Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Plotting-do you do it?

I always enjoyed mysteries, thrillers and suspense but I was told to write this genre you had to be very good at plotting. Hmmm. Plotting means outline, directions, timelines. Yeah, um, no. I don't do that. I tried it once and was so bored with the story by the time I did all the things you are supposed to do to be a plotter--scene outlines, chapter outlines, post-it notes, color coded plot points--that I never wrote the book. And so, sadly I thought I could never write a mystery/thriller.
Still I had this idea and these characters that would not go away. Someone said to me, write it. What do you have to lose? So, I did. I wrote it my way. I set off at the beginning with a general idea of where I was going and didn't even figure out who the bad guy was until the end. It was fun for me. Now the scary part- let someone else read it and have to listen to them tell me how poorly plotted it was-because well, it was. I didn't write a single outline or use even a tiny post-it. What came next was interesting. "Tightly plotted," they said. "I had no idea who did it until the end-then went back and saw all the clues." That book was Mr. Charming. So I thought, okay, let's fool them again. So, I wrote Dream Man and got, "Crazy how you weave all the bits together, leaving nothing to dangle." "A roller coaster ride of suspense." Hmmm, maybe just maybe I can write mystery suspense without all those graphs and charts and outlines.
The point in this story is: don't let what other people say is "the way" to do things discourage you from trying something. Yes, yes, most people save a lot of time and energy if they plot or outline. blah, blah, blah. But if it just doesn't work for you, don't let that keep you from writing the story you are supposed to tell. Every single one of us is different. There is room to try it your way. And if that doesn't work, you can always try something else. That's the puzzle part of writing-trying out new ways of doing things and seeing if they fit. Then discarding those that don't and moving on. The key is to not get discouraged if it doesn't work for you. Embrace your own true nature and above all-have fun!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Setting and season

Someone sent a note around one of my loops saying that they usually write a story in the season they are in--a common trick so that all you have to do is look out the window to get a strong feel for what the weather is like. But then she went on to say that this time she is writing a story set in the dead of winter. Her question is how do you keep the setting true to the season when you are not living it?
I think that is a very valid question. Seasons can play an important role in a story and the weather can be a character as well. A character that has a direct effect on the conflict and the outcome of the story. Trying to find a killer in a blazing sun with 110 degree temps is a lot different than following clues in Spring when the wind whips around you and the ground is muddy mush. Falling in love in a sleigh ride during a soft snow storm is a lot different than a subtropical jungle where your bodies are coated in sweat.
So, how do you keep the setting true to the season when you are not living it?
Step one: research. I listened to a presentation at Seton Hill University by the wonderful Meg Mims on setting the scene. She sets her books where she lives. She keeps the seasons true by taking the time to go outside once a month and walk the highways, byways, streets and fields and take notes. She keeps a notebook full of observations on angle of sunlight, temperature, wind against her skin, what type of bird song she hears, what animals and insects she sees. This notebook is her guide when setting her stories in a season.
What if you are setting your books in a place where you don't live? Some authors will visit that place in each season and take notes such a Meg suggested. But if you don't have the time or money to invest in that kind of travel-improvise. You can Google where ever you have set your story. There is weather, animal, and plant information available. Go to a zoo and visit the bird buildings to get a real feel for what birds look like and sound like from your list. The same with native creatures like raccoons, or opossums. If it's summer and you are writing about the dead of winter-go into the penguin exhibit, look at the arctic foxes.
Step two: You've done your research but you are having trouble bringing that data to life in your work. Trick yourself. Set the scene where you write. For example: When I lived on the south pacific island of Guam the weather on Christmas day was the same as the weather on the 25th of July. (75 for a low 90 for a high with soft tropical breezes.) Many military families improvised. They used spray snow on their windows. Turned their air-conditioners way up (for only one day). They covered the windows to bring in the feel of darkness you get in December in the northern latitudes. Some even went so far as to bring in electric fireplaces. Or you can have a picture of a fireplace burning on your television set. They strung lights on tropical fir trees and for a few hours created the Christmas from home. Including the smells of popcorn and gingerbread. Physically set your scene. Play bird sound or Christmas music. Light a tropical candle or an evergreen scented candle. Use your imagination and create a season in your room. Remember all five senses. Then sit down and use what you did physically to help you richly translate the season onto the page.
Good luck, and remember-have fun. Writing is not worth all the trouble if you don't have fun with it. Cheers~

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What the future holds

There is a lot of talk in the industry right now about e-books and their potential for sales and growth. Publishers are grabbing up electronic rights from their authors in hopes of making a profit in this new market. Authors started it first, actually. Midlisters would get their copy rights back on books that were out of print for 5 to 7 years depending on contract, then they would revise, create a new cover and put them up for sale as e-books on Amazon.com or other places. Electronic book publishers provide editorial services and book covers as well as distribution for a 30 percent royalty rate. Now big NY publishers who all looked down their noses at electronic books are grabbing up e-rights and opening their own sites to sell books that can be read on various venues like the Kindle, Sony e-reader, I-pad, I-phone and even your own laptop.
There has been on-going discussion as to whether authors as a whole should just bypass publishers all together and format and edit their own work and create their own cover art. Then self publish in the e-format. Amazon promises to start offering 70 percent royalties to authors in May. Midlisters such as JA Koranth blog that there is real money to be made here. Check out his blog here. I read his arguments and his amazing paycheck numbers, but read this carefully. Note the vast amount of PR work he has done-7000 letters to libraries, 100 blogs in a month, etc. Also keep in mind that he is a Mystery writer. I think that some genres lend themselves more to e-readers than others. For instance Erotica has done a booming business in the electronic market but romance is relatively straight-lined. A midlist romance author followed Koranth's formula, putting a handful of books up for sale on Amazon and found she didn't have near his revenue stream. NYT Bestselling Science Fiction author John Scalzi wrote a fabulous blog-as a three act play- on reasons why an author needs a publisher. Read it here. Scalzi goes on to comment in another blog how his manuscripts generate jobs for at least ten other people and he doesn't have to pay them. Unlike a DIY (do-it-yourself) publication.
There are many arguments both pro and con here for keeping electronic rights or going DIY-and I don't mean purchasing a vanity press package to self publish. My advice to you as writers is to do A LOT of research on the matter and don't let Koranth's numbers put stars in your eyes. What he does takes a lot of work, dedication, luck and perhaps it doesn't hurt that he has so many hardcover books out first.
I know that I currently spend 12 to 14 hours a day working on writing, revising, marketing, blogs, social networking, etc. And I can tell you that my electronic books-while they have gotten fabulous reviews such as this one from Gotta Read Reviews-aren't even in the same sales ball park as Koranth's. Not even close. But I have my own reasons for e-publishing and am happy with the results.
I find this turn in the market place interesting and look forward to discovering what happens next. My advice to writers-as always, do your research. Know your reasons why you are doing what you do and ensure the how will back up your why. I promise if you do that you'll never be scammed and you'll never be disappointed. There are no shortcuts here. But it seems there is room to be creative. Cheers!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Do you write for money?

So, are you motivated by money? It's a good question and a hard question each writer faces at some point in their career. Yes, even bestsellers will face that question when they are on their 20th book with a character and want to move on but the publisher won't let them step away from the cash cow.
When you first start out writing somewhere in the back of your mind is the goal to make a living as a writer. It might be a dream. You might think you only want to see if you can publish one book, but why only publish one book? To say you did? Is that what truly motivates you through all the writing and revisions and rejections and edits?? Others say they want to publish a book that will change someone's life for the better. Nice altruistic thought, but if the book doesn't have widespread distribution or decent sales will it even find its way into the hands of the person whose life it could change?
Someone asked-what genre makes the most money? Their contention was that they would write that because they believe in making a fair wage for their work. I think the only guarantee of making a decent wage for your work is to ghost write or freelance and be paid by the word in advance. Or better yet go to work for a corporation as a technical writer. Otherwise it's a craps shoot.
I know a writer who is happy to say she is a writing whore- she'll write anything for money and happily puts out six series books a year to prove it. It's a business that works for her. It makes decent money and she can live off her work. Other writers put out six books a year and still make below the poverty level. It depends on the publisher.
Still some writers are offended by the idea that their books are anything less than works of art. And- while the book should make millions like any good work of art- the author themselves refuses to change anything about their art to make those millions, instead insisting that the book will find it's market.
Let's say you enjoy writing Regency romances. Would you write a futuristic zoombie horror story if your publisher paid you enough? How much would be enough?
I don't have any answers to the title question. I don't think there is one right or wrong answer to it. I only hope to make you think about your goals as a writer and an artist. Do you hope to create art or make a living? Or is your goal to hit the top of the New York Times list? If it is, then what? Writing is an art and a business. How do you see yourself balancing them both? Is it enough to simply say you're published? What do you think? I'm dying to know. Cheers~