Tag Archives: writing

The Research Conundrum

For some reason, I keep developing plots for my stories that require a ton of research. I don’t know why I’ve been doing this. I guess the need to just learn stuff overcomes the desire to get a book done quickly and efficiently. For example, my current WIP is a sequel to Necromancing Nim, which took place in Denver and Urbana, Illinois. Both places I’m pretty familiar with. But the sequel, Summoning Sebastian, sends my little vampire/vampire/human ménage off to the wilds of Siberia.

I’ve never been to the wilds of Siberia. I’m not sure I ever want to go to the wilds of Siberia. But the book ended up there. So I have to do research.

The conundrum comes when I try to figure out how to do research. My first instinct is to learn EVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. So I buy a ton of books, print out a bunch of websites, and collect a metric whackton of information.

And then almost never read it. Or at least not all of it.

I go ahead and plow through my story, stopping here and there to look up items, but mostly extrapolating from what I actually have managed to read from this information-collection orgy. So the story gets written. But then when I’m done I feel like I have a ton of research gaps.

So we go back to LEARNEVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. That creates a vicious circle.

I’m working on a piece now where I’ve constructed the plot based on some things I already know will work, but that I’ll need to do a bit of research on to clarify. When I go back to do the rewrite on each section (this is a really fast turnaround job), I do the research on just the bits I need to know about, make whatever additions or changes I think are going to work, then move on.

When I started Summoning Sebastian, I collected a ton of books about Russia. (In all fairness, I’m doing research on I think two, maybe three other WIPs with the same materials.) And yes, a lot of what I learned in the initial reading made it into the story. But when it came down to it, I did a lot more on-the-spot research, writing sections in a fairly vague, generic way, then coming back and filling in details as I got to individual scenes that needed them.

I really have no idea which is the better approach. I know I tend to over-research. In the midst of researching for several stories set in Russia or with Russian protagonists, I ended up actually learning a bit of Russian. Which is overkill in the extreme. On the other hand, while I was cleaning up bits of Summoning Sebastian, it was really handy to be able to read menus of airport restaurants in Chelyabinsk without having to run everything through Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

What are other ways to approach research? Is binging an acceptable method, or should I reconsider my life choices? Has anybody else been crazy enough to learn an entire language just to write a foreign character? Talk to me below. I promise not to judge.

Photo credit: “Old Books” by zdelia, from freeimages.com

Words and Pictures

By Robin D. Owens

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it?

The following is a true story.

One year I had a calendar from Harper that features heroes from their book covers every month. Now Mr. January, a Tudor sort, intrigued me. He seemed to issue a subtle challenge, but I couldn’t quite figure it, or him, out. So I decided to do what I usually do when I can’t solve a thorny problem in my writing, present the issue to my critique group. (Note the cover is the ORIGINAL book cover for The Greatest Lover In All England by Christina Dodd).

I knew Sharon Mignerey, who hosted our critique group, had the same calendar, and that we tended to congregate in her office before critiquing officially started. And so it was on the first Saturday of February that year.

We had been talking of this and that when the calendar caught my eye, still showing Mr. January. I brought up the idea that it would be interesting to do a character sketch of the man — and his subtle challenge.

“Challenge” was the wrong word. Adjectives shot through the room. He was welcoming, generous. No, he was selfish, conceited. On the contrary, he was debonair. No, wily, dangerous — as many adjectives as there were people.

“He’s sensitive,” someone said.

This man does not have a sensitive bone in his body, I thought.

“Hey, he’s arrogant,” I said. “He’s got his hand on his sword hilt.”

“Where else would he put it? He doesn’t have any pockets,” Liz retorted. This is true. The guy is only wearing boots, thigh-hugging tights, a white, billowy shirt baring his manly chest, and a sword belt.

More discussion. I was astonished. No one in the room had the same view of the hero that I did. If we had all sat down and done a character sketch, showing strengths and weaknesses, secrets and hopes, we would have ended up with seven very different heroes. And seven very different stories. How fascinating. How wonderful.

But another thing to ponder is that a writer has more ability to direct the reader than the artist or photographer. By fashioning our stories, presenting certain characters and throwing light on their actions and thoughts, we can hopefully guide the reader. We can wring emotions, we can point out truths, we can make a point, state a theme. And while photos and pictures can do this as well, in writing there is less chance that seven different people get seven different points.

Readers may identify with some characters more than others, recognize and emphasize some themes more than others, but all would have the same general understanding of the basic story. A picture is not worth a thousand words — not when it can’t convey precisely what the photographer/artist wants. But when we deal in words, a point can be skewered home.

The critique group never did agree on Mr. January. When we continued to argue, Sharon wisely flipped the calendar to Mr. February. (Note: the cover is for the paperback anthology Tall, Dark, and Dangerous by Catherine Anderson, Christina Dodd, and Susan Sizemore).

“Ugh!” someone said. “Too tough,” someone else agreed, as we filed downstairs to start our session.

I looked at him. A Western man — unshaven, narrow-eyed, and with his hand on his gun-belt. His build, hair and eye color were wrong, but there was something about his expression, something subtle, that reminded me of my last hero. Too tough? Nah.

Five Reasons Why J.A. Kazimer is Better Than Me

By Aaron Ritchey

Many of you know J.A. Kazimer’s normal persona, but this blog post isn’t about J.A. Kazimer the person, it’s about J.A. Kazimer the RMFW scion, the writerly icon, the literary messiah! This is about the Platonic ideal of J.A. Kazimer.

I first met her in Colorado Springs many years ago and right away I was immensely impressed by her quiet awesomeness.  So yes, I didn’t come to bury J.A. Kazimer, only to praise her.  Here are five ways J.A. Kazimer is intrinsically better than me:

  1. NETWORKING EMPRESS – When I hit the doors of a conference, I am loud, outlandish, an explosion of personality. Yeah, I somehow make that work, but Kazimer’s way is far less showy, but also effective. She talks to people and listens to them, which is the key to networking. Asking questions, listening to the answers, and making connections with people. Kazimer does this so effectively you suddenly just love her. She is proof you don’t have to be an extrovert in a loud suit to network well.
  2. MARKETING MAGICIAN – When her first book, CURSES! came out, she started up a series on her blog called “The New Never News – Your #1 Source of Fairytale News,” and you could tell she had a great time writing about current events in Fairytale land. At the same time, I went to her release party where she had killer swag and a grand guest list, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be in the spotlight. This proves she can do the stuff she likes and she can do the stuff she might not be comfortable with, but that’s the marketing game. A little sweet. A little sour.
  3. QUERYING GODDESS – The real reason why I adore J.A. Kazimer is that she encouraged me to query agents and editors. I would write all the time, but I was too afraid to send stuff out. Not her. She actually posted on Facebook she missed the querying process. She is a warrior! And why not? Querying is all about the possibility of wonder and success. It should be an exciting process, and Kazimer embraced it so much she actually misses the process. Yes, ladies and gentleman, she is agented, which is quite the feat nowadays.
  4. INSPIRATION GURU – So Kazimer writes books for Kensington, she writes Indie stuff, but she is out there, working, struggling, playing the game. I find that amazingly inspiring, so when I get frustrated, I just ask myself, what would J.A. Kazimer do? The answer is write books and get them published by any means necessary.
  5. ACCOMPLISHED AUTHOR – So not only can she do the marketing and work it takes to be an author in the 21st century, she can also deliver goods. Her book, The Assassin’s Heart, is a Gold Top Pick by RT Book Reviews! Just to brag about her a little, the reviewer says, “Not only is this novel sassy and fun, but the author’s research into the CIA and the life of an assassin is reflected in her work, making it not just a fabulous romantic suspense tale, but a fantastic work of fiction, period.”

At the end of the day, I hope this blog post embarrasses the hell out of J.A. Kazimer, but too many times in this long road to writerly success, we have to toot our own horns, talk about our stuff like it’s God’s gift to the English language, and shake our moneymakers. I wanted to shine a light on a soldier in the field because she truly is a wonderful human being and one of the best folks I’ve met on this utterly strange, literary journey I’m on.

 

 

THE BACK NINE: SPRINTING FOR THE FINISH LINE OF YOUR NOVEL

By Kevin Paul Tracy

In golf, “the back nine” refers to the second half of an 18-hole golf game. It’s often used as a metaphor for finishing up, or approaching the culmination of a goal. Other sports analogies would be: “the home stretch;” “first and goal;” or “sliding in to home.” In writing I use it to refer to those last ten-to-20 thousand words of your manuscript. You’ve gotten past the swamp, that middle part of the novel that’s not set-up, not climax and denouement, just complication. You’re finally driving everything toward the final conflict and resolution.

Complex Fiction Plotting Chart

But sometimes, if you’re like me, getting all of your characters on stage and where they need to be at just the right time for everything to come together can be a challenge. One of the greatest examples of this is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. The first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring (actually there are six books in the series, but they are most frequently sold as a trilogy, of which Fellowship consists of the first two) brings the major protagonists most of the way to the land of Mordor, the major goal of Frodo the Ringbearer. But Tolkien has three or four major battles to write about (Isengard, Helms Deep, The Black Gate, etc.) before the final destruction of the ring. So while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Pippin and the like all criss-cross the country several times over, fighting and having adventures, Tolkien finds excuses to waylay Frodo and Sam, not once, but repeatedly, to keep them from Mount Doom, which is quite literally in sight most of the time, until he can get everyone else to the battle at The Black Gate to see what happens when (SPOILER ALERT) the ring finally gets destroyed. If I may critique what is arguably one of history’s great works of fiction, the ways in which Frodo meets delay after delay always seemed rather shoe-horned in, to me.

Deliberate or not, I think we can do better. Some suggestions…

If you are having trouble with logistics, getting everyone where they need to be for the final conflict, ask yourself if the final conflict has to happen where you have set it. Is there another venue, already used in your story or not, where the confrontation can take place, that your more difficult characters can get to in the same time frame? Asking myself this once led me to the discovery of a much cooler place to present my final resolution than I’d originally planned, that now I routinely ask myself this question, even if I’m not having timing difficulties.

If you’re approaching your maximum word-count, but you still have a lot to fit in, look at ways to time-jump. For example, is it necessary to describe the heist team planning the rescue of a team member from police custody while driving to the courthouse? Or is it sufficient to simply say, “On the drive to the courthouse, the team put together a hasty and daring plan for rescuing Mr. Yellow from the cops.” Then you can just let the plan unfold as it happens, which is often much more effective than laying it out for the reader before-hand.

The absolute worst is coming toward the end of your manuscript, only to become suddenly aware of a glaring flaw in your plot, something someone is bound to notice and pan you for in their online review of your book. I’ve seen writers try to plug this plot hole by suddenly cramming in at the end of their book some spontaneous and transparently make-shift explanation that rarely fools anyone. No, in such a case there is rarely anything you can do but go back and rewrite and fix it the right way. I recently encountered such a flaw that required me to go back to the half-way point of my book and rework everything drastically from that point on. It was a pain, but there is no question the novel is much stronger for it.

At any rate, whatever logistical or timing challenges you encounter as you’re “rounding turn number four” toward the completion of your manuscript, keep in mind, you’re almost done! That should be a grand motivator. Stay agile and be flexible and find creative ways around bottlenecks and log-jams. Often your characters are where they are in the book for a reason, inconvenient as it may be, and sometimes it is incumbent upon you to work around that and still bring in a strong, satisfying conclusion to your story.>/p>


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

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On The Dangers of Writing Fictional Men

By Colleen Oakes

I remember discussing Twilight (a book I’m not embarrassed to admit I loved) at length with a couple of girlfriends, right around the height of the hysteria that captured a nation of teenage girls and forced a lot of grumbling married men to watch Robert Pattinson stare for hours at an exasperated Kristen Stewart. We were all sitting around my sister’s kitchen table, a bottle of wine open, and our books open on the table. My friends were listing off Edward’s desirable traits:

“He’s strong and a perfect gentleman!”

“He’s rich – he loves to spoil her.”

“He worships her and sees her for who she truly is!”

I remember leaning back and considering the implications before reminding them that “He” was written by a woman. HE is a myth of our own making.

There is a danger in fictional men written by female writers. As a female author, I see this trait in myself: a propensity to write perfect, flawless men. It’s only natural – I want to give my characters the best of the species to interact with; a man who is all things that my character needs, a man who is the combined fantasy of a thousand women. He encompasses our deepest desires, he listens with the ears of our therapists and girlfriends, his touch is like wildfire – he is the male equivalent of the lady in the living room, whore in the bedroom mythos. He is all these things and more. He is a delightful illusion of the needs that we don’t feel are being met: a portal directly into our disappointment.

There are a litany of sins committed when we write men this way. First, we do a huge disservice to our characters. Our characters don’t need perfect. They need complicated. They need hurdles. They need emotional resonance, for their hearts to harden like diamonds under conflict. Their minds need expanding, and above all, no character needs easy. There is no book, no story in “easy”, and a perfect man without flaw is easy. While Edward might make our hearts beat a little faster with the intoxicating attraction of teenage love, it’s the real men, flawed men – think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – that really can turn our heads. Interesting is better than good.

The other danger in writing perfect men is that the writer, or even the reader can experience projecting – that is, when they project the expectations of a fictional character onto their real life partner. My husband, who is the best man I’ve ever known, can’t compare to a fictional man in women’s fiction. He doesn’t create elaborate dates involving hot air balloons or gallons of rose petals. He doesn’t love to clean, and he definitely never buys me cars or takes me swinging through the trees because his super strength makes me weigh practically nothing. There are no sunset horseback rides, although sometimes we do go to our favorite Thai restaurant for dinner and he lets me have one extra wonton. Our life lacks a certain romantic danger, but that’s okay, because our life is real. He may not be the rippling hunk of muscle with a secret fortune squirreled away, but this year when he dressed up like a Sith Lord to take our son, dressed as Yoda, out for Halloween, I could have fainted with adoration. He’s held my hair as I threw up in Las Vegas, he cried alongside me when we met our son for the first time, and he will never ever get his pajamas into the hamper. Ever.

But that’s okay, because he’s real. He is not a fantasy created by a female writer who is fulfilling her every Cosmo-inspired fantasy. He’s a man of flesh and blood and burps.

We don’t like it when men shove us into a box of their own pre-packaged unrealistic expectations.  Let’s not do the same.

A Few Bad Habits

By Mark Stevens

You brush your teeth. You comb your hair. You make a pot of coffee.

You’re on auto pilot, right? Not much brainpower required.

Your head is busy elsewhere, thinking ahead. Or something.

You sit down to write.

Man oh man, that first sentence of your new bestseller is going to be carved and shaped and chiseled to perfection. That first paragraph, too. Hey, go for it, the whole first page.

Then you get into the meat of the story and, well, not every image sizzles. Not every scrap of dialogue sparkles.

Your writing brain (okay, I’m taking about myself here) goes back into teeth-brushing mode.

Relaxed. Unfocused. Drifting.

And stupid.

I recently wrapped up a new manuscript. Two editors worked it over. Seven beta readers took it out for a spin. And before I hit “send” to the publisher, I decided to search deep, down in the muck of the narrative.

Not a pretty picture.

Those “weasel” words. The crutches, the lazy crap. (I wrote about this issue a couple months ago in recommending a tool called Visual Thesaurus; obviously I’m obsessed.)

To the manuscript: I did a search for the word “few.”

Stevens_FewThe bottom line?

Out of 100,000 words, 154 of those were the word “few.” In other words, .15 percent of all the words I used (out of the 1 million plus available at my fingertips) was the word f-e-w.

Even though this word is meaningless, blah, imprecise, blurry and out of focus, my slack writer brain had reached for it—over and over and over—like a strung-out junkie looking for a fix. Stare at the word for a minute and you’ll see how pointless it is. I’ll wait here….

Funny—neither of my editors’ noticed the overuse of this crutch word. None of the beta readers, either.

But there it was, this fuzzy bit of gunk dragging down all those sentences and my question is this: how do I let this happen when I’m writing that first draft? Does the brain go slack? To sleep? Into auto-pilot mode?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s just part of getting out that first version.

Maybe. It scares me to think that my writing brain doesn’t note when it’s being a lazy ______. If I’m willing to put that word on the page, what other slop is creeping in?

By the time I’d hit “send” to my editor, only seven instances of “few” remained in my manuscript. Each of the other 147 sentences were fortified with a better, more precise word choice that (I hope) leaves the story on more solid foundation.

Is this part of the process of editing and refinement?

Or does my sloppy style the first time around mean I wasn’t really seeing, listening and actively writing?

It’s a question I’d rather not answer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

I Hate Writing to Prompts, But Just This One Time….

By Patricia Stoltey

I hate writing to prompts.

And I’ve been writing short stories for years without much luck getting published.

So when I had an opportunity to submit to an anthology of retold folk tales, in a genre I never write, I almost passed up the chance.

Then my sense of adventure kicked in…not to mention the lure of ignoring my To Do List for a few days.

I chose the old Norwegian tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. You know the one I mean? The goats want to get over the bridge but must outsmart the troll who lives underneath?

What if the goats had been humans? And the humans were young ladies, sisters in fact? And they lived on an island with their parents, a rich although minor Norwegian king and his queen. If the demanding parents kept their daughters away from the outside world by letting that old troll guard the only road to the mainland, what would happen when the sisters made up their minds to escape? Could the three work together to develop a plan as the billy goats did? Or, being humans, would something go terribly wrong?

And that’s how I came to write “Three Sisters of Ring Island,” published in Tales of Firelight and Shadow from Double Dragon ebooks. RMFW member Alexis Brooks de Vita is the anthology editor as well as a contributor.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverYou can see the full table of contents and prologue on the Double Dragon website. Here’s a little hint of what you’ll find in the anthology from the inside flap:

Tales in Firelight and Shadow is a collection of short stories by well-known and fresh new writers of fantasy, speculative and science fiction, retelling folktales from many lands and cultures. Award-winning authors present challenging new twists on familiar tales: James Morrow’s museum curator and his university professor daughter discover the ultimate answer to the human condition; Mary Turzillo’s talking cat rats on a legendary illusionist; and Tenea D. Johnson’s fairies deal with the dream dolls of nightmare.

Writers testing the speculative waters with their risk-taking styles captivate and enchant us: an adventurous young professional tries out a new eatery, with disastrous results; a haunted lake binds the horrors of the slaveholding past to the land’s future; a boy steals what a Scottish fairy has no intention of parting with. A lonely girl in a beachside shack yearns for a mermaid godmother’s gifts. Shadowy stalkers haunt forests and dreams.

Emerging novelists delight us with old tales never before told like this: Jason Parent’s Salem shyster outsmarts his own self; Patricia Stoltey’s ogre is not at all what—or who—we think; Christina St. Clair’s loving wife on the ultimate spiritual quest seems to have gone horribly astray; and A.J. Maguire’s scientist alone on the moon with her husband and the man she truly loves must come up with the courage to choose if and how she will survive. We discover that fairytales and urban legends are the stuff of personal memory.

The folktales gathered and retold in Tales in Firelight and Shadow answer the oldest of our questions: “Why is my world as it is, and how can I find my way through it?” For, if folktales exorcize the pain of lessons learned over many lifetimes, then in this world of fairy, flame and chaos, enchantment—we realize with a start—is the only reality. We dream so that we may open our eyes.

Have you had a good result by stepping out of your comfort zone and writing in a new form or genre? Tell us about it.

6 Best Marketing Tips for Authors

By Heather Webb

Heather WebbAll authors are looking for that magic marketing formula. How much money should we spend on ads? What should our websites look like? How much time should we spend on social media? How do we distinguish ourselves amidst all of the white noise? But these are the wrong questions. The best way to establish oneself as an author, to be an effective marketing guru, isn’t quantifiable. *rips out hair* So what should an author focus on for promotion?

CULTIVATE YOUR VOICE Be yourself, which is to say, be unique! Don’t try to rip off another author’s style. It will not only feel phony to you and your readers will see that you’re trying too hard. Don’t assume they can’t tell. Give them more credit than that. A quick point about online articles and interviews—they are more informal in voice. You don’t want to sound like a stiff or a nag, or you’ll bore your readers.

BE CREATIVE Start your own writing-related services, writer group, or hashtag. Set up a bookstand with your novels at a soccer match, purchase inexpensive paraphernalia with your cover on it or maybe your character’s names. Sell it on your website, distribute it at conferences. People like stuff! Make cupcakes with your book cover on them and bring them to the day job, the community center, or the library. You get the idea. Think outside of the box.

RESEARCH A writer’s research is never finished. Pay attention to what is selling in the book market. Listen to what readers want. Track the changes happening in the industry. How will this information affect your current platform? How can you change to incorporate new trends and more importantly, to reach MORE readers? Do your research, if not daily, weekly.

Webb_Rodins LoverENGAGE Reach out! Find ways to connect to different groups of people, both in person and online. Attend conferences, book fairs, and author signings. Volunteer at writing organizations. Cheer on your fellow writers in their quest to publication. Form relationships with people. When your agent tells you to get on Twitter, what they mean to say is, TALK TO PEOPLE. Make friends. Swap anecdotes, swap war stories, or craft ideas, or gardening tips. Anything! What you’re actually doing is forming your tribe. Your tribe will gladly help promote your works because THEY LIKE YOU. Because they’re your friends. And NOT because you spammed everyone with and reviews and quotes from your novels. (I’ve avoided more book buying by seeing people clip a really horrible line from their book and posting it on Twitter or Facebook.) (Be sure to follow the 80%–20% self-promotion rule here. More writers break this rule than not, and it’s REALLY annoying.)

FOCUS ON READERS While it’s true we should be involved in our writing organizations, it’s imperative that published authors, in particular, shift the focus of their efforts toward readers. We love to get caught up talking to other writers and industry pros and traveling to conferences, but other writers aren’t your target audience. Reach out to book clubs. Purchase ads in book club newsletters. Speak at your local library. Write articles on your blog that tie in with your novels, your platform, and interesting or fun or exciting information readers would like to see. Readers talk and share these morsels with others. Word of mouth is still the single most effective method of spreading the word about your books. Direct the bulk of your efforts to getting readers talking.

WRITE AMAZING, DROOL-WORTHY BOOKS The best way to gain more readers, to harness your success, is to write more books. The kind of books that send readers on a journey, that wrench open minds with a crow bar, that break hearts. Never stop working on your craft. It’s a skill and can only improve with practice, hard work, and time.

So get writing! And remember that being yourself and building relationships are the most effective marketing tools.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Heather Webb writes historical fiction for Penguin, including BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Jan 2015). In addition, she is a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. When not writing, she kicks around a local college teaching craft and industry courses, flexes her foodie skills, or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

Learn more about Heather and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Perils of First Person

by Katriena Knights

Many beginning authors start their writing adventures with first person. To many beginners, it feels more natural, more immediate, and even easier. But writing in first person carries a number of stumbling blocks and dangers that aren’t as obvious in third person.

So what’s the big deal? Write in first person, and your reader will feel like they’re right in the middle of the action, right? In fact, this leads to the first peril of first person writing—keeping your protagonist in the middle of the action. Which isn’t always as easy as it might seem.

If you decide to write your story in first person, you can’t recount any events that happen while your protagonist is absent. This can cause all kinds of problems, especially with a more complex story. You should take this into account when you’re plotting your story, and be sure your main character participates fully in any major plot twists. In Twilight, Stephenie Meyer commits a major faux pas in this regard by having Bella fall unconscious during a critical moment of the story’s climax. It’s a really good way to lose your reader. Apparently this didn’t bother her jillions of readers, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Another question to ask is particularly important if you plan to write a series. Can you sustain a first-person narrative over the course of your series? This approach is common in the YA and Urban Fantasy genre, but keep it in mind as you’re constructing your initial plans and proposals.

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon manages to make it through nearly two massive tomes without deviating from the POV of her main character, Claire Beauchamp-Randall-Fraser. But it’s not long before her story outgrows this POV, and Gabaldon starts dealing with the shortcomings of first person by using third person in various scenes. At first, she frames this as Jamie relating stories to Claire. But then she also needs to tell Bree and Roger’s story, and that’s when the first-person train goes completely off the rails. The bulk of Gabaldon’s epic series is told in alternating first and third person, with the only first-person sections being those told from Claire’s POV. I’m not saying it doesn’t work—it works very well in these books. But it’s a tricky thing to balance, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach.

Another fairly common approach to first-person narrative is to alternate the POV characters, telling each section from a first-person perspective. This can be an effective way to explore more than one character, but there are some pitfalls here, as well. Don’t try to use too many characters—your reader is likely to get confused about whose POV she’s in. Also, it’s very important to vary the narrative voice. I’ve read some alternating first-person POV stories where the voices of the characters were virtually identical, even though one was female and one was male. This made it very difficult for me to orient myself, since there were few proper names to let me know whose head I was in.

I’m not one of those readers who’ll flat-out refuse to read a book if it’s in first person—although they do exist—but like any reader I can be pulled out of a story if the technique falls short. So when you’re considering the structure and plot for your first-person story, think about addressing some of these possible problems so you can head them off at the pass.

(By the way, this post is brought to you by my laboring over my recent WIP, the sequel to Necromancing Nim, which is written in—you guessed it—first person.)

Free Your Writing Soul, and Write Better as a Result

By Tina Ann Forkner

My debut novel released in 2008 from a legacy publisher. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? And it was, for a while. When my next novel came out in 2009, it looked to some people like I was on the publishing journey every aspiring writer wanted. When 2010 came and went and I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t worry too much. I was tired, and besides, plenty of writers have gone a few years between books and it didn’t hurt their careers. Maybe 2011 would be my year, but that year came and went too.

Forkner_Waking Up Joy2012 and 2013 were years of several near misses, a few promising projects that fell through before a contract could ever be signed, and several all-out rejections. And now here we are in 2014 and Waking Up Joy has finally released. Yes, that’s five years from my last book, people. Five. So why did it take so long?

The answer is complex, but soon after my second novel was published, the book world was doing somersaults in the midst of huge economic and technological change. Somewhere in the middle of all the publishing craziness when my early novels were releasing, I lost sight of what mattered most. With publishers’ budgets shrinking, I needed to work harder to let people know about my books and it was no longer about writing.

All the pressure made me feel as if blog posts, tweets, and status updates were the keys to selling my books, and I didn’t like it. I felt as if I were toting a box of my books around on my back hollering to anyone who might be listening, “Here, buy my book! PLEASE!” I felt pathetic. I felt fake. I felt like a fraud, but I did it because a lot of people had invested time in my book. I wanted to be a good author, but when multi-published authors like myself were no longer guaranteed publishing contracts, I felt discarded and hurt by the industry. Not knowing when publication would come again, I asked myself why I was still busting my backside for no pay while I had bills to pay and my family stood outside my office door asking if I could come out and play.

I wanted to play again, so I decided to stop taking the pursuit of publication so personally, and I slowed down. Fortunately, I had a great agent who believed in the book I was writing and I knew he would continue to shop my proposals. In the meantime, I had three beautiful kids I’d shown off at both of my book launch parties who were growing up faster than the book industry was changing, and I decided to focus on what meant the most to me. I wrote, of course, but I did so at my own pace. I kept a half-hearted online presence, just in case I ever got published again, but overall, I laid low. Let me tell you, scaling back for a while was the best decision I ever made.

Slowing down might sound like a career killer to some writers, and sometimes I wondered if it would be, but I was willing to risk it for my own sanity, and for my family. It’s not as if I didn’t write during the breaks I took (I took more than one). I did, but on the days I opened my manuscript to revise and fine tune my story, I wrote slower and better. Sometimes, I didn’t write novels at all, and those were the times I gave to my family, to myself, and to my soul. I also went back to work, which I highly recommend for all writers. It’s good to get away from your desk to be around human beings, and I don’t have to tell any of you, there’s nothing like getting paid.

So, if you’re reading this and you know for a fact you don’t need a break, then that’s great. We are all on a different mile of this writing journey. But if you think you’re burning out and publication has become more important than the beautiful act of writing, or worse, more important than your personal well-being, then you might consider scaling back. Personally, it has worked for me.

It’s funny how when I slowed down and focused on the act of writing instead of on the frenzy of publication, the writing flow came back. Now that I’m releasing a new book, I’m back in the race, so to speak, but this time it’s not really a race, and I’m ready.

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Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner is a Women’s Fiction writer and the author of the new novel Waking Up Joy from Tule Publishing Group. She is also the author of Rose House and Ruby Among Us from Random House. Tina’s new book is set in Oklahoma where she was raised, but she makes her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she is a substitute teacher and lives with her husband, three teenagers, and two spoiled dogs.

Learn more about Tina and her novels at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.