Writing a Novel is…

writing a novel is

Which is why I’m only on page 55 of the third draft. Do you want your book to be good or fast? I’m going for good.

Writer Chick

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Does Anyone Need a Book?

does anyone need a book?I’m a writer.  I’ve always been a writer.  I write because I need to write.  I write because I love to write.  I write because it’s who I am.

And writing, though it has its challenging moments is the fun part.  It’s the part where I get to go somewhere of my own creation.  Where I get to converse with people who were born in my imagination.  Where I can go on any kind of adventure I want.

But there is another part of writing.  The business side.  I don’t mean the freelance business side.  That’s a post for another day (or never).  I mean, the part where you sell your book.  I always feel a little funny about that whole idea.  Selling my book.  It kind of feels like selling my child.  Not that I don’t want people to read it, I definitely do – but the selling part…I don’t know, it makes me feel a bit cheap.

There is no logical explanation for this feeling.  All writers sell their books, or at least try to sell their books.  Some authors are incredibly good at doing it too.  Some authors have platforms and marketing plans and Facebook contests and millions of followers and merchandizing deals.  It’s impressive.

And I think, I need to do that.  I need to have a platform and followers, a marketing plan and I could really get down with some Scotti and Zelda  hats, tees and aprons.

But then I get hung up.  Then I have to delve into that whole marketing thing.  And marketing is a completely different animal than fiction.  I suppose there is some aspect of make-believe about it but mostly it’s about finding the people who need your book.

That’s where I get hung up.  Do you need my book?  It’s not food.  It’s not shelter.  It’s not health insurance.  It’s just a book, right?  People can live without books.  Some may not be happy about it – but it’s doable.  You could have a perfectly good life without ever reading fiction.

And even if you could make the case that somebody needs a fiction book – which clearly thousands of authors have done – the question that still remains for me is, do they need my book?

It started as a casual conversation over dinner

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend.  We drove out to a seafood place and had a proper dinner with appetisers, main courses, dessert and coffee.  It was lovely and something neither of us do that often.

Somehow we got on the topic of the book I am currently writing.  He asked me what it was about.  So I gave him the two sentence blurb.  Then he asked me to tell him the story.  I was shocked because usually my friends nod and smile, say ‘that’s nice’ and we move onto other conversation topics.  But he actually wanted me to tell him the story.

So I did.  I started out thinking I would just give him the highlights but instead I ended up telling him the story.  The entire story.  And the more I talked, the more I told the story, the more enraptured he became.  I can’t remember a time when anyone had so thoroughly hung on my every word.  The look on  his face was somewhere between joy and euphoria.  It was a-maz-ing!

I never knew that something I made up, something I imagined would bring someone joy.  Would entice another human being so much.  I wished I could bottle his reaction and the feeling I got in seeing his reaction.

We ended up staying at the restaurant until closing because he didn’t want me to stop the story.  And when I was finished he said, “I should really read. I need to read  your book when you’ve published it.”

This was even more touching because this particular friend is not a reader.  Which was one of the reasons that I was so gobsmacked that he wanted me to tell him the story.

So the point is?

I realized that people really do need books.  And that they don’t have to be informative books or books where you learn how to do something.  People need fiction.  It may not feed their bodies but it can feed their soul, or their imagination or their mind.  Or maybe just give them a very inexpensive ticket to a fun vacation where they aren’t required to leave home.

It’s so easy for writers to feel frustrated and that nobody cares about this little story they are writing.  But I think that if you could have been there and seen my friend’s face, you’d feel differently.

So people do need books.  They need your books and they need my books.  They need food for thought, for the soul, just for the fun of it.

I’m still not very good on this marketing thing and frankly it scares the hell out of me.  But at least I know that people do need books.  So that’s a start, right?

Do you need books?  What needs do books fill for you?

Copyright 2014

Should a Writer Give Her Characters Their Own Blog? Well…I did

BFFs scotti zelda

As I’ve been working on the current novel, I have come to love the story, but for as much as I love the story, I love the characters even more.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent many hours each day with them and have watched as they’ve gone through hell and high water to prevail, or that with each new challenge they’ve grown and changed, but whatever it is I can’t seem to get enough of my new BFFs.

So, I thought it would be a hoot to give them their own blog.  I have no idea if anyone else will think it’s a hoot, or want to go by and meet them and see what they’re all about.  But I hope you do.  So, consider yourself officially invited to Scotti & Zelda’s Blog – The real-life adventures of fictional sleuths.

Scotti, Zelda and their peeps, promise to entertain and inform by offering tips, tricks and anecdotes.  Recipes, DIY tips and doggie poetry are just a few of things you’ll find there.  And God knows what else, once things get rolling.

Anyway, there you have it.  Be there or be square.

Writer Chick

copyright 2014

To Plot or Not to Plot – That is the Question

to plot or not to plot

While I have been writing the first draft of my novel, plot has played a significant part of the scheme.  Naturally, stories have plots, so what’s the big deal?

It all started with an outline.  It has never been my process to write an outline.  Sure, I’ve jotted down notes and have been known to write extensive character profiles but the jumble of notes, snatches of dialogue, and ideas about scenes even in its aggregate could never have been called an outline.

After reading a pretty good case for outlining written by J.A. Konrath in the Newbies Guide to Publishing I became convinced there would be benefits galore to my writing an outline, and among these benefits were:

  • After devoting a week to 10 days to an extensive and thorough outline, I could finish a first draft in a month
  • My daily output could be more than doubled
  • I could write two to three books a year using this method
  • I would probably never write myself into a corner again

To be fair, I wasn’t promised these benefits, I did infer them but still, it was these inferred benefits that spurred me on to write the outline.

The first bump in the road

Unlike J.A. my outline didn’t take a mere one week to 10 days.  It took over a month.  And to be honest, I never finished it because by the time I got through the second act plotting I was losing the juice that inspired the story in the first place.  So I just decided to start writing, lest I end up with an outline and nothing else.

I have to admit the outline did get me started but somewhere around the fifth chapter the characters decided the outline was crap and insisted on going off-script.  No matter how many times I herded them toward the outline, they bolted every chance they got.  I also spent a lot of time consulting the outline before writing, which made me and the characters pretty impatient and I found the sequence was often wrong once the story started to gain steam.

To my shock and awe I also frequently found myself in a corner and then had to re-think things to get back on track.

Including the time spent writing the outline; I am now three months into the project and still haven’t completed the first draft.

Then I ran out of outline

And, of course, since I didn’t bother to outline the last act I ran out of outline.  So there I sat, stuck and wondering what to do, where to go, and how to get there.  I knew the ending; I just didn’t know the path that would get me there.

Since my own method – the jump in and just start and make it up as you go along method – typically takes me about three months to produce a first draft, I had to laugh.  This new method that was supposed to (in my mind) make things go smoother and faster was taking about the same amount of time.

Life doesn’t have an outlined plot, why should a novel?

Then it dawned on me.  Life has no plot.  Oh sure in hindsight maybe.  But we all know that the best laid plans rarely work out as we expect.  We all know that no matter how much we plan and stick to the plan that things we couldn’t possibly anticipate happen.  And then we have to adjust.  And then we have to rewrite our plan.  And then we have to figure out where we go from there.  Life isn’t a plot but a maze we have to navigate.

So, the other day I just said, “Screw it,” and stopped thinking with the plot.  Instead, I started thinking with the story, with the characters, and with what was happening right then.  And things started to shake loose.

By letting go of the plot I can now see how to get to the end and what’s going to have to happen to get there.  But it’s not carved in stone.  It’s not etched in indelible ink that defies erasure.  It’s a sense of direction, it’s an understanding that like life, we can never predict with total certainty what direction things will take or how we’ll react when life or characters veer off.  It’s just being okay with the fact that vigilance and persistence gets you through to the end.

So, I’m through with plotting and back to writing

I mean no disrespect to any writer who does outlines and loves them.  It’s just that I’m not one of them.  Maybe you aren’t either.  Maybe your passion for the story gives you the instinct to follow the path that leads to the end without having to plot the course first.  Life is an adventure and so in my mind, is writing.

What do you think?  Outline or not?  What’s your process?

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

 

 

 

The Mind Hunter and Some Tips for your Mystery Story

Back before, The Profiler, Criminal Minds, Jack Crawford in Silence of the Lambs, and Thomas Harris the writer of said, Silence of the Lambs, there was the original Mind Hunter.

His name is John E. Douglas and he and small unit of other FBI agents took it upon themselves to ‘study’ and interview countless violent offenders to see if there existed common denominators among them.  And indeed they did discover that there were.

You may have heard of or read about the ‘triad’ that can be a predictor of future violent criminal behavior, namely bed wetting, cruelty to animals and arson.  Well, Mr. Douglas and his team were the ones who discovered that.

Although pop culture, movies and current fiction all connect criminal ‘profiling’ to the field of psychology, in fact, it didn’t evolve out of psychology at all.  It was the result of hundreds of hours of interviews and the codification of behaviors from actual criminals.  And although understanding the psyche of the human mind would certainly assist a profiler, it is not a prerequisite.  At least it wasn’t back in the day.

Since I have always loved mysteries and true crime and also write mysteries, John Douglas’s books were always of great interest to me.  In fact, this last week I have been re-reading The Anatomy of Motive.  Fascinating, really fascinating stuff.

In fact, he has an exceedingly simple formula in his book that leads him to the offender in cases.  Why + How = Who.  Any mystery writer out there reading might want to note that down.  Simply put, you assess what is happening, then you have to ask yourself and others involved why it might be happening and the answers to those two questions will likely lead you to who is committing the crime.

In his own words, Douglas explains: In every case we come across, the first question we ask is why?  Why is this happening?  Why does somene want to do something to this particular person or this particular company?  What does the threatener actually want?  Does the motive appear to be financial gain? Love? Sex? Vengeance? Punishment? Recognition? Excitement? Guilt? Satisfaction? Hate? Attention?  What is the threatener telling us with the threat to our or someone else’s well-being?

And while I write what is known in the mystery genre as cozies/amateur sleuth stories, I still see clearly how I can use Douglas’s experience and wisdom to enhance and improve my story.

This link  will lead you to a list of the many books Douglas has written but they should also be available at the library as well.

Another cool tip

In an earlier post I talked about taking the plunge and actually doing an outline for my new book, which is how this post came up because I was doing research for it, which led me back to the book.  Anyway….

In that previous post about outlining, I linked to the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Story Template.  It’s also pretty darn cool and I found this nugget in there:

The key to plotting a mystery is to understand that a mystery story is really three stories: The story of how/why the antagonist committed his crime, the story of how/why the crime affected the harbinger and the story of how/why the detective solved the case. The easiest way to weave these together is to write them in this order and then splice them together in the format explained above.

So the first thing you need to do is to write a dark crime story starring the antagonist.

Now, this has probably been written somewhere sometime but I’ll be darned if I’ve ever seen it before.  If I have, it definitely didn’t impinge. But it has now.  If you write mysteries too then you might want to write it down yourself.

Anyway, I’m happy to report, that although the outline is going slowly, I do have all my main characters figured out and have decided on a manner of death for my victim.  Writing mysteries is such fun.

And do watch the interview with Douglas above in the video – really interesting stuff.

Okay, good writing to you!

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

The 20 Stages of Writing a Book

20 stages of writing a bookSo my friend Zelda is writing a book – she’s decided that after years of consulting it was time to impart her wisdom to the world at large.

So, all fresh-faced and bushy-tailed Zelda dove in figuring it would take a few weeks, like maybe six or so to write the book, do a website, set up an ad campaign and she’d be off to the races.  Well I’m not sure but I think that was about three months ago.

Now, every time I talk to her she is on the verge of being done – and every other time I talk to her she has found a ‘bug’ that she had to work out so that some chapter in the book would line up with some other thing and the reader could actually use the information she is giving them.

So for the most part, aside from being glued to her computer 24/7 for a time period as yet unknown, Zelda is missing in action.

In fact, I swung by a couple of weeks ago to say hi (I also brought lunch) and I thought she was going to slug me.  (Word of advice: Never interrupt anyone on the ‘verge’ of completing a book.)

But all of this got me thinking about books and how they are kind of like babies.  Let me explain – a lot of people want babies, right?  They have dreams of tow-headed (or red-headed, or purple-headed) tykes filling a house with giggles and love.  It’s a beautiful picture right?  So women get pregnant cuz they gotta have that, right?  Then they go through nine months of being pregnant, they have morning sickness, weird cravings, swollen feet, have to go to the bathroom every ten minutes and end up with that waddle that pregnant women are famous for.  Still, they put up with it because they have that ideal vision of the baby, the giggles, the love.

Then they go into labor and I’ve heard tell that some women threaten to do terrible things to the people who got them in that situation…but I digress.  Still the vision lives on.

Then there are midnight feedings, no sleep, losing the pregnancy weight and somehow the vision…  Still.  Lives.  On.

Well a book is kind of the same thing.  You have this idea of how great it’s all gonna be when you’re at book signings and selling millions of copies and chatting it up with Ellen or Oprah or Katie on national TV.  And how cool it’s going to be when you get to haggle for the film and foreign rights and the awards, money, and fame.  Whatever it is that inspires you to want to write the book in the first place.  And the idea is so purely and deeply coming from your soul or your brain that you know, absolutely know that you can dash that puppy off in mere weeks if not a weekend and then…

You hit.  The 20 stages of writing a book:

  1. Stage one – you’ve sharpened your pencils, fired up your computer and gathered your notes.
  2. Stage two – you’ve exhausted your notes, references, images and everything else you had and realize you need to do more research.
  3. Stage three – you find a great source of research and figure you’re back on track and have only added maybe a week to your time table.
  4. Stage four – your research source has dried up and you can’t find a mountain of information you need to continue without actually leaving your home, visiting the library, interviewing somebody or learning a new skill.
  5. Stage five – you’ve gathered enough research to get through chapter seven but then realize that you have to back to chapter six because there is a whole sequence you forgot to include because you didn’t have the research for chapter seven when you wrote chapter six.
  6. Stage six – your life starts demanding things of you like working your day job, feeding your kids or pets, fixing that strange rumble in coming from your water heater or paying your cell phone bill.
  7. Stage seven – you have finally figured out how to do enough work to get paid doing as little as possible, so you can use most of your time writing the book which is currently going swimmingly.
  8. Stage eight – you ignore the voice mails, emails and knocks on the door from concerned friends who haven’t heard from you for so long they are convinced you have been abducted by aliens or are trapped under a mountain of boxes in the basement.
  9. Stage nine – you are hopelessly past your deadline and not even halfway through the project and you’re really starting to get tired of writing down your thoughts, ideas and words.
  10. Stage ten – at three a.m. you discover that though you are very hungry you have absolutely nothing in your house to eat except ketchup and some weird cheese you got for Christmas last year.  You are delighted when you discover half a protein bar in the trunk of your car and savor that as you write chapter twenty.
  11. Stage eleven – you have been wearing the same clothes for the last five days and don’t care.  Since you fell asleep at your desk last night the pages of the last chapter stuck to your face and your sweat has smeared them.  Now you have to reprint.
  12.  Stage twelve – you hit a wall – you have absolutely nothing left to give to the book.  Not one single thought in your head, except “I’m hungry.”
  13. Stage thirteen – you curse yourself for ever wanting to write a book and start looking through want ads for a second job, so you can afford to buy some food.
  14. Stage fourteen – you catch your second wind and the book is flying through your fingertips onto the keyboard.  You are in the zone and it’s all happening.
  15. Stage fifteen – your computer didn’t do its back up and your main file corrupted, so now you have to reconstruct the book from memory and crappy notes.
  16. Stage sixteen – you are now just writing the book out of spite because damn it, you aren’t going to let some damn book get the best of you.
  17.  Stage seventeen – you no longer distinguish day from night, you are in a permanent mental deprivation chamber and feel a sudden empathy for prisoners of war.
  18. Stage eighteen – you are about to write the final chapter and then realize you have no idea how to end it.  You had ideas when you started out but then it doesn’t seem quite right now.  Out of frustration you yell at your cat.
  19. Stage nineteen– you are forcing yourself through the final chapter and each word, comma and semi-colon is like a stab to your eyes.  You call friends to read them excerpts of the text just to make sure anything at all in the book makes sense.  And damn it, you need feed back.
  20. Stage twenty – you finish the book and allow yourself to sleep in your actual bed.  You wake up refreshed and alert, grab a cup of coffee and sit down at your desk.  Then you cry because you realize the only thing you finished was the first draft.

Those are my stages – how many stages do you go through when writing a book?

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013