I use for plotting and character development.

The many similarities between the different forms of presenting a story allow significant crossover: a story is a story is a story. Each form is also very different from the others, because once they go out into the real world, a book and a play and a movie script are implemented differently.

But plotting Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was not the reason for the reading. Plotting is all finished, and in the scene I’m working on right now, a movie is being pitched to one of our actors. I’m using the device of a pitch meeting to get all the information needed to understand this particular movie into the story in the most efficient way – without seeming like an info-dump.

Isn’t writing a whole movie a bit much as backdrop for a novel?

Of course it is, but you know me: if it’s going to be in the plot (and, with actors, you’re going to have movies in the plot), and I can give it verisimilitude (the appearance of actually being real), I can make you believe the one or two not real points in the rest of the plot.

Machiavellian, you say? Why, thank you.

But I’m not the only one to do things like this – heck, people in fantasies invent whole worlds and religions and ecosystems.

What attracted me to the idea is the fact that Snyder says, of the pitch:

“Poster. Logline. Simple story spine. Eager and inspired telling of the tale. Ten minutes, tops. That’s the pitch.” (p. 123, Save The Cat Strikes Back)

Which fits perfectly into my scheme to sketch out enough of this particular movie to last for the first half of NETHERWORLD, without taking up that much space in the book. After all, I’m writing a novel, not a movie.

I can trust that most people who read have seen plenty of movies, and, given the highpoints, will see a movie where there is only a ghost of one. My readers want to see people working (I hope), but they have no interest AT ALL in seeing the enormous amount of work and time it takes to produce a major motion picture.

Blake also says:

“Regardless of how you organize your story, once you’ve finished your pitch… shut up! The first one to talk loses. If you give into temptation and can’t help spewing more stuff after you’re said ‘The End,’ you are indulging in a pitching no-no called Selling Past the Close.

Shutting up

I’m going to follow his advice. What do you think of it?


*** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for 0.99 until 1/30/17***


Thanks to Quozio for easy quote images.

I knew what to do a year ago

SKILLS NOT USED GET RUSTY

I spent my working time today gathering everything I have in the way of text for the short story, a prequel to Pride’s Children, that I’m getting ready to publish on Amazon.

And panicking.

When I did the ebook formatting for PC: PURGATORY, I spent so much time tweaking Scrivener’s Compile function, to get everything to look just right, that I worried I’d never get the details out of my head.

And yet here, a bit over a year later, I can’t remember ANY of it.

Somehow, wisely, I left breadcrumbs for myself

Because it is something I send to people who request it (after they read my post on structure), I took the trouble to clean up the Novel With Parts template that I use, which is just Scrivener’s template of the same name, but with many areas prefilled or suggested.

And with the same Compile setup that I used to produce the novel’s epub file.

But it is not a short story template (reminder to self: produce one), and a 167K novel needs more parts and sections than a 1.5k short story.

But it has been extraordinarily difficult to remember why those parts were there, how I figured out the headers and footers and front and back matter, and making the decisions to delete what I don’t need.

I am nervous because I’ve never published a short story on Amazon

and it is very short.

Even with some fill-in bits, it is very short. Even if I tell people right up front that it’s short, I have this feeling of impostor syndrome.

And yet, there are no words I would add to it. It is the right length for what it tells, and a critical bit to understand Andrew. It took months to get right, to make spare, to give both a flavor of his mind and an account of an important happening which has changed him.

It’s free on Wattpad and on my blog, but some people haven’t read it here (please do so if you like). And I will have the temerity to set its price at 0.99, which, by coincidence, is the amount I’m charging today for the whole of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY.

Pricing messes with my mind. Since I also do it differently from many indies, I can’t follow easy guidelines. I want the story on Amazon for anyone who would like their own copy in a Kindle file with a cover. This authoring thing is weird.

I’ll figure it out. The next short story will be easier. It isn’t brain surgery. It’s just a little story.


Too Late: coming soon. If it hadn’t been for the shenanigans in Washington, I’d be finished.

Will I ever feel as if I know what I’m doing?

Writers: grab YOUR unique promotion opportunities

Woman in fur coat holding sparkler in front of lights. Text: Target Yourself. How are you like your audience?I’M FEATURED TODAY ON BOOMER CAFE!

Hey! That rhymes!

I am a Baby Boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, by the Boomer Café definition.

We are the Post-WWII babies, and there are a lot of us. Many of us are getting to retirement age – and able to do as we darn please.

I’ve been reading Boomer Cafe for a while now (though not since 1999, their founding date!), submitted an article now titled, ‘A baby boomer writes the novel she always planned,’ and they published it today!

There are a lot of hard parts for beginning self-publishing novelists

One of them is the perennial question: who is your target audience?

Because the natural answer for newbies, even if they have written a baby board book, is EVERYONE! Which is not as silly as it sounds, since board books are not bought by babies, but for them, by siblings, parents, and relatives, of all ages.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, my debut novel, uses every technique I could learn to appeal to men and women of all ages, and teens mature enough to understand adult themes of love, marriage, work, jealousy, obsession (teens = fans?), getting what you want, and sacrifice. The sex and violence and language ‘rating’ is PG-13 (minimal) because I’m interested in story, not mechanics.

But wide POTENTIAL appeal makes it a bear to market: try planning an ad or outreach that will grab the attention of male teens and their grandmothers, and you’ll see what I mean.

Wide appeal for a book means no generic marketing

So you have to look at yourself, see how you are a member of the demographics you are included in, and figure out how to use that to present your book and yourself as author to diverse groups.

If you write straight Science Fiction, for example, there are oodles of promotional opportunities in newsletters, blogs, lists, sites, and at your online retailers. Your only problem (and it is a doozy) is how to make yourself stand out from all the other SF writers and their books).

I read and I learn. What I have learned since PC came out is something I suspected before I published: regular indie marketing strategies aren’t going to work for me and this book.

Which means one thing: diverse marketing, and a different marketing strategy for each group, with the understanding that there is no more homogeneity in the ‘groups’ than there is in my general audience.

Call it ‘trait marketing’: What do I have in common with Baby Boomers?

And that’s where the inspiration for this particular article came from.

First, to clear that away, I have no interest in writing non-fiction articles for magazines, online or in real life. I am a novelist, with books to write and sell, not a free-lancer looking to support herself by writing non-fiction. That’s a different calling, and I don’t have it.

To the extent that I do, this blog and the one for the books (prideschildren.com) are my non-fiction outlet, and I don’t expect them to pay for themselves or my time from what I write there. I get satisfaction from putting my thoughts in order, from the possibility of an eventual book or two if one arises from the posts because a bunch of people seem determined to write the same way I do (it could still happen!), and from the visitors and commenters here and on the blogs I visit.

But it is almost a cliché that many people think that some day they will write a book – and, until I actually finished one and published it, I was in that group. And that was the perfect topic to pitch to Boomer Café, it met with their approval, I wrote it – and it’s here!

Writing for exposure is not NECESSARILY a bad thing, is it?

Boomer Café doesn’t sell ads. The only way I can use their site to get my book in front of the other Boomers who visit there is to write an article which gets published. And provide something of interest for the subgroup of Boomers who might like to at least consider whether they should attempt that novel.

Anyone who writes to me after reading that article will get pointed in the right direction, and that will be a small partial payment for the advice and many kindnesses other more-advanced self-publishers have given me.

If people who read the article want to, Boomer Café has posted my cover, and a link to Pride’s Children: PURGATORY on Amazon, so readers can check it out and purchase if it appeals to them (or they want to see what it looks like).

And I couldn’t hope for any more than that!

I’m exploring myself and Pride’s Children for that kind of publicity opportunities

This past year, I’ve done a lot of hand-selling, to readers and writers I’ve met on Goodreads, Wattpad, Facebook, and via blogs such as ThePassiveVoice and the many others I follow and comment on. That will continue – it is a more personal approach, and has worked well in getting some awesome reviews. It is not a given that I will get a review or a new reader – my success rate there is about 50% for people who will try reading. More importantly I have found almost all of the blurbs for the book that way.

I’m determined to make this a career, rather than a hobby, so I expect PC to pay its own way eventually.

The question to take away is…

What is there in common – and how do I use that to entice people into reading the first few pages, a couple of scenes, or a chapter or two?

BEFORE that, I have the usual: book title, description, cover, editorial reviews, ratings, Look Inside feature, ebook sample, reader reviews, author page, numerical rankings within the various categories and subcategories (if you scroll down far enough on the Amazon product page for the book)…

Even price. Readers have their own opinions about what books are worth; I have priced at the lower range of what traditional publishers charge for ebooks and paper copies, but higher than what indie genre writers charge. And run a sale at least quarterly.

AFTER that, after TRYING, readers know if they might like a book or not. I trust readers as I trust myself to know what they like to read – and whether I’ve done my job to supply that.

I’ve already met some new and interesting people on the Boomer Café site – maybe some will turn into readers.


Thanks to Stencil for the image above and the ability to add my own words.


Readers: how do you like to be appealed to?

Writers: what special niche marketing do you do?

Looking forward to hearing from you (hint, hint)!

What to write when your house is under attack

Squirrel on snow holding red berry. Test Life hands you berries? Make berry chiffon pie. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSOMETIMES YOU HAVE FEW CHOICES – DO YOUR BEST

Those of you who know how noise sensitive I am will realize this is a bit of a torment – I’m stuck in my own home with two guys tramping around with hoses, air guns, a powerful vacuum, and one of them is a trainee who must be shouted at.

We are having our ducts cleaned.

It hasn’t been done since the house was built in 1981.

I must stay because where the heck would I go? And because I must be the one who manages Gizzy, our chinchilla who hates noise more than I do.

I am, of course, sitting here with my noise protection head-gear; for some of the noises, it is barely enough. Four hours (est.) of this is going to feel great – it presses my head to do a good sound blocking job, but, hey, it’s better than the other options. I took the ibuprofen for the headache already: what a coincidence, you can take more in four hours!

 Who knew that the inside of heating ducts got dusty?

Isn’t that what the filters are for?

Me, I grew up in a country without central air (Mexico) because it never got so hot that you needed air-conditioning, or so cold that the fireplace wouldn’t handle it those few nights a year when outside was chilly.

So, no ducts.

When I lived in Seattle, radiators. No ducts.

In grad school in Madison, Wisconsin – radiators.

First house was in Maryland – and even though we had central air and heating, we only had that house three years, and no changes were necessary. So we didn’t learn then.

Then, this house – and how was I supposed to know you had to hire a very short person to climb inside your ducts to clean them? Periodically? Job security for elves?

Last time – eleven years ago – when they replaced the HVAC, we actually PAID to have the ducts cleaned. But somehow it slipped our mind, and we never had them actually come do the job. (They’re looking into giving us our money back!)

Perfect time to write a blog post of the light-weight variety

Honestly, most of you who need to know this probably already do.

When people mention TV shows of their childhood, they are often surprised that I never saw them.

When people mention their English teachers being good or terrible in high school, college, creative writing or MFA program (or even the esoteric PhD in Literature), I realize I’ve never had but one English teacher, and that in a course I apparently didn’t need to take (after I’ve taken it, I find this out. No matter: I actually enjoyed a teacher who pranced around in front of the class spouting Shakespeare – because I’d never had one).

So, of course, I don’t know about duct cleaning.

I made the mistake of asking

Well, apparently most people don’t ask (maybe they just get out of there).

The nice young man-in-charge from the plumbing company must not get enough chances to expound, because we got a long spiel on the details of the process (which requires making holes in places with a drill). Enthusiastic lad.

All I wanted to know was the order of operations.

It turns out they basically don’t care. After doing certain things, they will go through each room and clean our the air supply vents. What order they do bedrooms in is not important.

So I will have them clean my office ducts, and then, while they’re doing something to the attic bedroom, I’ll scoot Gizzy in here, where she will promptly hide inside my upholstered armchair (she hates light, too), and go to sleep. Or into a state of shock. It’s hard to tell.

What will I be doing?

After delighting you with trivia like the above, I will play sudoku, surf the web, and generally waste the whole time.

Because there isn’t a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks that my brain will be able to do anything like writing fiction.

Or paperwork that I’ve been avoiding.

Or (coherent) phone calls. And the other kind, really, don’t solve anything.

And, even if I could walk properly, it’s too cold to go out for a long hike. Like to the next county. And I’d need food. And a nap. And the, you know, facilities.

Plus there are still people out there blowing leaves around, and outside isn’t that nice and quiet, either.

That’s the best you can do?

Pretty much.

I could color, but I tried it once and I didn’t like it.

And I could embroider the sections in cross-stitch on my tapestry which I can’t do while watching TV because the room is too dark.

Or I could eat, from stress, continuously for the remainder of the time. Also maybe counterproductive.

Something actually useful?

Or I can think a bit about how you do book marketing and promotion when you’re as slow as I am, and the next book will take years, maybe (let’s sincerely hope not, but it’s been started since March 2015, and I’m already into its second chapter. Woo hoo! (In my defense, the first many months were spent in planning in excruciating detail.)).

Not much you can do while occupying the inside of a jet-engine. Ask the birds.

It will be over at some time in the afternoon

So don’t cry for me (although pity gratefully accepted). This is just, like waiting for the dentist for hours before he deigns to drill into your teeth, part of the torture of civilized life – and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to do nothing while other people work to get my ducts sparkling clean, considering what the rest of the world has to put up with.

I really hope I don’t look back to this, and realize this was an oasis of leisure.

After all, I don’t expect myself to get anything done today, and I usually pester myself continuously about getting something written, because, like, I’m wasting my life.

Bang. Bang. BANG!

Enjoy your quiet.

Now, in respect for others, I will gracefully listen to your own complaints. Leave one in my comments!


***** 0.99 Sale still going on until New Year’s Day *****

Did you know you can give people ebooks for presents by just buying the ebook at Amazon and supplying their email address? They don’t even have to have an account. Amazon handles the rest – and you can even put in a message for the giftee. US link here.

Amazon has a FREE app to read Kindle files for almost every device you could read on. All?

I personally wouldn’t want to read 167K books on a mobile, but there’s no accounting for taste.

All other countries who can purchase ebooks from the ‘Zon: type in Pride’s Children: PURGATORY in your very own Amazon.

*****  *****


I just love the editor at this online magazine. She publishes any drivel I care to supply!

Endless self promotion due to the fact that you need to see things SEVEN times before you buy.

Thanks to Stencil for the squirrel. Gizzy has the same kind of tail. Bushy.

There is always a new writing fear

A single red leaf on a concrete background. Words: Fear of failing. When you have something to lose. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtFEAR OF LOSING WHAT YOU HAVE IS PARALYZING

One of fear’s main jobs is keeping us safe: safe from falling, safe from making mistakes – from failing.

But, as many things, it is a more useful servant than it is a master.

I visited WriterUnboxed.com this morning, as I do most mornings, to get my brain in gear, give it time to focus, possibly preload it with something creative.

And I run smack into a blog post by Annie Neugebauer in which she talks about how to overcome the fear of making a mistake.

And not just any mistake, but the fear of falling flat on your face when taking a risk in your writing.

It is possible to miss the source of your fears

I left the following comment:

I have found that what scares you to write doesn’t often get the scary reaction – it’s more likely to be ignored, after all that courage it took to face the fear. In either case, though, you’re absolutely right: taking the dive feels good.

I’m doing that right now, diving into the fears I deliberately planted in the middle book of a trilogy – from the very beginning. I have spent years asking myself if I really had to go this route. The answer is that I do – there’s no way around it, and there’s never been a way around it.

If no one else in the world likes it or thinks it’s essential, oh well.

But now that a small number of readers have said they’re waiting for the second book, and the first one is slow, I just realized that I have been afraid of disappointing those readers! Who didn’t even exist when I started the first book.

What a concept: being able to disappoint readers.

Understand this first: the whole of what will be the Pride’s Children trilogy was meant to be, was planned out to be, a single book.

Due to my plotting with Dramatica, when the story got too long in the telling, the breakpoints to split it up were obvious (one of the great pleasures of plotting thusly), and it took very little to separate the pieces out into three volumes instead of one.

Writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD has not been automatic

I expected it to be easy; after all, I was just going to the next scene in a long list of scenes, and thought I would merely be doing what I always do: gather what I have assigned to the scene in Dramatica, Save the Cat, The Key…Power of Myth, The Fire in Fiction – my go-to books while writing; structure everything into a scene that ‘happens’ in time, instead of a collection of bullet points; become the character – and write.

And I’ve been baffled by how hard it’s been.

I even started a post (in draft) about how hard the first scene was to write (short version: a new kind of scene required some new thinking).

But it wasn’t until this morning, after Annie’s questions:

What scary drop have you been avoiding?

and

And are you willing to accept any bruises or ego dents that may come?

that I realize what was going on: a brand new kind of fear, one I’d been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t fully engaged with.

I may get reassurances on this one, of the “I’ll like anything you write” or “Whatever you’re planning can’t be that bad,” from my friends who really believe that, and have taken risks of their own.

Facing reality may not change it

But those reactions are promises made to a future which doesn’t exist yet. When making the comment – and encouraging writers to take the risks – readers and other writers don’t know what they’re endorsing: they are writing a blank check.

If I blithely accept the recommendation to keep going – it could still turn out to be something my readers hate.

All I can say at this point is that it is built into the story from the beginning, and if you liked PURGATORY, you have already bought into the foreshadowed premise, whether you know it yet or not.

If you don’t like it, remember it was a choice made with full realization that it is dangerous – and that I tried my darndest to make sure it was the best choice. The only choice I have is to write it as well as I can – and to be as accurate as I can be to the mind of the character I’m writing in.

I am trying to sneak it past the reader, which, paradoxically, may require mentioning it early, and then being almost too subtle.

You just gotta trust the writer

I remember being delighted by a comment in a review:

I honestly don’t know how to explain the grip this book had on me from the first. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I wanted it never to end. I’ve read other books that affected me this way, but the authors always hurt the spell by tossing a plot bomb in through the window. Ehrhardt may do that before the trilogy is over, I can’t see the future, but she doesn’t do it in this book.

That’s, of course, one of the readers I don’t want to disappoint, who were kind enough to say I knew how to finish a book.

Maybe, when it’s all finished, I will describe why it must be the way it is.

I hope it will gain more readers than it loses me. If not, I am still writing this trilogy for me.

As a reader, what do you do when the ending of a book doesn’t satisfy you?

As a writer, have you come to this place?

Comments are most welcome.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create ten images a month – for free. If I ever need more, I will be using them.

Also, thanks to Blasty for helping me try to remove unauthorized downloads of Pride’s Children from Google search results. They are looking for more free beta readers to help them finish figuring out their methods. They have removed over 2000 infringements already for me. I mind, because I don’t want my work enticing readers to phishing sites. If you want to read for free, ask for an electronic Review Copy and consider writing a review.

Censorship, prudence, peace-making, black-listing

nuanceIT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE VALUE-FREE WHEN WRITING

I’m having a very hard time blogging, commenting, and being a responsible citizen on Facebook right now.

Responsible, because I want to stand by my words online, even if you read them in a month when the craziness is muted. Not gone – the consequences of this election will haunt this nation for years.

Born in California, reared in Mexico City, and living permanently in the States since I went to Seattle U. to finish a college career interrupted by non-student communists shutting down the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1968-69, I have NEVER seen an election like this one.

Being an INFJ (sliding to an INTP depending on my mood when answering questions – it’s impossible to tell with older people who have adapted the world to themselves with practice), supposedly makes me a peacemaker who, according to one online site,

‘their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.’

and

‘Egalitarianism and karma are very attractive ideas to INFJs, and they tend to believe that nothing would help the world so much as using love and compassion to soften the hearts of tyrants.’

The problem is I’m censoring myself

I’ve always tried to express my own opinions, and not jump on bandwagons too quickly. I spend time writing comments, re-read before posting, and tone down things which might be taken as fighting words.

The touchstone: not saying anything online I wouldn’t be willing to say in person, with that willingness being tempered by having to achieve something positive, or what is the purpose of talking.

I get snippy occasionally – everyone does – but tend more to pour oil on water than light it up for flames.

But I can’t tell you how many times lately I’m deleting entire comments, leaving challenging statements unchallenged, NOT saying something I really think should be said.

And not just about politics, but on Goodreads, in private FB groups, and even on that bastion of even-handedness and civility, ThePassiveVoice.

And it’s causing me some real discomfort.

Firebrands exhaust me

I’m not the best person for defending or advocating for anything – my energy is too limited.

I have the comments. I WRITE the comments.

And then I delete them, because the climate seems fraught. Everyone’s temper is short. People who claim to be Christian use language Christ would blanch at to impugn someone else’s ancestry.

Racism, sexism, ableism – all are alive and kicking. And punching. And screaming.

I blocked someone on my Facebook page I’ve homeschooled with, and known for twenty years (not close lately, but still).

We used to paper over differences, not mention differences in beliefs where it was not important, strive to find the common ground. Our homeschool group had several Jewish families, at least one Muslim one, ours (the Catholics), and a large collection of mainline and evangelical Protestants – and we coexisted and went on field trips together.

Nuance, thesauri, satire

It’s easier to stay out of the fray.

Indie publishing and traditional publishing long ago developed into separate camps with entirely different belief systems. I read, formed my own opinions, chose the indie camp and don’t regret it.

But, as a writer, I know perfectly well how to slant word choices to make a subtle point. Except that the subtlety seems gone, and everything said seems to lead to an assault on the castle walls.

I hope to hell it’s temporary

And that I won’t be ashamed of anything of said during the proceedings.

But I’m shaken. And unhappy. I’ve always thought it was a great thing to be an American, and that, regardless of problems, this is where I want to live. I’m looking forward to when diversity is even greater in our country, and education serves ALL our kids well, so they have futures.

And now we’re going down a possible black hole. And even the possibility of the black hole has done huge damage with its gravitational force.

Surely we can do better than this.

What to do? What to do?

I’ll gird my loins, go back into the fray, keep attempting to use reason while understanding there is always injustice.

And hope the rest of us are shaken enough to look seriously at ourselves and make sure we’re not making things worse. Platitudes, all, but I intend to try.

This can’t be, as someone said, ‘the end of the American experiment.’

Have you had a similar experience?

Choose reading carefully for maximum satisfaction

A runner with the words STOP The reader is the starting pointARE WE GOING TO HAVE A READER VS. WRITER PROBLEM?

General warnings:

If you don’t like epic mainstream commercial fiction (i.e., ‘big books’), you should think a bit before you start, or you might have to make some adjustments along the way. I’m not going to tell you what you can read and can’t read (note carefully this is not on the book’s site, which should contain nothing but praise and happy customers’ reactions).

If you don’t like the epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters in Pride’s Children, you can skip them. All of them, the long ones, only the ones that are Kary’s writing, or the biblical ones – whatever you want to skip. I won’t stop you. Epigraphs in general are sort of pretentious, aren’t they?

At the same time, feel free to ignore the Chapter titles – they probably don’t add anything to your reading, and are just the author pretending to be refined. Too mysterious by half, just decoration. Skip.

If you don’t like prologues, you can skip mine. You will miss a few tiny pieces of critical information tucked into a single-page, 145 word piece, but it’s definitely your choice if you don’t like prologues. Besides, some of that won’t even be relevant until the second or third book of the trilogy, and you’re not going to remember it anyway. Skip without a thought.

Character warnings:

If you don’t like third-person multiple point of view, we’re going to have a major problem, because that’s the choice I’ve made for how the story is told, and it isn’t easy to change, though you might just tell yourself it’s omniscient pov done poorly, and live with it. Three first-person povs, rotating, seemed more awkward, so I chose three third-person ones.

There may be a problem with too many characters. I stopped counting after about 50. Just ignore the minor ones and you’ll get most of the story. If they’re important, they’ll come up again. If not, why bother remembering them? If you don’t want to read about disability in your characters, you might want to skip the whole thing anyway, and look for books with young, hot, healthy characters – all of them.

Many people aren’t all that happy spending time with Bianca. Her scenes are clearly marked, so if you want, you can just skip those. You probably get plenty of her in the scenes by the other characters anyway.

Writing warnings:

Don’t like big paragraphs of mixed dialogue and interior monologue, some direct and the rest indirect? Feel free to pick up the dialogue bits (they’re marked with double quotes, single quotes when it’s remembered dialogue), and skip/skim the rest. Your choice. There are all kinds of annoying bits that foreshadow things that won’t happen for a long time, anyway.

Don’t like paragraphs of pure description of which you think there are too many? Skip ahead – don’t worry that there might be something buried in those descriptions that will add to the story. They’re probably window-dressing, the author showing off she knows many words for sky color.

After all, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a whopping 167,000 words, and they can’t possibly all be relevant to the story, and you usually skip the boring parts, so skip ahead freely, without a qualm.

Don’t pay too much attention to the language – it really is a little bit much, and it would have been much better if the author learned to ‘write simple.’ Maybe she will by the next book. If you bother to read that one. Skip the part about context.

Plotting warnings:

If you’re still going to be unhappy that he and she (not telling which she) don’t get together and have hot monkey sex sooner, feel free to skim until you find the parts you like to read. It won’t bother me anyway, since I won’t know unless you decide to write about it in a review, and then you don’t really have to put your name on the review, so it’s no biggie.

You can even tell everyone you didn’t like PURGATORY, and aren’t planning to read NETHERWORLD and whatever I decide to call the third book in the trilogy. Besides, trilogies are too long. Fine with me – I am happy for you to have your own tastes and opinions, and truly believe they are just as good as mine.

I’m not sure I can help at this point if some of this stuff seems confusing, there are too many characters, the story seems to keep getting disconnected, and many pieces just plain don’t make sense, though.

I wish you much happy reading with other books more to your taste if you don’t like mine.


Still want to read? Or should I have warned you before you already read?

Rhetorical questions in fiction: good or bad?

Healthy dessert with grapes, cherries, and granola, with the words: What do you think? 3 question marks. Good? Bad? and Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSHOULD YOU USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS WHEN WRITING FICTION?

This was a shocker.

When working on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, I came across a note:

Sue Coletta: don’t use rhetorical questions. They take you out of the story.

Like all other blanket prohibitions, this one is wrong.

But it sounded good. And I had stored it away for a reason, specifically to make sure I didn’t do something that took my readers out of my stories.

How many rhetorical questions are too many? One? Two? In how much ‘scene’?

I had just finished writing the first scene for one of my main characters, and it seemed a good time to 1) check to see if I had many rhetorical questions in it, and 2) to go back to Book 1, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, and see if I had that problem there, too.

I startled myself: this main character, Kary, had TWENTY-SEVEN rhetorical questions in her new scene. Wow. Certainly too many.

So I check a different main character, Andrew, and found he had a couple. (My scenes have 800-1500 words in them, typically.)

I went back to Book 1 and found Kary had another huge number of rhetoricals in her last scene. Andrew, only had a few in his last scene in Book 1.

And I realized how different I had made these characters in how they talk to themselves – and I didn’t even know I’d done it!

One of my ‘go to’s on my Left Brain righT method is to ‘Become the character’ before attempting to write the character’s next scene. It includes going back and reading that character’s last previous scene, and possibly a few before that, to get into the character’s voice and mannerisms.

This turned out to have a vastly different style in something I prized, the interior life of the character – and I didn’t even do it on purpose.

Characters are different – duh!

I’m not sure whether I’m channeling or inventing these characters.

But it spooked me.

I don’t know when this happened, and yet there it was.

I just knew they were different, and I knew how they were different (from spending years living with them in my head and in my notes), and the characterizations came out by themselves.

I like things like this in my writing, but I always thought I did them deliberately.

About those twenty-seven rhetorical questions that Kary had? I couldn’t change a one.

Takeaway?

Sue’s admonition – Don’t ask rhetorical questions because they take you out of the story – needs to be changed.

To: ‘Don’t ask the READER rhetorical questions.’

Because it takes the READER out of the story.

It’s fine for the CHARACTER to ask herself questions without answers. How often? As often as she would do it if she were real.

Is she?

Dunno.

What is real?


Do you ask rhetorical questions?


Thanks, Sue. You made me think – and that’s always, uh, interesting.


If you find any of this intriguing, and/or want to see rhetorical questions in action, you can find Kary’s scenes in Pride’s Children at Amazon US, written by the same person who writes these posts. Note: the link leads to the reviews; the product page link is in the right sidebar. Don’t you like to see what other people think about a writer before considering buying?

PS I’m depending on word of mouth right now, as I can either write, it turns out, or market. Or you could go out and find a cure for CFS, so I can do both (might be a wee bit harder).

5W+H newspaper method gels writing beat

different wayI HAVE SIX FRIENDS THAT HELP ME WRITE

Every once in a while I get myself into a jam, and, though I think I have every thing I need in writing a piece of a scene, it fails to gel, I feel frustrated and tied in knots, and I keep going at it from all directions, starting and restarting the section without getting to a coherent flow.

I tried an old newspaper trick this morning.

Newspaper reporters have to make it fast and easy for a reader to engage with a story, get the basic information into the reader before she does the pre-computer equivalent of clicking on something else to read: giving up on one story, and finding either another one to read or moving on to the rest of her day.

Your English teacher probably taught you this, too (I didn’t have an English teacher, so maybe that’s why I came to this in a roundabout way).

It’s called 5W + H.

And it means, you recall, supplying the six pieces of information the reader needs to lodge the basics of the story in his head:

  • Who – people present or necessary to the story
  • Where – setting
  • What – is going on (the plot)
  • When – time, time frame, sequence
  • Why – are you telling this story? Why did they do it?
  • How – the plot reaches resolution, and the information is transferred securely into the reader’s head.

The order doesn’t really matter as long as, after a very brief period, the reader has enough to interest him to keep reading the details.

TV news people usually drag this out as long as possible, especially if there have been little advance hints all day (news at 11) – and now they have to supply the goods. They tease you along with the less interesting bits, finally supplying the actual meat of the story (which is often anticlimactic – I waited up past my bedtime for this?) after as many commercials as possible, when they could have ‘informed’ you the first time you heard about the story.

Writers can’t afford this – the reader won’t stick around.

For the writer of FICTION

The problem for a writer is when the dramatic pieces want to come first – the startling headline, the shocking news – but they won’t make sense without the more informational bits.

Readers have an empty gray-goo area in the brain, a formless void, when they approach a new story, and it has to be filled in quickly.

If you don’t reveal that this shocking dog’s death occurred, not in their neighborhood, but in Manila, they will 1) assume it’s local, and 2) be annoyed at you when they find out it’s not.

So the system is: shocker, fill in the absolutely necessary stuff to orient the reader, more shocking details.

But it’s not the reader’s job to avoid the confusion: it’s the writer’s job.

LEAD with the emotions

Life is boring – readers need vicarious experiences.

We are, as Lisa Kron says in Wired for Story, primed to absorb new information that we need.

Need is critical: grab readers by the emotions, and supply the details as quickly and efficiently as possible, and they will follow.

What I figured out was that I’m relatively good at doing these steps in a normal scene – hook, set the scene, supply story, leave cliffhanger of at least one question so the reader will read the next scene.

But not when I get tricky – for good story reasons – and try to cram a lot into the piece of scene.

Then I need to stop, make sure the 5W+H are provided asap, and choreograph the presentation of story information in the most effective way I can. Deliberately. As if I had a news desk editor with a lot of experience to satisfy, and the pickiest readers.

The contract with the reader

Lead the reader down the garden path, as it were, until we find the dead body.

If you can do this in a tricky case, it improves the facility for doing it in normal situations.

It comes down, after you’ve identified the 5W + H:

DON’T CONFUSE THE READER – FOR VERY LONG.

Just as soon as the reader starts to think all this is a bit too much, it GELS.

Because the critical information is all there.

And the reader is no longer confused, the dreaded info drop has been avoided, and the story is firmly lodged (one hopes) back in the reader’s brain.

The analytical side of my brain is very pleased with itself – the artistic side is chomping at the bit.

The details? You’ll eventually have to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD to grade my performance, but I can tell you the bit is the beginning of the second scene; it involves four people and four different settings; there is a tiny necessary shift in the timeline; the formatting helps (Lord knows how I’m going to do this in the audiobook version); and, if I do it right, it will bring you right back into the story with very little ’splainin’ (think Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy: “Lucy! You got some ’splainin’ to do!”).

Trust me, the other way was long and boring.

What say you? I love discussion.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images for posts.

 

Is it a mistake to gut your readers emotionally?

ride of lifeOR IS IT YOUR JOB AS A WRITER?

To give them the biggest emotional journey you can, the most stress and pain they can take vicariously?

At least, it is your job to consider their feelings – and how you’re going to invoke them – if not as you write, then at least before you publish.

You owe your readers a thorough exploration of the questions raised by the story. If you present one action, and only one reaction, you’re preaching. Which is fine as long as you know what you’re doing, and some writers and readers are perfectly fine with that.

But not me.

Mountains, anyone?

Real-life choices are made with options. Fictional choices are made with a lot MORE options. Just because writers can. There is no budget needed when a writer says, “Overnight, a mountain had moved in front of her window.” A few black marks and it’s done. Less than a minute of writing time, and we have a new mountain, right where I say it is.

So there’s no excuse such as “it’s too expensive” or “where am I going to get a mountain?”

Since I write realistic fiction, I do have limits that I choose (and shouldn’t use dream sequences with new mountains very often). But the mountains of K’Tae, where Kary sets her SF novel (if you’ve read Pride’s Children, you know what I’m talking about; if not) were necessary for her plot on an inhospitable planet, and cost me practically nothing. Nice, eh?

Readers’ reactions to roller coasters, emotional

Leaving out those who like their fiction tame, and those who prefer a lot of physical action, gives me readers who want to know how the appearance on a single TV interview can make such a difference in the life of a woman who normally hides, due to a carefully managed illness, from any publicity. How much can she take? What does it do to her? How does she cope before, during, and after a roller coaster comes into her life?

Do we want her to get off? Do we care where the ride stops? Is it even a possible ride for her and the other people involved?

Readers deserve an author who takes into account their emotional journey, presents each relevant event as the only possible next event, has a sequence of emotions calculated to lead them through a scene, chapter, book in an inexorable progress (Noooo!) to the only possible end to the story, and then dumps them at the station wanting more.

Margaret Mitchell did that continuously through a very long Gone With the Wind, and left us at the end wanting the more which either she didn’t plan to write, or didn’t get the chance to. And which was so badly mishandled by the writer her estate hired to do the sequel that I won’t mention it – which disappointed many.

How to engineer a roller coaster:

Planning, planning, and more planning is how I do it.

My tools (the books I consult most frequently while setting the journey up) are:

  1. Writing the Blockbuster novel, in which Albert Zuckerman masterfully takes apart several important and well known scenes (from The Godfather, GWTW, and Ken Follett’s The Man from St. Petersburg) showing how it’s done.
  2. The Fire in Fiction, in which Donald Maass carefully shows how to create conflict in every element of a scene (from landscaping to literally nothing happening).
  3. Wired for Story, where Lisa Kron shows how to make a reader empathize with a character with a thorough understanding of how the human brain works, and how we feel.

I start a scene, for example, by asking myself what the character needs to go through emotionally for the scene to work for me.

Then I start working out whether some of the emotions cluster in groups. If so, a smooth transition from feeling to feeling within a group gets planned.

I ask myself where the scene starts, what the emotional changes in the character have to be, and where the character needs to end.

Once I have the character’s path and the actual events working to give a transition which makes some kind of sense, I work out how to get a reader to identify – and take the same journey. It has to be a believable journey. In real life, people go through circular emotional journeys, coming back again to the same thing, over and over, repeating themselves. If you do that in fiction, readers will notice.

You don’t get to take that trip in fiction because it’s boring. Once a character achieves insight over something, the reader expects him to remember that insight.

That’s because stories are the highlights of life, condensed, told as quickly as possible so that readers can get many vicarious lives. My kind of stories, anyway.

Relevance?

That’s where I’m at right now: writing the very first scene in Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD. In the midst of taking the reader expectations left at the end of PURGATORY into account, setting a new direction for the next level of exploration, making sure the reader gets dragged into Andrew’s head for the battle (yes, Book 2 starts with Andrew), making sure a few old questions get answered, and even more new questions get lodged in the reader’s consciousness, and planning that very long ride up from the station to the tip top of the track and then…?

Thing is, the starting point is partly determined by where Book 1 ended, and where I know Book 2 ends and Book 3 begins.

But I know it has to kick things up to a new level, so I get out my trusty software tools, and my slow brain, dump all the marketing and promotion stuff which has been bedeviling my existence, and start chuckling at what I’m planning to do.

Because the Roller Coaster Designer gets to take the ride over and over and over until it’s as good as she can make it.

Gentle Reader: do you like roller coasters?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make up to 10 free images per month. I’ve enjoyed using their easy tools – and every month they give me new choices. I will get a paid account as soon as I need more images – I’ve only explored the surface of what’s available.


I you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.

I’m planning to put up a few short stories in a polished form as soon as I can create covers.