Category Archives: Writing – how to

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

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.

Writing the Author Bio is painful

all about meCHILDREN START WITH HUGE EGOS – ARE TAUGHT TO BE MODEST

Edited 1/17/17 (see end).


I have been struggling with a stupid task I thought I’d already accomplished and would merely have to revisit for a quick update before any more ad campaigns: having an ‘Author Bio.’

I don’t know how it is in traditional publishing, whether authors are now required to write their own bio in third person and send it in, along with a ‘professionally edited’ manuscript they’ve paid to have edited, but the big attraction was always that someone would interview you, tell you you were being way too modest, extract all kinds of interesting bits from you (thus allowing you to remain officially modest), and write something up that made you sound much more interesting that you are.

Until you could replace the whole thing with the fact that you are now famous and a list of your accomplishments as long as, well, whatever.

Once OTHER people have conferred interesting-ness on you, you can act modest and even bashful, and still wow consumers into buying whatever it is you produce.

In these days when indies have dumped gatekeeping and vetting from outside, and have learned to speak of their own work in public, and say that it’s good and persuade you to read it – the other part, writing your own ad copy, is also hard – we now find ourselves in exactly the position our parents would not want us to be in: praising ourselves.

The resulting bios, from absent (coward or busy or not realizing you need to have one) to whimsical to dry to boastful, have been instructive. And the samples online, ‘How to write your author bio,’ have been equally ludicrous.

About vs. Author Bio

You are allowed, nay, expected, to be whimsical on the About page of your own blog. Mine is a mixture of things about me which might appeal to someone – but they are just a random bunch of facts and factoids, things which are individually true or illustrative.

Many of the people who read your About page become online friends.

But the Author Bio on your books’ site – and the Author page on Amazon or your Goodreads Author Profile – is a different beast. It is for strangers.

It is supposed to represent you as a SERIOUS WRITER.

It is something which could be on the back flap of your hardcover traditionally-published FICTION, written by that (possibly fictitious) publicist/copywriter.

It’s a grownup thing.

Writing the REAL Author Bio is PANIC TIME

I can’t tell you how long it’s been on the list, because I thought I had done it, so AT LEAST since October 2015, and probably longer, this task.

Here’s a note to myself from 2013: “I come from the tradition that says the author is the least relevant part of the book, once it’s out.”

I have To Do lists with ‘check Author Bio’ on them, as you’re supposed to revisit your Amazon Author Page periodically and tweak it. I have resisted that tweaking mightily for a very good reason: I’m afraid if I touch ANYTHING on the materials submitted when I posted ebook and print versions, it will lead Amazon to review my materials – and possibly decide I’ve done something wrong and cause all manner of delays in getting it back up.

I didn’t ask anyone about that fear, because it is my experience that fear doesn’t survive information, and I DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT.

But I have this ad campaign coming up, and a To Do list specifically to be ready for it, and so many things causing me angst on it, that I decided this is it, the ‘write Author Bio’ was THE next task, and that I would not go on to another task on that To Do list until it was done, because bouncing around from item to item is getting me nowhere but even more confused.

The actual writing of the Author Bio took seven days

The current method – stick with one item until it’s done or the ad is past and there’s nothing you can do about it – started on June 16, 2016.

A usable (up for comments, so feel free) one was produced today by yours truly. 332 words for the long version, and a shortie of 72 words.

If you’ve gone through the process, you know. If not, I don’t think I can make you feel the pain sufficiently.

I have been facing this, putting it front and center as other things had to be dealt with, not moving on to the many other things I need to do (a handwritten list of twenty items, many with subparts), for SEVEN DAYS.

It’s been so bad that I started writing a new book – titled PAPER BRAIN for now – about how to use a damaged brain and still manage to GET SOMETHING DONE. Waiting for ‘good time’ not required if even half-functional. I kept throwing every bit of time – good, semi-good, and non-functional at the task – and getting nowhere.

Brain fog rampant. Inability to make decisions foremost. Whole worldview exposed.

Today I figured out how to break the logjam

In desperation at all the flopping about, lack of decision-making capability, and sheer angst, I found the right question.

I couldn’t write my Author Bio. Why? Because of all the stuff I started this post with.

But,

How about writing the bio I WISH I had?

As if I WERE someone else.

As if life had gone the way I planned it to, more or less.

As if all those details had happened.

I am ashamed of being who I am instead of who I always planned to be, and have been hoping to go back to. So someone could write a bio about me and put it on the books I always planned to write.

I finally realized it has never been up to me, not the final outcome: life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Here it is, finally, shorn of angst and agita:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her life-long dedication to the sciences aided in the development of three STEM children with a love of language.

She has dedicated the past twenty some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have to slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 63.7K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has 19.7K reads.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

She is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year. Follow her on Amazon or at prideschildren.wordpress.com to be informed when her next story is available.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

With the short version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

A voracious reader, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

This is me, folks. What will go out there in public for those who don’t know me, who haven’t earned the details by knowing me personally or reading this blog.

Comments of all kind especially welcome – it’s so much easier to change things at this point.


1/17/17 Update:

As always happens with these things, I updated, and then I visited recently, and didn’t like it. The content was fine, but I realized that, as a READER, I would want to know things in a different ORDER, because I wouldn’t care about the writer’s credentials and history (because I am not a famous person), but about whether she could WRITE.

All I had to do to have it work much better for me was to rearrange so that items of interest to me as a READER came first; then, if someone wants to continue reading about the rest of my life and times, they can.

Here’s the current version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year.

Follow her on Amazon or at PridesChildren.com to be informed when her next story is available.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 66K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has over 20K reads.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

She has devoted the past twenty-some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have for slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her career-long commitment to the sciences aided in the development of three tech-oriented children with a love of language.

She is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

What say you?

Signaling literary ebook audiences by pricing strategy

PAW ad 7:6:16 hi-resPERSUADING LITERARY FICTION READERS TO READ INDIE

As those of you who have read Pride’s Children: PURGATORY will know, I write literary contemporary mainstream fiction.

I added ‘literary’ to this, somewhat reluctantly, since I published in October 2015, and I don’t intend to remove that designation. Reluctantly, because in some circles this is the equivalent of trumpeting your own horn.

But ‘Literary’ now covers a spectrum which goes from writing which literally brings the story to a halt to admire a butterfly’s scales reflecting the light, to mainstream, to works which are genre but use language so perfectly you don’t even notice.

The first problem: literary indie work is a tiny subset of the literary ‘genre,’ (as the Author Earnings report characterizes it), and that is the smallest of genres. Here is the link to the AE graph for genres, from the June 2016 report.

The second problem: the literary category is dominated by big publishers (who have fought hard to maintain the principle that they vet authors, and the work they publish is worth publishing), and who price their ebooks in the higher ranges. The combination big 5 + small/medium publishers includes most of the bestseller sales. Here is the link to the AE graph for Kindle Bestsellers by price range from January 2016.

I’m concluding that buyers of literary fiction are used to paying $7 to $15 for their ebooks. And Amazon imprints are priced below that (and are doing extremely well – their books have a hugely disproportionate share of earnings in the price range they have chosen, peaking at around $6.99).

And therefore, pricing a literary ebook at $8.99 is a way of both staying in the Amazon 70% royalty range (2.99-9.99) and NOT raising a red flag of ‘cheap’ with literary readers (unless that is clearly a sale price).

My main problem now is advertising in such a place and manner to attract those readers who prefer their reading somewhere on the literary spectrum. I’ll be trying that tactic this July with an ad in the summer reading issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), about the only place I’ve planned to use my title.

Awards, a popular strategy for this class of writing, are often (almost always) not open to self-publishers – or expensive. And possibly biased.

I’m also aware that this may be a severely time-limited transition strategy which may only work until the literary category is well populated by indies. Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A, is going to be making inroads, if it hasn’t already. But Amazon becomes the publisher, and they don’t take submissions from indies (last I checked, submissions were accepted only from agents).

I’m sure there are MANY things wrong with this as a pricing strategy, but for me, for my kind of writing, for this book, for my extremely slow rate of production, and for the kind of readers who I believe will like Pride’s Children: PURGATORY and its two remaining volumes, I have not been able to find a better strategy. (This is not the indie genre pricing strategy.)

Other than either going viral or finding a champion – events even rarer than indie literary fiction.

Ideas and experiences welcome!

Structure is necessary and integral to fiction

without structureDO YOU WANT A TALE – OR A STORY?

I’m not only an extreme plotter, but I’m a structuralist.

I’m working on the first scene of Book 2. And making very, very sure that it works structurally, with the book, with the beginning, with the plot, and especially with the ending.

The brain craves storytelling, but it craves more than content, it craves analysis.

And analysis is structural. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. My mother used to drive me crazy when she’d tell me about someone, and then, when I’d ask, ‘what happened?’ she would say, ‘I don’t know.’ or ‘that’s all I heard.’

She had illustrated a point, given me information, but wouldn’t give me a resolution I could hang onto.

She was telling me tales, and for those, the fact that it happened is enough.

Story is much more than that.

How is structure important?

Here’s an example from non-fiction:

Imagine I’m talking about the root causes of poverty, illiteracy, whatever, and you’ve come to hear me because I’m supposed to be an expert.

But I tell you about four contributing factors, and I do a short one, a VERY long one, and then another two short factors, briefly, because I’m running out of time.

What are you left with?

NOTHING you didn’t already know.

And it drives you crazy because I told a tale, took your time – and didn’t make a point.

Now, imagine I started with the smallest point, continued to the next shortest, then the next, and finished by spending my time telling you about one of the causes. Wouldn’t you expect that to be the most important cause I have to talk about? And wouldn’t you expect me to say something significant and important about it?

By giving it space and time, I have made it important – and the rest of my presentation had better support that.

Or I could start with the important point, spend time on it, and then tell you in quick succession other possibilities, followed by a quick conclusion. Wouldn’t you end up wondering WTF? Did I run out of time – or why did I not eliminate the easy ones first?

How does this work in fiction?

Storytelling is presenting information in such a way as to emphasize WHY you’re telling the story.

I expect you to reach a conclusion, tell it to me, support it, and teach me something I would otherwise have to figure out on my own.

Structure is intentional. If you need to tell a story in chronological order (a common requirement), you still have to choose which parts to tell, and how to make them fit a structure that will let the reader absorb it. Or you are getting in your own way, and are telling an anecdote.

So it is very important that I consider the structure I’m going to foist on the reader, from the very first scene. Or the reader will notice. And not like it.

That’s not what I promised.

Are you happy when you notice a story has no real structure?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics for these posts – I use the free account, but they have far more capabilities if you get the paid one.


Remember, if you like a blogger’s prose, consider that the blogger’s fiction is written by the same person. Try it – you might like it.

I’m trying to get myself to put up some short stories; it’s on the To Do list.

Pride’s Children. On Amazon.

The indie author’s artistic integrity is prime

mine THE BUCK STOPS AT THE INDIE AUTHOR, AND IT SHOULD

I am in an odd position. Someone said something about my cover, in a negative way, claiming they said it as ‘tough love.’ As a ‘friend.’ It hurt – because I am very proud of that cover. To have someone suggest, literally, that ‘I still think you’re shooting yourself in the foot with that cover. I’m pretty sure that a mediocre but professional looking cover will outsell a far more evocative but still obviously home-made effort every time.’

For the record, I disagree.

I had to think about it. To figure out why the response was so visceral to something meant kindly.

Bad covers are UBIQUITOUS

I knew, when I created them, that my two placeholder covers were ‘bad.’ Definitely amateur. But I hadn’t yet done ANY studying about design or cover elements or what a cover telegraphs to a potential reader. I knew those were not going to be published, because I also knew I was going to spend the time to learn how to do covers properly.

As I have taught myself to write properly.

But the comment was about the actual cover I published, and for which I spent an entire summer studying graphics and design and covers, and reading books and blog posts. After accumulating at least a year of studying the CONCEPT of ‘cover’ and of looking over the sites of many ‘professional’ cover producers – not one of which I liked. There were plenty of covers in that sample – thousands that I looked at. I added new sites every time a blogger I respect suggested a cover designer.

I’m not even going to mention bad traditional covers; that is shooting guppies in a teacup.

CAN an indie learn cover design?

In the same way I found ONE photo of a woman out of the thousands that I looked at which would do. At ALL. Because of nuance I would never be able to explain (to anyone except a professional photographer I then wouldn’t be able to afford).

The cover I compared to every set of covers I could find on the books I believe are my ‘comps,’ the ones I want to sell with, and whose audience I believe will like my work. And compared to every set of covers I did NOT want (from too literary to too Romance to definitely genres like SF, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers). Because if you signal ‘Romance’ to a reader, you had better be providing a proper Romance between the covers, or you’ve already lost the marketing war.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

More and more I’m believing that the choices in the indie world are UP TO THE AUTHOR. And they REPRESENT the author. That the whole thing, beginning to end, is an exercise in learning what choices to make, in making those choices, and in standing by those choices because you ARE the Author. The artist. The creative. The creator.

If you choose to use a commercial editor – with all that entails, from finding one to paying one to accepting the edits – it is your choice, it was hard enough to make, and no one has the right to second-guess you.

If you choose a cover, you yourself will decide exactly what you want, even if that means you want to abdicate the responsibility for the cover to someone else. Or you want to learn Pixelmator and do it all YOUR way. Or you want to paint an image from the book. Or you want pale blue letters on a black background, or yellow on green, or WHATEVER.

The COVER is part and parcel with the BOOK now.

I’m starting to believe that when the author gives someone else responsibility for or authority over a part of the production, whether or not money is involved, it is the author’s choice to do so, and the author’s right to revoke that when and if the AUTHOR decides that is necessary. And it is a precious gift.

Whether or not the results SELL is not the validation. It is how the author FEELS about whether the product represents the best the author can do (assuming that’s the goal) that validates.

Now, more than ever before, when you buy an author’s product, you are getting the PURE author, warts and all, artistic judgment and artistic sensibility and esthetic sense all rolled up into a big ball of product. The consumer may like or dislike it, occasionally even returning the product for a refund; the consumer may give the product a bad review – reviews are up to the consumer.

This product has always had the writer’s name right there front and center.

[Whether the writer was a pseudonym or a ghostwriter has never mattered to READERS. And few people even notice the publisher’s name or logo.]

But other people don’t have the right to judge the product – the book – per se. They only have the right to say, “I liked it.” Or, “I didn’t like it.” They will never have the right to say, “It’s wrong.”

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How do you feel about the covers you see, if you’re a reader; or have on your own books if you’re a writer, too – whether or not you design them yourself?

Inconvenient ideas for your new novel

inconvenient ideas THEY NEVER COME WHEN YOU NEED THEM

The ones you get when you thought you had everything lined up for the novel, and just needed to write it, and the Muse drops a big What If? in your lap, and you go Hmmm!

And it might be a GOOD IDEA, but it is certainly coming at a BAD TIME.
This happened this morning, and I have to admit it is a) a good idea, and b) fills a small plot hole I had, but hadn’t really thought about much except peripherally.

I think what happened is that as I took care of all the other ideas, assigning them to where they will be developed in the plot line, I cleared up some thinking space, and this little one came out, like Hope from Pandora’s Box, after all the rest had gone.

It provides a nice little conflict, and small but connecting plot line, and fills an empty space on the story’s calendar.

CONFLICT FOR READERS – KEEPS ‘EM HAPPY

On the other hand, it is new, puts things in a different light, and will worry my readers.

THAT was the touchstone.

My motto is ‘Torture Rachel.’

This will nicely torture Rachel.

I hope it will torture other readers, too – making them anxious and slightly unhappy, and annoyed, and…

Sorry, Rachel.

REAL LIFE IS NO DEFENSE

And I have a nice solid example from Real Life where I know exactly how things worked out to use as a template, one I actually understand and liked when it happened.

Not all RL is usable this way: ‘it actually happened’ is a sorry excuse for work that is not also story-true. RL doesn’t have stories that open and close neatly – which is why we crave stories, Lisa Cron of Wired for Story tells us.

IS IT A GOOD IDEA TO LISTEN TO YOUR BRAIN?

It DID derail forward progress a bit, while I suss out the implications and the necessary connections, and carve it some space, and make SURE it is justified.

Yes, I think it WILL do.

Brains, even brain-fogged ones, can surprise you when you’re not looking.

Have you been strong-armed by your own ideas lately?