The Story In My Head

There’s a recent TV commercial that shows people listening to audiobooks, and as they listen, the story comes to life around them. A woman on the beach listens to a science fiction story and her surroundings alter into an inter-planetary landscape. A young man caught up in a historical novel looks up to see his breakfast table peopled with characters in eighteenth-century garb. It’s a great commercial, and reminds me vividly of how the stories I’m writing take over my life. Or at least, they used to.

For years, I carried the world of whatever book I was working on around in my head. While I did laundry or the dishes, I would find myself transported to a longhouse in ninth century Norway or a castle in eleventh century Wales. As I checked out books for patrons in my job at the library, the young mother with toddlers would transform into my heroine in a medieval gown. Fetching music CD’s for a young man in a t-shirt and cargo shorts, I envisioned my hero in chain mail and tattered surcote.

I would think about my story before going to sleep at night, when I woke up in the morning and those times during the day when routine tasks allowed my mind to wander. My body might be functioning in the everyday world, but my mind was elsewhere, consumed by the struggles and passions of my characters.

Much of my writing time was in the morning before work. Often in the middle of a scene, I would realize I had to quit or I would be late. I would get up from my computer in a trance-like state, grab my coat, drive to work, greet my coworkers and take my place at the circulation desk. Then, and only then, would I leave my story completely behind and re-enter the reality of my life.

For so long, having a story alive in my head was a constant. Then, a few years ago, it left me. I no longer walked around seeing historical landscapes or struggled with my characters’ dilemmas during the work day. Unless I was at the computer and actively writing fiction, I seldom thought about my books. Writing and my stories became a separate part of my life.

The change may have come about because I was so discouraged about my career. So many editors and agents had failed to engage with my characters and come to love them, it started to feel like they were real only to me. I decided I was writing mainly for myself. As a result, my stories became less compelling and consuming. My characters lost their flesh and blood power and grew transparent and frail and fictional.

Another reason for the change might be that my head became filled with other creative urges. My mind’s-eye saw plans for my garden, or remodeling ideas for my house. I imagined scenery from the trips I was planning, rather than the landscapes of the stories I was writing. Now that I had the time and money to indulge my longing for beauty and adventure in the real world, I started to rely it, rather on the world in my head, which had been my companion since childhood.

Taking a year off from writing fiction to indie-publish several books didn’t help either. I spend my creative energy thinking up cover images and blurbs, rather than planning novels. When I finally got back to writing fiction, it was much more difficult. The books didn’t follow me around, demanding my attention. I could shut them away, limiting the power of my stories to affect me to the small amount of time I was actually writing. Because I wasn’t spending as much time with them, solving my characters’ problems took a lot longer. I should have been able to write faster, since I was more experienced and had more free time to write, but it was taking longer and longer for me to finish a book.

But something happened over this past year. I once again started to feel that real life wasn’t enough. My garden lies dormant half the year. The time between trips stretches into months. There are no compelling home improvement projects to obsess over. What’s a girl to do? Well, write, of course. And not just write, but let the story take over my life.

It’s there waiting for me when I wake up. Niggling in my consciousness during the day. Blooming into life as I try to fall asleep. The story in my head is back. I’m so glad.

A SURPRISING SOURCE OF INSPIRATION YOU MAY NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF

When I define myself, I don't call myself a writer. I call myself a storyteller (in point of fact I like the term raconteur.) The distinction, to me, is an important one. As a writer, my entire world is the written word, fiction or non-fiction, novel-length or short subject. As a storyteller, I embrace all forms of fiction, not just written. I read, yes, but I also watch TV unabashed, enthusiastically rush to the movie theater, and even admire some television commercials. And it doesn't stop there: I love live theater (yes even musical theater, I know and can sing many show tunes from memory,) I get a major kick out of old-timey radio shows, I can even sit for hours watching the extemporaneous play of children. Many of my dreams are cinematic in nature, quite dramatic, with beginning, middle, and end. Some music, notably country music, is an entire master class on tight and concise plotting in a single two-to-three minute song (Tie a Yellow Ribbon, The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald, The Coward of The Country, Ode to Billy Joe, etc. ad infinitum.)

As a raconteur I have learned so much from embracing all of these forms of storytelling. But recently I have been exposed to a unique form of storytelling that has absolutely astounded me with it's surprising depth, complexity, and ability to draw one in and thoroughly entertain. Please bear with me, here, I think you might find these insights worthwhile.

XBOX CONTROLLER

When is the last time you played a video game? I'm not talking about Pacman or Super Mario Brothers. Recently I bought myself a top of the line gaming console and a few of the most popular games: Disney Infinity, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto V. To be honest I was a little intimidated by modern gaming consoles, assuming as I suspect many adults assume, that they require hours and hours of valuable time to master, and besides are really rather silly and juvenile. I had so many better things to do.

Well, I was not prepared for the experience. First, let me get the misunderstandings about modern gaming out of the way. These games are not difficult to master, for the most part. The controllers are designed in such a way as to make interaction with the games easier, not harder. While you will have to exercise concentration and develop some hand-eye coordination that may have gone rusty, the games give you unlimited tries to get it right, and you will find yourself adapting and mastering the controls much quicker than you think. Second, most games are episodic in nature, broken up into vignettes (in some games referred to as missions), between which you can save your progress and walk away. So you are not obliged to play for hours on end. You might feel compelled to, but with a little self-discipline you can limit yourself to only an hour a day, or a couple of hours a weekend. It need not become the giant time-suck you fear.

You may suspect that modern games have better graphics than the last time you tangled with Donkey Kong and you'd be right. But baby, you have no idea! The detail and realism of the worlds these games open up to you is something beyond anything you could ever imagine. One of the most impressive is Grand Theft Auto V (GTA for short.) This game takes place on a vast island fashioned after Los Angeles, and I cannot express to you the detail of the world they've built, and the realism. It really is every bit as if Los Santos is a real place that you've stepped into. Call of Duty the same. There are still cartoonish games such as Disney Infinity but even these are well rendered and engaging.>/p>

But on to the most compelling part. The storytelling. For many of these games, you follow a plot through the game. These stories are every bit as well written, well-acted as a Hollywood production. Call of Duty centers around a veteran soldier sidelined by the amputation of his arm, who finds new employment with the private security firm owned by the father of his best friend, who was killed in battle. He is given a bionic arm and a chance to fight to defend the defenseless again, but soon he and his new friends begin to suspect a more nefarious motive behind the missions they are being assigned. While these games necessarily involve action, combat, explosions and the like, they are character-driven stories, compelling and engaging, with wonderful build-ups, conflict, and climactic conclusions.

In Grand Theft Auto V you alternate between the POV of three characters: a retired gangster in witness protection contending with boredom and a family who no longer has any respect for him, a street hustler looking to take a step up in the underworld and take part in bigger and more lucrative heists, and a psychopathic killer with anger-management issues. Together these three find themselves athwart some very powerful criminal and law enforcement types and must navigate a dangerous world, to somehow come out alive on the other side. This one is heavy on shooting and crime but the stories are still very well developed, character driven, and enthralling.

Now of course, as an action/thriller writer, I chose games heavy on action, and those are primarily the games one hears about the most. But there are other sorts of games for those who like more mystery and intrigue than shoot-em-up. For example, <em>Never Alone</em> features a little Inuit  (Eskimo) girl and her little arctic fox friend who must embark on a perilous quest across many dangerous obstacles to save her tribe from extinction. Along the way she encounters spirits, some of which she can enlist to help her, and others who wish to oppose her. The dialog is entirely in authentic Inuit - a soft, almost hypnotic language - with subtitles. This is a visually beautiful game, some of it looking more like an ethereal painting than a video game.

Look, I'm no gamer. But as a storyteller, these and other games I have played have caught my imagination every bit as much as reading Harry Potter or attending a performance of The Mikado, with the added dynamic of being interactive. No, I would not put them in the same category as Dickens or Hemingway, but in their own way they deal with very similar human dramas in an engrossing and thoroughly entertaining way. I would encourage those of you who embrace storytelling in all its forms to make these games a part of your research and inspiration. I think you will be blown away by just how satisfying they can be.

Guest K. Ferrin: The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Do

I was about nine years old when I wrote my first story. I was very excited about the assignment, I loved writing even then. But what I remember most clearly is the lightning strike of inspiration I got when the story idea popped into my mind. It seemed to come straight out of the aether - some gypsy-voodoo-black-magic that I’d somehow managed to get on me or to step in. It felt as if it had come from out there, rather than from inside of me. From that instant I was hooked, I wanted to write novels.

Like many authors, I continued to write over the years. Also like many authors, I never finished a novel. I wrote while I rode the wave of inspiration but when inspiration abandoned me I abandoned the story. For decades I left villains at their peak, deserted heroes at their point of greatest weakness, relinquished half written stories to the shadowy depths of my hard drive.

Somewhere after that first lightning flash of inspiration I’d picked up the habit of seeing writing itself as gypsy-voodoo-black-magic that came from out there. And if it came from “out there” that meant I had no control over it. If the muse stopped weaving her magic what could a mere mortal do about it?

This sort of thinking infected me in all sorts of ways. When I was nine I wanted to be a writer. By the time I started college I’d given up writing and wanted to be a biologist or chemist. I left college with a BS in Criminal Justice (pre-law) and by the time I started working in my first “real job” it was in technology.

Meandering paths are not uncommon when we’re young, but what might not be so obvious is that, for me at least, the spaces between those bullet points were because the shiny rubbed off. Things got hard and I sometimes lost my motivation. There was no magic, and there should always be magic… right?

So instead of working hard for what I wanted most, I spent my time working a little for what came easiest. It was easy to blame the fickle muse for this. To hide the path of least resistance within the guise of magic-from-the-aether. To claim I was an artist following the path of inspiration. But eventually I started to wonder about this muse of mine. What kind of sick bitch was she to start me down one path only to yank the rug from under me and send me careening off in some new direction?

Now, to be clear, we should follow our inspirations. Inspiration is an expression of our intuition, it tells us where our passion lies, where our talents reside. But believing that people accomplish things because they’re gifted with gypsy-voodoo-black-magic is a mistake. The truth is that finishing stuff is hard no matter who you are. And it takes a lot more than inspiration to carry things through to the end. The truth is, finishing is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

Inspiration is designed for the start. Sweat, dedication, and courage are designed for the finish. I’d lived my life waiting for the magic. I’d made the mistake of believing all I needed was that magic and I’d forgotten all about sweat part.

But the actual writing part, the doing, is sweat and courage. It’s showing up every single day no matter where your muse is. Some days, the magical ones, words flow like warmed honey. Other days it feels like you’re crawling across a mile of used needles, bloody hospital scalpels and poo.

You see, finishing has nothing to do with inspiration and has everything to do with hard work and the courage to keep to your path. It’s refusing to give in to the blank looks you get from people when you tell them you’re a writer, it’s continuing with your efforts even when you see no results. It’s not glamorous. It’s actually quite ugly. It often involves crying. There’s almost always blood. But after all of that, at the end of the day, when you have finished, it is pure magic.

 

GetAttachmentK. Ferrin started writing fantasy just after learning her ABCs and has never looked back. Magicless, a young adult fantasy novel, was published in 2014. Across the Darkling Sea, book one of her Ling trilogy, will be available in April of 2016. She lives at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with her husband, two dogs, and a relentless craving for pie.

Sex With Strangers

Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan; Paige Price as Olivia in 'Sex With Strangers'
Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan; Paige Price as Olivia in 'Sex With Strangers'

Can you judge an author by his or her books?

Should you go Kindle Direct Publishing or hold out hope for Farrar Straus Giroux to come your way?

I’m urging you to book a night to head down to Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., and check out “Sex With Strangers” through Feb. 20. You can get in for about $18 and sit upstairs in this amazing theatre space. (Hey, upstairs is closer to the wine bar anyway.)

Don’t let the title mislead you. This is a PG-13 presentation—a bit of skin and some groping on stage. But it’s all in the name of a play about publishing, writing, identity, fame, fortune, selling out, managing reputations and that special tug of war between high art and crass commercialization.

It’s a simple set-up but playwright Laura Eason (“House of Cards” to her credit and much more) wrings every possible nuance from the odd coupling in a remote Michigan bed and breakfast.

In some ways the play is PAL vs iPAL, to put it in RMFW terms. And it’s also about what the two can do for each other.

In one corner, we have blogger-writer-screenplay guy Ethan who has (quite literally) spilled himself all over the Internet. He wrote a blog called “Sex With Strangers” that was started on a bet. It is titillating and tawdry and it has left more tawdriness in its wake. The blog became a book, then two, and a movie is now in the works. Cash is raining down on a guy who admits he’s a bit of jerk in public. It’s a role, you know. It’s not really him.

In the other corner, we have a reclusive, thoughtful, obscure, under-the-radar writer Olivia, author of meaningful fiction who is happy writing in solitude and, she believes, perfectly fine with her status. Her first book fizzled, in part because of a so-wrong “chick lit” cover. “The people who would have liked it didn’t buy it because of what they thought it was,” she laments. “And the people who did buy it hated it, because it wasn’t what they expected.”

Ethan is all Kindle and e-books—a fast-writing man on the move.

Olivia is all leather-bound classics and the smell of an old book. She’s caution and contemplation.

First, mud flies between these two—and then sparks.

Laugh lines are piled high, but so are some razor sharp observations about different attitudes toward publishing, marketing and ownership of art, particularly when he steals her latest manuscript to give it a read. She’s incensed at this brazen break in trust but gets over it when he begins developing ideas for how to re-launch her career by rebranding her first novel, which sank without a trace.

There are a couple of implausible moments in the plot, especially the lightning-quick response from New York agents and publishers, but it’s all in the name of a good story. There was no funnier moment to me than Olivia’s reaction when Ethan recites a line from her long-ago, “forgotten” novel. What’s more seductive than that kind of intense adoration?

We writers know. Absolutely nothing.

The set is terrific, the acting is stellar. Don’t miss “Sex With Strangers.” Well, you know what I mean.

Amazing set at The Curious Theatre Co. For 'Sex With Strangers'
Amazing set at The Curious Theatre Co. For 'Sex With Strangers'

Like A Boss: Making Writer’s Block Work for You

Today, we’re going to talk about Writer’s Block, and how thinking like the Boss will master even the worst case.

Before you hold up your hands in a ‘ward off the Evil Eye’ sign in my direction, hear me out. It’s not as bad as you think. If you change your viewpoint on Writer’s Block, it can be a fantastic opportunity rather than a challenge for you.

We’ve all hit that point where we get stuck. When we look at our work-in-progress with frustration for so long that given the chance, all our heroes will die in a blazing bloodbath and our villains will race round like maniacs crowing their victory. The thought makes us smile. Because the bloodbath lets us take back the power that these annoying characters have taken away, and don’t they know I’m the Boss, and what I say goes…

Oh. Maybe it’s just me? Well, go with me here.

When you get stuck, and you’ve spent several hours (and maybe a long shower) trying to get your characters out of whatever corner you’ve tossed them into, hit ‘Save’ and then Close. The. Document. Why?

You’re going to work on something else.

At any given time, I have more than one work-in-progress going. This is not because I am a masochist. It has several purposes, all of which are positive and help me in my career. (And damn it, I am the Boss.)

The first, and most important, in my eyes, is that it allows you to get your ideas for future projects onto paper. To put some shape and structure to what was initially a random thought. It gives you a chance to do a little plotting, and see if the story idea has legs, if it can last through an entire novel. There are few things worse than getting all invested in a story only to find halfway through that it falls flat on its derriere. Talk about wanting to kill off everyone in a bloodbath.

Additionally, it feels great to let yourself play with an idea that you really like. This is a way to give yourself permission to delve into that New Idea without feeling like you’re cheating on the current work-in-progress. Too often, I think we get stuck on the idea that we MUST finish WIP #1 before even thinking about anything else, and that just isn’t so. Give yourself permission to multitask. It’s what successful Bosses do.

The second is that it calms those of us who work on deadlines. Most of my deadlines are self-imposed, but I put them out there, so I hold myself to them. No matter what route you take to publication, there are always deadlines. The deadline can paralyze you, particularly if you’re stuck. If you are working on more than one thing at a time, you can calm that internal clock that’s saying, ‘Tick tock, need to get it done, tick tock, tick tock.’ You can hit the ‘Snooze’ because you are working, and while it may not be on the one with the closest looming deadline, you’re working. The more you do this, the more you train yourself to realize that working and moving forward will apply to everything you’re working on, even if one project is spinning wheels at the moment. Progress begets progress.

That leads me to the third plus. When I write every day, I have fewer run-ins with Writer’s Block. Why? The more you do something, the more you stretch the muscles used to do it. So the more you write, the easier your brain can slip into that mode, and move you along. If you have a couple of works-in-progress, it doesn’t matter that WIP #1 is driving you mad. You can ignore it and look at WIP #2, for which you had an amazing inspiration for the story arc in the shower today. You keep doing this, and voila! Butt is in chair and you are writing every day. We’ve all heard of BICAW (Butt In Chair And Write). As someone who has moved to writing as my career, the opportunities for distractions that keep you from BICAW are endless. The easier you make it for you to put yourself in that chair, the easier this writing gig will get.

Put some time into your New Idea. Do you have something you want to work on after your current work-in-progress is done? Outline it now. Right. Now. Go open a document and write a basic outline. That’s all you have to do. Because the next time your characters send you to a place where a sharp object seems the only way out, you go to that basic outline, and work on beefing it up. Ignore the characters plucking at your last nerve. Focus on something new.

It will get your butt in the chair, and keep you writing daily. And what’s better than doing something you love every single day? From now on, do not fear Writer’s Block. Embrace it and welcome it in.

Do it like a Boss. Writer’s Block will crumble before you.

 

Devil Baby – Louisa May Alcott’s and George Lucas’s Love Child

I’m sorry! I’m sorry I can’t stop talking about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I’m sorry that so many people either love it or hate it or both and shake their fists at the firmament and there is the wailing and the gnashing of the teeth.

I loved episode VII. I was transported to that long time ago and that galaxy far, far away. And yes, it’s not a perfect movie (wow, those star systems are really close together to be able to see the super-duper doomsday weapon in the sky with the naked eye). However, none of the Star Wars movies are perfect. Perfect is not the game here, people. If it was, perfect would so stupidly easy to do.

Remember that scene in Dead Poet’s Society, where the textbook claims you can map the perfect poem on a graph? Well, let me tell you, when it comes to art, throw your graph away and yeah, tear that textbook apart.

From Luke’s whining in episode IV, to C3PO’s constant (and annoying) chatter in episode V, there are a myriad of issues. However, Star Wars works at a gut level. Except for maybe episode II, but I won’t go there. The prequels are…different. They’re not like other boys.

How does this tie into Louisa May Alcott? Or is this just click-bait? Hmm, click-bait. Yum.

What is the devil baby (take it to mean unexpected and diabolically good) in the title of this blog post?

Duende.

Duende (sounds like a gynecological term) is actually a Spanish word for that special power some art is blessed with. If nothing else, the new Star Wars has duende as did episode IV. You can argue about all the others, but why else would people go see it numerous times? My wife, who is not a Star Wars fan, wants to see the new movie over and over. Because it has a passion, a sparkle, something undefinable (and ungraphable).

Can you plan duende? Can you map out the perfect story arc and the perfect character arc? You can try, but I don’t think you can. I think duende happens, sometimes by mistake by a newbie, and sometimes on purpose by a weary rofessional who got lucky.

I’m forty-five years old and I’m reading Little Women for the first time. I’m reading it to my daughters before bed, and we are loving it. However, I see all the flaws. It’s unabashedly preachy and the dialogue/dialogue tags are awkward and repetitive.

For example, here is what LMA loves to do:

“Long bit of dialogue goes here and it goes on and on and it really doesn’t do much except make you fall in love with the characters,” she said, followed by a long description of activity which doesn’t do much except make you fall in love with the story, not that there’s much of a story.

Louisa May Alcott wouldn’t do well in my critique group. We’d demolish her pages because her prose is so easy to pick apart. Like Star Wars is easy to pick apart. When I started Little Women, the book read like one of the stories my daughter wrote in the first grade. It’s four sisters talking and not much is happening and it’s sweet, yes, but um, not the most thrilling first chapter I’ve ever read.

However, Little Women has duende. I am astonished it was originally published in 1868 because it’s so accessible and I can relate so much to the family and the characters. I feel like I’m a part of the world of the March family, maybe like some crazy uncle.

How can that be? How can this old book have so much power? How can it break rule after rule and still work? I don’t know. All I can say is that I feel blessed to be reading Little Women, and I’m glad it survived the whims of time and the cruelty of the publishing industry.

So, as an author, what am I to do? I can try and craft my novels and aim for perfection, but at the heart of the matter, I don’t believe I can imbue my work with duende. I think it either all comes together or it doesn’t.

The only thing I can do is sit down and do the work. Maybe the book will shine, and maybe it won’t.

In the end, I think it’s a matter of courage and vision. Do I have the courage to pursue my unique vision of a story?

I think that’s where duende comes from—when the passion and love of the author shines at the heart of a story. George Lucas wrote a story he clearly loved. I think Louisa May Alcott did as well.

So, write the stories you love! And if you are lucky or blessed (or damned, arguably) that passion will shine and bedazzle billions!

And how was your day….?

helplessI had a different blog in mind. Really. But something happened tonight that reinforces what my life as a writer is like. I thought it might resonate with some of you.

I was at the annual RMFW and board meeting this last Saturday (I don’t think I saw you there?). The 250 mile trip home was near blizzard, and my car ended up covered with road salts. I decided to stop at the carwash on my way home from work tonight. You know the kind— you pay, drive inside, and let it do its thing for five minutes.

Only today, the carwash had something else in mind. I ended up locked inside the car wash. Yes, that was me, sitting there with my bumper six inches from the rollup door, the dryer shaking my car like a tornado, but only drying the front three feet. Thinking it's just a matter of time before the door opens. Then sitting and waiting after the blower stopped. And waiting some more.

The whole fifteen minutes reminds me of my writing life. Where I write a great (hopefully) manuscript, clean and polish it, and when it’s nice and shiny, submit it to an agent or editor. And wait. And wait some more. Worry and second guess myself. And worry some more. Acting like it’s the only thing I can do.

But all I had to do was get out of my car, open the side door, find someone who knew what to do, and let them help me. Just as I am not some helpless old lady, I am not a helpless writer. All I need to do is gather my fellow writers around me for advice and comfort. And start writing something new while I wait. Have my critique crew give me input. Anything but just sitting and waiting for the agent to love me. For someone to rescue me.

I don’t need rescued. I can write my characters out of any situation, and I can handle these painful “wait” periods with a little help from my friends. The moral of this (long) story is…you don’t have to do this alone. You’re part of a tribe, or a seahorse herd (Susan Spann, you will forever be quoted after that epic Gold speech!). We’re all in this together. We understand each other. We’ve been there, done that, and survived. So don’t hibernate, fretting over ”will they like it or will it be a rejection”? No matter which way it goes, you’ll learn from it, and all your RMFW writer friends (even the ones you don't yet know) will cheer your successes or commiserate with your “Thanks But…” letters. Because we’ll be the ones who need it next time.

Don’t wait to be rescued. Open the door and ask for help from your fellow authors. And Write On.

Know-It-All: The Art or Plague of Research

POLL:  How many of you know what the 47th tallest structure is? (No googling, you cheaters).

I do.

Does that make me brilliant or lame?

I have no idea.

But I do know it makes me a writer. You see, I, like you, look for the smallest, seemingly inconsequential detail to breathe reality into my stories.

Or, I'm deluding myself, and my last month of ‘research’ into the tallest structures around the world and the effects on the body of falling off said structure have all been a waste of my precious, limited time on this planet?

Honestly I suspect the latter.

I’m all for research, as long as it’s for the book’s sake and not a means to procrastinate actual writing.

 

Example:

In my latest book, I found myself in the saggy middle, no idea how to write my heroine out of the corner I inevitably wrote her in since I never outline though I think outlining is a brilliant idea. So here I sit, my fingers on the keys, unmoving.

Crap.

Hmmm…Is my writer’s block a sign of early dementia? I mean, I haven’t written a word in over an hour. That has to be something, right? I jump on Google, searching for the signs.

I’m not a hypochondriac.

I’m doing research!

Maybe, since I’m here, I should research the shoes my heroine is wearing? I could name them in the book, show my readers I know my shoes.

Except I don’t.

So I’m not writing. So what? I’m researching!

Of course, what I really am doing is wasting my time on stuff that isn’t vital to my book. Unless shoes play a role, why bother with that level of detail? It is a way for me, at least, to procrastinate instead of doing what I should do and outline the rest of the damn book or at least the scene I’m struggling with.

Research gives life, makes worlds come alive (See this article from Writer’s Digest on how to use research).

But it is and always will be about the story.

No amount of research makes up for what’s on the page.

Or getting those words on the page.

 

BTW, read my next book for the answer to the 47th tallest structure. Hint, it’s close by. And if you’re interested, I’m still ‘researching’ the effects of falling off said structure.

Anyone up for a field trip?

 

What are you currently researching? Do you find yourself ‘researching’ instead of writing when stuck like me?

 

Be a good critique partner – Part 1 of 2

I credit the marvelous process of critique with helping me get published, and continue to be published. And just as my fabulous CPs help me, I help them. There’s a compelling reason to give our best efforts with every critique: the better critiquers we are, the better writers we become.

Book Too WonderfulToBeTrue Jan 2016
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Many of us have suffered from or heard about nightmare critiques with back-handed comments and thinly veiled insults, and we want to make sure our critiques are both encouraging and helpful. One way to ensure this is to avoid excessive compliments and vague comments.

Here are some critique comments I’ve read over the years in critique groups, along with comments about how to make them more useful to your CPs.

Loved it!!  This will trigger a sense of relief from the submitting writer, but not much more.  Was it the opening that was strong, or the dialogue?  Or just the hunky hero? Include detail so the writer knows what, specifically, worked.

Couldn’t stop turning the pages!  One hopes that means the tension remained high throughout, with enough drama that the reader was anxious to know what happened next – instead of the possibility that you were just in a hurry to finish the critique and get on with your own writing.

This is perfect as is. I wouldn’t change a thing.  We all want to receive a critique like this! When backed up by specifics, this is a gem of a critique I’d copy, put in 60 point Times Roman, bold, and print out for the front of my computer.  Without accompanying comments, though, I’d still wonder if some parts might need work and the critiquer was just being generous.  But then, we writers have been known to be neurotic.

I don’t like your protagonist. This is crushing for a writer to receive. Though it may be true, it’s brutal.  Being writers, we can find gentler ways to say this.  One bit of wisdom I’ve learned over years of critique is: “Don’t send a critique if you’re short for time.”  Whenever I have, I realize I’m more likely to be abrupt, and when abrupt, a sense of uncaring and overly critical-sounding comments erupt that I later regret when I re-read it at a time I’m *not* so rushed.  As a critiquer, you’re walking in a field of priceless human emotions.  Even multi-published authors hardened by years of rejections and reviews can be hurt by abrupt comments.  Always take your time.  Better to be a little late with the critique than to cause unintended harm.

Characters aren’t convincing. Don’t shirk from giving or receiving this comment. This is a gem of an observation, so useful -- if accompanied by specifics. Is the character the ruthless head of an international corporation yet continually shown in scenes as indecisive or unaware of his industry’s jargon?  Or perhaps the character is a prostitute but acts naive in this particular excerpt.

I hope you love your critique partners as much as I love mine, and I wish you many positive comments in your future critiques. My next blog will offer more insights on your CPs’ comments.

How–and Why–to Write a Business Plan For Your Book

“Do you know how to eat a whale?" the old joke asks.

The answer: "One bite at a time!”

The same advice holds true for writing a business plan for your book.

Many authors don't actually take the time to write a business plan. Either the process seems too boring, too complicated, or "not worth the time." In some cases, writers simply don't think to do it. Whatever the reason, writers who fail to write a business plan for every book they write are missing out on an important tool for writing and publishing success.

Business plans are important whether you self-publish or work with a traditional publishing house, and though it's generally better to write them before you start the novel, it's never too late to write a business plan for your current work-in-progress--even if the book has already released (though if that's the case, you'll probably focus more on the marketing sections and less on the pieces dedicated to how the book gets written).

Today, I thought we'd take a walk through the sections of a book business plan, to take a look at what they contain and offers some #PubLaw pointers on how to write them:

A typical business plan has seven sections, and a book business plan is no exception: 

1.  The Summary comes first (but you can write it last if you prefer, because it basically summarizes the rest of the business plan.)

The business plan summary isn't the same as a summary or synopsis of the book itself (that's Section 2). Instead, this summary contains a one-paragraph synopsis (think "jacket copy") of the novel and a summary of the entire business plan, including the genre, target audience, and other “at-a-glance” relevant facts about the book and the way you plan to sell and market it to the intended readers.

2.  The Book Description contains a synopsis of the book. If you haven’t written your novel yet, it’s OK to create a placeholder – a one-page summary of the story you plan to write. If you write your synopsis (or outline) first, you can add it here before you write the book; if you write it after the manuscript is finished, you can add the completed section to the plan at the appropriate time. 

3. The Marketing Section actually consists of three sub-sections, containing your plans to market the book during its pre-release, release, and post-release phases. The more detailed you can be when planning each section, the better. (And if you have no idea how to do this, I've blogged about it in detail at my own blog, in the #PubLaw category.)

4. A Competitive Analysis follows the marketing section. This part of the business plan requires you to identify where your book will sit in a bookstore (even if you plan for an ebook only release) and to examine similar works in the marketplace, analyzing why readers will (or should) want your book instead of (or in addition to) the other options. This is also where you brainstorm strategies to maximize your advantages and minimize any weaknesses you find.

5.  The Development Timelines Section is designed to keep both you and your work on track during the various phases of writing, producing, and marketing the book. Like the marketing section, this actually consists of three different timelines: one for the writing process, one for the publishing process (regardless of whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, there will be things you do during the publishing process), and one for marketing the work.

6.  In the Operations and Management section, you plan (in detail) who will handle each specific part of the writing, publishing, promotion and sales process. If you publish traditionally, many of the duties will fall to your publisher, whereas if you self-publish, this part of the plan becomes a critical roadmap to the staff and process of bringing your book to market.

7. The Budget finishes up your business plan. As with operations and management, this portion may be simple or complex, depending on the author’s plans and past experience. This is where you plan the budget for everything from production costs (primarily an issue for author-publishers) to marketing and travel expenses associated with the book's release.

In a panic? Don’t be! Business plans take work but they’re not as difficult as they seem. They're also a powerful tool to take control of your book and your writing career.

Have you ever written a business plan for your book? If not, would you consider it in the future? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the business plan!