Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Make Sure Your Settings Don't Sound Like Everyone Else's Settings

Courtesy Wikipedia

One of the aspects of writing where I know I’m deficient is in my descriptions of settings. My descriptions tend toward the bland and boring, assuming I even remember to add them in the first place. I’m so focused on keeping the reader grounded in the events driving the story forward, I rarely think about the setting—that is, until my CPs gently point out they know nothing about the surrounding area. I have to force myself to go back and add in the details, and to be honest, they’re usually pretty telling. Sigh...

I’ve studied various books on setting descriptions, but my biggest “aha” moment came when one of my CPs submitted a chapter to our writing group, a scene that took place in a floral shop. Since I’m not great at descriptions, I didn’t notice anything wrong until one of the other members called her out, saying her description of the floral shop was blah and boring. The author’s first impulse was to simply cut them out, but as we pointed out, then she’d have no setting details, which would make the situation even worse.

After studying her chapter for a while, I finally realized what the real problem was. It wasn’t that her descriptions were poorly worded, it was the fact that the examples she used to describe the shop—flower arrangements hanging on the wall, shelves lined with jars of dried plants, the sweet smells of flowers, etc—could have been used to describe most any floral shop in the world. And that’s when it hit me. As an author, you don’t want to choose details that show why your floral shop is like all the other floral shops, you want to show why this floral shop is different than all the others. A difference that, hopefully, helps drive the story forward.

Descriptions need to pull double duty to justify their existence in your story. They can be used to hint that something mysterious is going on, or to give us a window into the MC’s feelings at the moment, or to foreshadow things to come. So if you can’t find anything unusual or unique about your location, either find a way to make it unique or consider moving the scene to a different spot. 

Setting should always be used to drive your story forward.

ChemistKen


Friday, May 20, 2016

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 125

This morning, I find myself staring out the window at the dozen or so flats of flowers that need to planted this weekend.  Back in my pre-writing days, I used to dedicate vast amounts of time to gardening, much to my wife's displeasure, but after I was bitten by the writing bug, it's become increasingly harder to pull myself away from the computer.  I feel guilty if I'm not spending every last spare moment writing, and as a result, my garden has suffered.

I'm not complaining.  It's just an occupational hazard of being a writer.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links!

ChemistKen

Starting an Email Newsletter: Why to Do It and Which Service to Use

How To Turn Your Setting Into An Obstacle Course

Infusing Emotion into Every Scene and Chapter

Why Your Ebook SHOULD NOT Look Like a Print Book

Story Twinkies: Do You Need One?

One, Two Three, Notice Me: The Rule of Three (And How it Helps Our Writing)

Awesome Stakes with Bill and Ted



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Who Do I Believe -- My Gut Or My Critique Partners?

Last week I submitted the latest chapter of my story to my crit group, and while the response was positive (several members said it was my best chapter yet), one of the members expressed concern that even though there were some bits of action near the end, not enough had occurred that pushed the story forward.

In one sense, I have to agree with her. This chapter was meant to be more of a sequel, a time for the character to regroup after the excitement of the previous chapters. A chance for her to learn both about the trouble she’s in and about the new character she’d just found herself partnered with. There’s some action at the end, while she’s trying to escape the bad guys and make it to the bus station, but my CP didn’t think that this wasn’t enough to justify the chapter.

Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I listen to her and get rid of some of the non-actiony stuff, or do I go with what my gut tells me: that the reader needs (and wants) me to spend some time establishing the relationship between the MC and her paranormal partner before the next wave of action engulfs them. I mean, isn't that pushing the story forward too?

Some of you may suggest the old adage that I should always go with my gut. Unfortunately, my gut has led to plenty of “too much dialogue, not enough action” comments peppering my critiques over the past year, so I know I still don’t have a good feel for the proper proportions. So what's a writer to do?

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what my other crit group thinks when they get the chance to read the chapter.

Isn’t procrastination wonderful?


ChemistKen

P.S.  How do you decide who to believe?



Friday, May 13, 2016

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 124

Some of you might recall my Insecure Writers Support Group post from last week where I bemoaned the prospect of writing a chapter from scratch in order to have something to submit to my crit group. For the past six months, everything I've shown them has been material I'd already hammered away on for a year, words that had undergone countless rewrites. I dreaded the thought of handing these writers a chapter I'd only worked on for a few weeks.

Turns out they thought this chapter was my best one so far. Either I'm getting better at rough drafting, or else all the rewriting I do is actually making things worse. Sigh... We'll see what my other crit group agrees.

Anyway, have a great weekend and enjoy the links!

Chemistken

How to get a great book contract in 5 steps

Royalty Clauses in Publishing Deals: How (& How Much) Authors Get Paid

3 Things We Can Learn From Marvel’s Civil War

Plot Obstacles: Too Easy, Too Difficult, or Just Right?

Don’t Accidentally Give Your Characters a Time Out 

How to Write Characters Who Don't Sound Like You

Secrets to Turning Your Facebook Page into an Epic Marketing Tool




Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Backstory Is For Writers, Not Readers

The other day I was reading a medieval fantasy, and even before I hit the first plot point, the author launched into a multi-page explanation of the gods of that world, the different religions, and how the various races—elves, dwarves, men, goblins, etc—came to be. He tried to prevent it from becoming an infodump by revealing this information via dialogue, letting one character explain it to another, but it was still a pace-killing infodump. Now infodumps are rarely a good thing, but they can be especially painful when it’s clear we’re not going to need any of this information by the time the story’s over.

Why would an author dump all this information on us if we didn’t need it? Because he spent many a night entertaining himself by coming up with all these interesting nuggets of information, and by god, he wanted to make sure we had the chance to enjoy them too.

It reminds me of my old Dungeons and Dragon days, when those adventure modules you purchased included all sorts of backstory. I’m sure the designer of those modules had fun inventing the intricate backstories for these worlds, and I’m sure many of the dungeon masters who purchased these modules enjoyed reading the details, but 99 times out of a 100, none of those details ever trickled down to the players actually adventuring through the game. I mean, what’s the point in including notes about the unsavory hygienic habits of a long dead demigod that no one has heard of and doesn’t show up in the game?

Heck, one of my crit partners once gave me his story bible for the story I was critting for him. This tome had all sorts of info on how the races came to be, how many wars they’d fought, anecdotal stories about legendary figures, explanations as to how the languages came about… All information that would have given even the sternest of dungeon masters a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, but none of which had anything to do with the story he was writing.

It’s important for the writer to know the backstory of their worlds. It’s helpful for keeping the facts consistent. It may even help to explain the motivations of one or more of the characters. But if the reader doesn’t need to know the details, they probably shouldn’t be burdened with it.

Backstory is for writers, not readers.

ChemistKen


P.S.  Hey, I love me some good backstory, just find a reason to make it relevant, okay?




Friday, May 6, 2016

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 123

This week's writing links are late once again, but at least this time I have an excuse. I simply couldn't find seven links from this past week that I thought you'd appreciate. I finally compromised by including two links from previous weeks.

Why do I insist on having seven links? Because seven is an important number in the alchemical world. Hey, I'm a chemist, okay?

Question:  How many of you are going to see Captain America: Civil War this weekend?

ChemistKen


Plumb the Emotional Depth of Your Setting

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Reader Retention Plan? Part Three

Where To Start Your Story Getting Stuck)

Mythbusting The Amazon Algorithm – Reviews and Ranking For Authors
I found this article petty darn interesting. I highly recommend it!

10 Things You Ought to Learn before You Self-Publish Your Book 

Five Comparisons NOT to Make for Your Book

Tips to Crafting a Successful Novel Series

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Insecure Writer and the Blank Page


Today is May's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I'm staring at something I haven't seen in over a year.  The dreaded Blank Page.

During the past year, I've worked hard to have something ready every month for my critique groups. For the most part, I succeeded, (yay!) but I was helped by the fact that all the scenes and chapters I submitted had mostly been written some time ago.  I may have had to completely revamp them (sometimes more than once) before I presented them to my CPs, but the basic structure was already in place.

Unfortunately, I've now reached the point where I have no more previously written chapters to submit, which means it's time to start drafting again.    Now I don't mind writing first drafts, I usually find them to be the most fun part of writing, but I barely had time to finish chapters for my crit groups when they were mostly already written.  How am I going to keep up when I'm starting with a Blank Page?

Oh, by the way, my next submission is due tomorrow.  :(

------------------------------------------------------------------

On a happier note, let's move on to someone who fought the battle of the blank page and won.  Last month, Misha Gerrick released her new book, Endless, and while in the throes of her resulting euphoria, agreed to let me interview her.



Misha, how long have you been writing?

Fourteen years in May. (Although I'd been writing without being serious about it for longer and creating stories since before I could write.)

What inspires you to write? 

99% of the time it's a character walking into my head insisting that I write him/her. If I'm intrigued by the character, I'd go write the most difficult story imaginable to see what happens. 

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

Part time. Mostly, I'm constrained by time. Especially this time of year.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

I wanted to write a fast paced book with lots of voice and snark. Succeeded there, I think.   

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  

I actually don't. I read very widely, and see merit in any genre, so when I start with a story, I don't really pick the genre until I'm already drafting. Sometimes even later. I don't say. "Hmm. Today I'm going to write Urban Fantasy." I rather think in terms of: "I'm writing about an immortal with amnesia." And then see where I'm going to get. 

At one stage, I thought that Endless would have a bigger thriller element, but my characters didn't let me do that.  

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

The writing wasn't hard at all. Once I had the idea and knew where I wanted to go, the book basically wrote itself. But the hardest thing to perfect in edits was Ryan's voice. 

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Writing Nick and Vince. Both are tortured, but both cover it up with some heavy doses of dark humor and snark. I love it. 

What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn't so?

I remember when I was writing the story, someone asked me what I was working on. I said that I was working on an urban fantasy that wasn't about angels, demons, vampires, werewolves or fairies. And almost everyone in the comments said it couldn't be done. 

Well...

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I believe in "to each his own" for both readers and writers. But as someone who studied business and economics, I think the trade publishing industry needs to overhaul the way they see writers or else they will continue to create their own competition. 

Writers aren't a commodity and trade publishing isn't the end user. Trade publishing is the middle man (and highly inefficient at it). The faster they realize they should approach writers as clients instead of acting like they're doing us a favor, the better off everyone will be. 

Personally, I'm steadfastly on the self-publishing track at the moment because I just can't see myself jumping through a million loops just for the "favor" of losing 75% of the book's income for a dwindling basket of services in return. (Currently: No marketing, less and less editing, cover design that's really not that expensive, shrinking advances, print runs that actually count against the writer if the book doesn't sell, a growing unwillingness to take a risk on books -- I ask you: If my book is a 90% risk free deal where I'm certain that it'll make thousands of dollars with minimum input, WHY would I sacrifice the largest portion of my income?). 

However, the moment I see the basket of services actually expanding in a way that benefits me to the point where sharing the income is justified, I would definitely hop onto the trade publishing track again. 

How do you find or make time to write?

Probably going to be anti-climactic as an answer, but I make time by not doing a lot of other stuff. I actually see writing as my second job, so I'll start writing as soon as I leave the office. I also wake up two hours earlier to write before I go to work. I only watch TV or do other things once I finished my writing session for the day.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? 

I pants my rough drafts and plot my rewrites. (I have to rewrite to get my rough drafts onto my computer.) 

What projects are you working on at the present?

I'm writing the sequel to Endless and editing the sequel to The Heir's Choice from my Epic Fantasy series. Then I'm working on a historical romance, a contemporary romance, a dystopian and two YA Urban Fantasies. Amongst other things. I have about fifteen projects in the pipe-line at the moment, revolving every month depending on what needs to be done and what needs to rest. 

Thanks for stopping by and answering my questions, Misha.  Good luck with Endless.



About the Author

Misha Gerrick lives near Cape Town, South Africa, and can usually be found staring at her surroundings while figuring out her next book.

If you’d like to see what Misha’s up to at the moment, you can find her on these social networks:






About the Book

First, do no harm.” Blake Ryan swore that oath to become a doctor. Ironic, given that he spent most of his thousand year life sucking souls out of other immortals.

Things are different now. Using regular shots of morphine to keep his inner monster at bay, Ryan has led a quiet life since the Second World War. His thrills now come from saving lives, not taking them.

Until a plane crash brings Aleria into his hospital. Her life is vibrant. Crack to predators like him. She’s the exact sort of person they would hunt, and thanks to a severe case of amnesia, she’s all but defenseless.

Leaving Aleria vulnerable isn’t an option, but protecting her means unleashing his own inner monster. Which is a problem, because his inner monster wants her dead most of all.



Excerpt

This had to be what dying felt like. Floating outside my body, waiting for that final link to my life to be severed, only vaguely aware of indescribable pain. More screams than I could count rose up around me. Hundreds of footsteps beat against tiles. I couldn’t open my eyes if I wanted to. Not when it was easier to listen and wait. People shouted for a doctor or an IV, or a thousand other things that made no sense. I listened to all the chaos, trying to untangle it in my thoughts.

Soon, I could go. The peace around me was so relaxing, completely out of place in the clamor I heard. I wanted it. To rest forever in that peace. Why not? There was a very good reason, but I couldn’t call it to mind.

A numb buzz shot through my body and shattered my serenity.

It happened again. Only this time was more of a sharp pulse. The third time jolted like lightning. The fourth…Hell. Suddenly, the screams were coming from me. My heart’s relentless thundering added to my torment.

Pain.

Everywhere.

My chest burned like fire. It hurt to breathe. Cold air drove down my throat and into my lungs, amplifying the inferno in my chest. My skin felt scorched. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t right.

I had to see. I had to understand why pain dominated my existence like this. My eyes were fused shut. My breaths grew shallow, trying to draw air when there was none. I tried to clench my teeth. I bit hard plastic. A pipe. Cold air suddenly forced back into my lungs, out of time with my own breathing. This was wrong. It wasn’t safe. I had to see. The best I got was a little fluttering of my lashes.

A high-pitched beep shot through my head. It repeated again and again. I wanted to reach over and slam my fist into its source. My arm wouldn’t lift. Something kept it trapped. A scream rose up from the depths of my soul, but the pipe jammed inside my throat stifled the sound. I only managed a whimper, trying my best not to gag. More air blasted into my lungs against my will. What was going on? I was trapped in my own body, but why?

I needed to move. I had to move. Now. Before… Even… Even though… Panic gripped me. The beeps increased at a frenetic pace. I needed to move. To be gone. Didn’t matter where. Just not here. Not defenseless. Not trapped.

The air sucked out of my lungs. I gasped, choking on nothing, strangled by invisible fingers. I tried to convulse my body. To twist myself free of what’s holding me.

Nothing.

The air rushed back in a cold flood. Seconds later it left, only to return in the same amount of time.

There was a rhythm to the air. In… out... in… out… The breaths were slow—sleep-like. I concentrated on this rhythm, striving to clear my head. If I wanted out, I needed to think. Calmly. Clearly. Eventually, those irritating beeps slowed. I tried to focus past the sound.

Voices buzzed about me, adding to my need to see, to do something to protect myself. No one seemed to pay attention to me. Good. I could use that to my advantage.

I centered my every thought on moving my little finger. It finally jerked, but collided against something solid. So the thing trapping my arm was physical and too heavy for me to lift. It was better to be trapped than paralyzed. With luck I could escape my restraints. I tried my other hand, but it was cemented stuck as well. Right leg. Left leg. Damn it! Both trapped. I had to move!

No.

No, I needed to stay calm. I tried to make larger movements, biting the pipe in my mouth against the urge to scream in pain. There was no wiggle room.

Fearing that I might be blindfolded, I focused on blinking. It worked. My eyes opened and the blur faded, revealing ceiling tiles. Why would there be tiles? Where was the canvas of hospital tents? The distant sounds of bombs dropping? The power of their explosions rushing through my blood?

No. That wasn’t right. I wasn’t there.

Where was I, then?




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