Sometimes, I don’t want angst

When I’m yapping to my friend and fellow writer, M. L. Rigdon, about my idea for a new book, and I rattle off a list of things that I can see happening in it, she always stops me and says, “That’s all well and good.  You love plotting.  But…”  And then she lists the sacred mantra of character development:  1. What does the character want?  2.  Why does she want it?  3.  What will she do to get it?  Mary Lou starts books with characters who tug at her.  I start books with ideas.  A good book needs both. No matter how you start, you have to end up with both.  And you have to find balance.

Mary Lou, who used to perform on stage, has no problem whipping up fully developed characters in her nimble, supple brain.  She has no trouble developing angst either.  After all, the ebb and flow of drama pulses in her veins.  Her Regencies (written as Julia Donner) drip with angst.  And wit.  And humor, thank God, to offset it.

For Julia Donner’s books:  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=julia+donner

One of my other fellow writer friends, Kyra Jacobs, writes contemporary romances, like me.  I like them, along with lots of other people.  I’d love to visit the Checkerberry Inn, but she’s partnered up all the hot men there in her three book series, so I’d only get to look and drool.  But her books are fun, fast reads with heartwarming characters that lift my mood.

For Kyrs’s books: https://www.amazon.com/Kyra-Jacobs/e/B00E5PIJ04/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1 

That’s what I tried for when I wrote my Mill Pond romances.  I wanted to create characters who hooked me and life challenges I could relate to.  So I think I balanced the characters–what do they want, why, and what will they do to get it–and the plot (all the things that get in their way), but I still get feedback occasionally that my romances don’t have enough angst.  Now, I know I”m never going to please everybody.  I also know that I purposely tried to write fun, light romances–quick “feel good” reads, because sometimes, that’s exactly what I want.  Sometimes, I get damned sick of baggage piled on top of baggage. That’s why I’m not very good at deep, literary novels.  I’ve had enough baggage in real life.  I sure don’t want to read about it.  But the first time I read that my books could use more angst, I tried to add some.  Let’s face it.  No one gets through Life with a free pass.  But I got the same comments on that book.

So, I thought I’d add more angst between my protagonist and her romantic interest.  And I think I did a better job on that.  But I got the same review on that book as the earlier ones and fewer stars.  Sigh.  I’m grateful for every review I get (okay, maybe not EVERY review.  There are some I could do without:)  And I even think maybe I have a glimmer of what the reviewer meant, because–and I know this sounds strange since I’ve never met her–but I like this reviewer.  I’ve learned, though, that what one person calls “angst” might not be what I would call “angst.”  And if I ever write another romance, I’d fiddle with my next theory, but now I’m off to try my hand at mysteries.  Kensington offered me a three-book deal, and I’m pretty happy about that.  But let’s hope they have enough angst. Because I don’t have a theory on that yet.  And I’ve noticed that my least favorite book in a favorite author’s series is the one where she was the most depressed.  Bigger sigh.  I still haven’t made up my mind, I guess.

How do you define angst?

For my romances:  https://www.amazon.com/Judi-Lynn/e/B01BKZDQ68/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1501354126&sr=1-2-ent 

My webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

On Twitter:  @judypost

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Making it personal

Experts tell you to write what you know.  That always confused me.  I started out writing mystery short stories and I didn’t know much about crime.  I went to conferences and listened to panels on poisoning, fingerprints, DNA, and serial killer profiles, etc., because I wanted to get the basics right.  And I’d read lots of mysteries to know the rhythm and format.  But I finally decided that “write what you know” meant write what you emotionally know.  I’ve never killed a person, but I’ve sure been mad as hell, felt betrayed,  or wished a person out of my life–forever.  The thing is, what we live, what we feel, is what makes our writing real.

In my third romance, the protagonist’s dad dies soon after he retires from the army.  My dad didn’t get to live long enough to retire.  After a long bout with multiple myeloma–where his blood became so thick, he was hooked up to a machine that took blood out of his left arm, used centrifugal force to “clean it,” and returned it to his right arm–he finally lost the battle.  His blood got thicker faster and faster until his heart had to work too hard to pump it.  I didn’t want to do that to the characters in my book, so Paula’s dad got a quick, unexpected death, but I know that feeling of loss and the aftermath.  Paula tries to help her mom through her grief.  That, I know, too.  So do my sisters.  Paula, herself, has lost her military husband overseas, and she has two kids to raise.  My daughter’s a single mom, and even though we helped her, I know it’s no piece of cake to raise kids without a husband.

In my fifth romance (and it’s far, far in the future before it’s released), Joel–the love interest–is raising his daughter by himself, because his wife isn’t emotionally strong enough to deal with their daughter, who has cerebral palsy and will never be mentally older than twelve.  She’ll never grow up and move away.  She’ll always live with him.  Which Joel is fine with, because, lord, what a beautiful human being she is!  But she’ll always be a child–the good and the bad of that.  My cousin has cerebral palsy, and is maybe mentally eight or nine, and I remember my grandmother and my cousin’s mother worrying about what would happen to her after they died.  My sister, bless her, took her in, but I’ve met more people with those worries.  When a child won’t grow up, will never be able to make it on her own, what happens to her when you die?

In the romance I’m working on now, Karli goes to Mill Pond to deal with her grandfather, who’s mean and uncooperative, but is reaching the point where it’s not safe for him to stay in his own home without help.  I’ve been there/done that.  My John’s mom was unstable when she didn’t take her meds, and after John’s dad died, sometimes she took them, sometimes she didn’t.  Even though we checked on her every day and brought her to our house for suppers, it didn’t work. Our two small daughters got on her nerves.  She’d wake up at two a.m. and call us.  Her doctor finally told us, “Find a place for her, or she’ll be in the hospital.”  The doctor told Harriet, too, thank goodness, and then Harriet pushed for me to find a good nursing home for her.  Those decisions are almost always messy.  They’re messy for Karli in book six, too.

You don’t have to battle witches or vampires to find the right emotions for good to battle evil.  Most of us have battled something in our lives.  We know how it feels.  A writer’s life experiences and the emotions they invoke add depth to our stories.  So use what you’ve got.  Write what you know!

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twitter:  @judypost

 

 

Writerly Ramblings

Last week, I shared an article about what makes a bestseller.  The authors did research and believe that no matter the genre, tapping into the human condition–dealing with two themes we struggle with–(more gets to be too much)–helps readers relate to our stories. They also thought that showing characters react with each other, maybe sitting over a cup of coffee and talking, makes them more real.

A friend of mine came for lunch on Thursday, and we yakked even more writing.  We talked about some of our favorite books before we started to write.  It surprised us how much writing styles have changed from then to now.  We both were drawn to books with lots of details and description.  Sometimes, we read the first chapter and still had no idea where the story was going.  A lot of those books were told by a narrator or an omniscient author, putting distance between the writer and the reader.  Today, people like faster paced stories that are more immediate.  We like internal dialogue.  We want to live inside our protagonist’s skin, to feel what she feels.

When I first tried to write mysteries, I patterned them after my favorites, written by Agatha Christie. I got many a rejection letter that said, “Love your writing, but not what we’re looking for.”  Cozies were out of style.  But now that I think back, there was more to it than that.  I was using a writer’s style that wasn’t current.  How well did we know Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?  They were both clever and fun to follow, and I loved trying to solve the elaborate puzzles Christie laid out, but her characters’ lives remained vague.   It wasn’t until I read Nancy Pickard and Carolyn Hart that it occurred to me that the detective’s life should be as interesing and demanding as whatever mystery she was trying to solve.  The authors gave their characters jobs they cared about, romances that hit highs and lows.  They made their characters have bad hair days.  Made them feel real.

One of my favorite series to write, and the series I got the most feedback on–was my Babet and Prosper urban fantasy novellas.  Babet felt real.  So did Prosper and his partner Hatchet.  So did their supernatural friends.    Eventually, I want to try my hand at another mystery, but this time, I want my characters to feel as real as Babet and Prosper.  I want their personal stories to matter just as much as whatever crime they have to solve.  I’m not holding my breath that I’ll end up with a bestseller, but I think it will make my story stronger.  I can’t wait to give it a try.

I should never read Elizabeth George

Okay, everyone knows that writers need to read.  We learn.  We grow.  We re-energize.  We learn markets.  We internalize rhythms, techniques.  But there are some authors I should just stay away from.  And Elizabeth George is one of them.  I asked for a banquet of consequences for Christmas.  My sister bought it for me, but I was so swamped with manuscripts, I couldn’t get to it.  My good writing friend, Paula, read it and loved it.  We both appreciate Elizabeth George’s depth and language, her layers and nuances.  This last week, I finally got to start the book.  Poor me.

Elizabeth George makes me feel like I should sit in a corner and suck my thumb with a dunce hat on.  She makes me feel juvenile and inadequate, and I love her for it!  Every time I read her, she makes me want to strive harder, to show, not tell, to use small scenes to create big emotions.  She has a way of developing fully realized characters with strokes of dialogue, small gestures, telling details.  Sigh.  It’s a good thing she takes a long time between books, or else my ego might not survive.  She writes mysteries, but I consider her more of a literary writer.  The story’s characters outweigh the clues.  To be honest, I loved her early books, studied A Great Deliverance because I thought it was near-perfect, then had a rocky time for a few of her last books, but with this one, I’m back in reading Nirvana.

I feel the same way when I read a Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novel.  Briggs writes urban fantasy–and who knew a writer could make that almost literary?  But for me, she pulls it off.  Yes, there are battles, struggles, and plenty of mythology.  But once again, Briggs’s use of language and her emphasis on characterization lift urban fantasy into literary status.  Everyone has their own likes/dislikes.  And I usually avoid literary with a vengeance, but when an author can combine the two–boy, am I impressed!

I hope your favorite authors never disappoint and always inspire you!  Happy Reading!  And as always, happy writing!

 

Writing: My Experiment

I’ve put up 12 free chapters on my webpage for Babet & Prosper’s short novel RIVER CITY RUMBLE.  I have at least nine more chapters plotted.  It might go longer.  And I have to say, this has been an interesting experiment.  What have I learned?

  1.  As far as marketing, I’ve read on other blogs that offering free stories on your webpage helps increase sales.  I thought that if readers liked the chapters and free Babet and Prosper stories in the side column, they might spring for some of the bundles on Amazon.  I’ve gotten the occasional hit, but I’ve had better luck paying for advertising than offering free stories on my webpage.  I’ve had a lot more visitors, but that hasn’t translated into sales.  For now, I’m just happy I have more visitors and reach more people, so I’m okay with that.  But as a marketing tool, advertising seems to work better.
  2. As for writing, telling a story as a weekly serial has made me really concentrate on what I put in each chapter.
    1.  Have I kept the characters interesting and alive in the reader’s mind?  It’s been a week since they’ve thought about them.  Do they remember Viviane, Jacinta, or Hennie?  Have I made them distinctive enough?  How do I jump start their personalities again?
    2. Something significant has to happen in every chapter.  There are no “down” chapters that link from one event to the next.  Whatever happens has to be important enough to hold the reader for another week.
    3. Is there enough variety?  Yes, a chapter has to be significant, but I can’t write a battle for each of them.  Yet I want an event that’s significant, that makes the reader feel satisfied that it’s going to impact the final outcome.
    4. Have I offered the reader a variety of emotions?  Have I made the characters complex enough that they care about them?  Worry when they’re in trouble?  Be surprised about how they react?  Have I offered some laughter or amusement to buffer the tense moments?  Some warm or poignant moments to touch the heart?
    5. I try to permeate the feel of River City into the story.  I hope to show the bond between the protagonists who live there, so that each character is part of the whole.  The series is long enough, the cast of characters has grown, and it’s hard to give them each a part and let him/her shine.
    6. Am I cranking up the conflict and tension, so that things just keep getting worse, so that the final showdown will be big and bad enough to satisfy the reader?  Zanor won’t go down easily.  Defeating him has to test the protagonists past anything they’ve done before.

I’ve written other serial stories, but they’ve been short–four or five chapters, and I like them because they challenge me.  This is the first time I’ve tried a serial novel, something longer with more characters and events.  And it’s challenged me, too.  But I’m enjoying it.  Whatever you’re working on, I hope it stretches your writing muscles AND brings you joy.  Happy Writing!

 

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

If only…

I’ve been talking to a few fellow writers lately who are frustrated.  It happens to all of us. We ask ourselves, “If only we’d known…”  And then kick ourselves that we went in the wrong direction on our books, our careers, or our choices.  I look at the novels and bundles I have on Amazon and ask, “Should I have written something besides urban fantasy?  Why do I always pick glutted markets?”  I wasn’t even following a trend.  I just read one and liked it, and it sparked ideas for a series of my own, and then another, and…well, you get it.

Do I regret writing them?  Not really.  When I wrote mysteries, I hardly ever wrote action scenes.  I concentrated on plotting.  And motivations.  And clues.  With urban fantasy, you write a LOT of action.  Female characters kick ass.  And have attitudes.  Did I enjoy that?  You bet I did.  My characters changed.  They became more assertive.  I like that.

Way, way back when I’d only been writing for a few years, I went to a romance conference with two of my friends.  Gloria was interested in writing contemporary romance.  Dawn wrote historical romance.  At the conference, three panels met each hour.  I volunteered for the one no one else was going to.  I listened and took notes to share with my friends.  While they went to panels on How To Develop A Romance and Creating Historical Settings in a Romance, I attended The Blushing Typewriter–about sexy scenes and how to get in the mood to write them.  I learned a lot:)  A writer there asked if I’d like to co-write romances with her, but back then, I couldn’t imagine myself ever writing a romance, so I turned her down.  Do I regret that? Not really.  I wasn’t ready.

I think writers have to give themselves time to grow as people and as writers before they can tackle certain things.  A friend lamented, “If only I’d known character arc and plot points before I started my first book.”  I know I studied a book on plotting when I started out, but it didn’t do me much good.  I wasn’t ready yet.

Some people are naturals at things, and I admire that.  I’m not one of those people.  I have to learn by my mistakes, but do I regret my mistakes?  Not really.  I learn from them.  I gave myself time to grow.  I lived more, and experienced more.  I suffered more setbacks and hardships.  Laughed more.  Loved more.  Ate  more–(and it shows).  But all of it made my writing richer.  When experts say Write what you know, I only half listen.  I’ve never battled an evil voodoo priest or fought a necromancer.  When I was young, I was sheltered and naive.  And believe me, that was a blessing.  But now?  I can pull out lots of emotions. I’ve suffered lots of disappointments,  know what it was like for my dad to battle Multiple Myelama (a blood cancer) and for my mom to battle Alzheimer’s.  I’ve watched friends lose husbands and children.  Life beats you up.  You earn scars to offset all the good times.  And those scars, you can put into your writing.  Those are things you know.

I have a plastic, storage box in the basement, filled with novels that I wrote, sent to a few publishers, and then tossed in a drawer.  Would I ever take them out and try to rework them?  Hell, no!  Those were the novels that I cut my writing teeth on.  They’re filled with mistakes.  And it seems to me, when an author goes back to rework an old novel, he somehow reverts, and the mistakes drag him down.  I love each and every one of those novels, because they did what they needed to.  They taught me to write.  Because it takes a lot of writing until you get better at it.

Look at some of your favorite authors.  Read, if you can find it, their very first novel ever published.  Then read their current work.  Most writers–not all–get better over time.  So don’t mourn your novels that crash and burn.  Learn from them.  And grow.  Until you’re awesome!

my webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

Twitter: @judypost

 

 

 

 

Rewrites as you go: wrong? Not for me!

I just finished rewrites on the first fourth of my WIP. I’ve heard all of the advice: “Don’t edit as you go.” “Let the words and ideas flow.” “Write while you’re drunk; edit while you’re sober.” Those don’t work for me. They don’t work for Les Edgerton either, and here’s why: http://danaking.blogspot.com/2013/12/twenty-questions-with-les-edgerton.html Les’s writing blog, in general, is worth checking out. It’s chockfull of good advice: http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

Now, I have a few writer friends who HAVE to take this advice, because they border on the perfectionist side. They could spend YEARS rewriting the beginnings of their books. I’m talking about you, Kathy Palm, among others. (Kathy has a great writers’ blog, too, that I highly recommend: https://findingfaeries.wordpress.com/. And yes, she does believe in magic, but she’s also a fan of horror. One of her short stories is in the upcoming anthology Halloween Night: Trick or Treat–https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25673465-halloween-night). If you’re like Kathy, you have to MAKE yourself let go of your writing, or you could spend a lifetime perfecting one book. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).

I’m not a perfectionist. I have no such patience. AND, I strongly believe in rewrites when your story feels “off.” I’ve mentioned that I start each writing day reworking the pages I wrote the day before. One, that gets me back into the story. Two, after sleeping on my words, they don’t look as brilliant. I can add, tweak, clarify. I’m not sure I’d take the time to look at those pages so closely when I work through the entire manuscript. (I did say I’m not patient. Now maybe you’ll believe me).

The thing is, when your story’s “off,” you know it. You know something’s not working. Your gut sends a memo to your brain, and even if you try to ignore it, you can’t. You’d think that me–a plotter–could avoid this problem. Yes, I know my characters. Yes, I know nearly every single plot point. Does that guarantee I’ll get it right? Hell, no. It just means the basics will work–period. I plugged through 78 pages on my new novel, and I knew everything was in place, but did it work? Not for me. Something was missing.

Guess what? It’s hard to plot for emotional impact, for depth, for internal turmoil. Those come from your characters, not your brilliant planning. And those are the REAL things that drive a story. Plotting just keeps you on track. Your characters have to bring every single one of those plot points to life–and that means, your characters have to live and breathe and worry and cuss and drink a beer and eat a slice of torte when they want to lose weight, then be angry at themselves for succumbing to empty calories. Plotting won’t bring your characters to life. Only you, the writer, can make them real. But plotting can make them move from point A to point Z with few or no pages you have to pitch. It makes sure they start their journey from New York and end up in Indiana, where they belong. (Indiana’s my home state, and it gets bashed enough, so I’m defending it).

When I read through my first 78 pages, I realized I was hitting every plot point, but I hadn’t included enough of the characters’ motivations, hang-ups, and feelings. I knew how Paula (the protagonist) would react to what was going on around her. But she wasn’t hitting the right emotional notes. And that’s important. Emotional notes are what bring the character to life, what steers them through the story. I’ll follow a character I love through a mediocre novel, but I won’t follow a character I don’t care about through a brilliant novel. Something to consider. I can go back in my next set of rewrites to fill in more depth, more details IF I get the motivations right the first time around, but if they’re off? I’m in trouble, and my gut knows it. If I force it and keep writing ahead, I’d be going in the wrong direction. My scenes would focus on the wrong things. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can forge ahead, knowing I’m on the right path.

Here’s one more good writers’ link for you to consider: https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/. Readers view the world you’ve created through your characters’ eyes, mostly your protagonist’s. We often react the way the protagonist reacts. If the protagonist isn’t worried, happy..something, neither are we. We read to FEEL, to live through someone else for a brief period of time. Make your characters stir us.

P.S. I put a snippet from Voodoo and Panthers on my webpage, if you’re interested:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Follow me on twitter: @judypost

Trash Talking My Method

I have to knuckle down in September, get serious, and start work on a new novel. My break between books is over. I know it was a privilege that many writers don’t get. They barely have time to meet deadlines, so I’m grateful I had a pocket in time to play with different elements of putting words on pages.

When I wrote Witch Gone Bad, I learned that if I don’t know my characters well enough, the story stays flat, even if the part they play in it is small. I thought I could whip out a short scene a day, no problem, because I knew each part of the story and who’d tell it. No such luck. The characters just walked on stage, did their thing, and took a bow. Boring. The plot worked. The story didn’t. No emotional impact. It took three passes before I liked each part. If characters don’t breathe, neither does your story.

One of my friends, who did theater for years, has characters spring from her head, whole and fully formed. All of her training to find what really drives characters so that she could bring them to life on stage transferred to her writing. My characters aren’t that forthcoming. Mine make me work to know them, like meeting someone new for the first time. I learn a little more about them the longer I spend with them. In a novel, that means my first draft will never have the depth, the emotion, that I need.
I have to add that on my second or third pass through the manuscript.

My goal, when I start playing with the beginnings of a book, then, is to get the basics right. My theory is, if I just don’t screw up–so that I have to pitch major scenes–I’m happy. I can tinker and add to the bare bones, but if the skeleton’s wrong, I have to go back to work on the foundation. That’s why I make plot points. But it’s also why I try to nail my characters and what makes them tick.

My actress friend (Julia Donner) writes Regency romances, and when I panicked about writing a romance, her advice to me was solid. “Romances click when emotional problems and histories create a conflict, action, or a scene. A romantic story evolves from the inside out.” She uses Suzanne Simmons’ approach for characters: What do they want, Why do they want it, and What will they do to get it?
Her amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Julia-Donner/e/B00J65E8TY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1439754290&sr=1-2-ent

That works for her. Like I said, her characters are born whole. My answers to those questions tend to be too basic, like when I filled in the goal, motivation, conflict charts (I’m going to work on that), but I need more prodding. I don’t need TOO much, though. I have friends who write elaborate histories and charts to get to know their characters. I’ve tried that, but that much information overwhelms me. I get bogged down in details. That’s why I do character wheels with spokes crowded with sloppy, scribbled notes as I fill in the blanks. But the truth is, no matter what I do, I learn more and more about my characters as I write them. So, for me, I’m going to try a few more steps before I start my next book–something to keep me on track–but without drowning myself in info. I’ll share, but my method doesn’t work for my friends, so it might or might not help you.

(I’ve listed some of this information on my blog posts before, so you can skip this, if you want to:)

1st: What kind of person is ____________ ? (I like a SHORT answer, something that will stick in my head. For example, in the romance I just finished, I described Brody as brooding.)

2. Why? What made him/her that way? (Brody focuses on his failures or possible failures more than he focuses on his successes. He wants to do the right thing, the right way. He thought he had his life mapped out, had made all the right decisions, and then went through a bitter divorce. Making the right decisons, in his mind, failed him.)

3. What does he/she want? He wants to be happy.

4. Why? {Success didn’t make him happy–his marriage was too one-sided, and failure (his idea of divorce) made him more unhappy. He isn’t sure what to do next.}

5. Fill in my character wheel. (Shirley Jump–http://eating-my-words.com/–did a workshop on this, and it was wonderful. I’ve played with it to make it work for me). Here’s my version:

In the center of typing paper, draw a small circle. Fill in: name, description of character–hair/eyes/build, age, and tag word or phrase for his personality. Draw 7 spokes off the circle.
Spoke 1 = Family. Draw lines off that spoke for father, mother, brothers, sisters, any family member important to him. Give name and how they got along, any important info.
Spoke 2 = Education and training (did he like it? Why or why not? Any mentor?) What career did it lead to?
Spoke 3 = Where does he live? What vehicle does he drive? What does it say about him?
Spoke 4 = Relationships (past/current romances. When and why ended?)
Spoke 5 = 2 friends he can talk to–a reflector and ally. How do they see him?
Spoke 6 = Quirks (fears, habits, hobbies, like & dislikes)
Spoke 7 = Enemies/antagonists/opponents–why?

That’s it for character, for now. Happy writing!

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Rewrites–Oh, the joy!

I’ve stepped away from my novel long enough to be able to look at my critique partners’ comments and plunge into rewrites. I’m no longer as fond of my words, my chapters, my “babies.” I’m ready to dig in and make my manuscript better.

When I’m in writing mode, I have to be passionate about my characters and story. I “hear” them and I’m excited about what they’re doing and why. Sometimes, they endear themselves to me a little too much. When I go back to edit, they weren’t always as witty as I thought they were, and the time they spent bonding together in the car gets a little long and dreary. If I were a reader, I’d be saying “When will we get there?” If a scene doesn’t have enough tension, if it doesn’t move the plot forward enough, I need to be objective and cut it. More especially for me–since I tend to write lean–I need to fill in more internal dialogue and description so that the reader can hear the same character inner thoughts that I’ve been listening to since I started the book. I try to remind myself, during edits, that readers turn pages because of tension and emotional impact. Plot’s great. It drives the story, but it’s not enough. Have I delivered? Did I make my characters believable and real? Would a reader care about them enough to follow them through a second book, if I’m writing a series? Will the readers miss them when the story’s over?

A fellow blogger whom I read has developed a novel approach to editing. The linear, from start to finish approach, isn’t enough for her anymore. She has some great tips on editing, ways to make the middle of your story stronger. https://suebahr.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/a-rebel-with-a-cause/. Rewrites, for me, are about honing a novel until I’ve made it as good as I know how to. It’s when I look at the foundation of the story, as well as the fine points.

Did I start with a great hook? It can be in your face or subtle, as long as it grabs you.
Did I deliver the set-up soon enough? Anymore, lots of books state the protagonist’s big problem in the first paragraph or by the end of the first page. It tells me what this book is about.
Did I create the perfect setting? Will it flavor every nuance of the story?
Did I create protagonists the reader will care about? Are the stakes high enough? Does my main character have to struggle and change to achieve his goal?
Did I people the story with minor characters who have goals/problems of their own? Are they distinct? Memorable? (I read a post on Writeonsisters.com that gave great advice on creating characters. I like it for more than just POV: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/5-tests-for-writing-multiple-povs/)
Did I add enough sub-plots to keep the story afloat? For a novel, I like to have at least two sub-plots, more if the book’s really long.
Did I add enough tension in EVERY scene to keep the pacing tight?
Were the plot points strong enough to keep the story afloat? Did I have an inciting incident, then two twists, and finally a final showdown and wrapup?

I’ve talked about all of these things on this blog before, but I’m in rewrite mode. All of the above is floating around in my head. And those are just the foundation pilings. Grammar, language, and imagery all come into play, too. That’s why rewrites take time. And that’s why they’re so wonderful. Rewrites help you tweak your tale from the basics to the “much, much better” and, if you’re lucky and persistent, topnotch.

(I’m still playing with my writing experiment on my webpage, and I’m still having fun with it:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/)

Digging deep

I’ve finished rewrites of two scenes for my romance and added a short scene before the shit hits the big, dark moment’s fan. Instead of thinking story line, I thought about emotional impact and digging deeper into my characters. There’s a reason to my madness. I’ve been reading more novels than usual lately, novels that made me think about why I love some books more than others. It’s easy to read a new author and say, “This didn’t work. Poor writing, cardboard characters, screwy POV, or crappy plot line.” I happened on a few in a row that were all telling, no showing, but I didn’t get far before I put them aside. What’s really been interesting to me, though, is to study a writer I thought was great to begin with and then study what made their third or fourth or ninth book even better. I’ve thought about it a lot, and for me, it’s when all of the glamour of voice, action, and verbal skills become background to strong characters who are stripped down to their naked entities. When things get really honest.

A writer might be able to pull that off in a standalone novel, but it would be hard. It takes a while of living inside a character’s head–I know, backward from the character living inside the writer’s head, but after a while, you DO live inside your character’s head–for all of his likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, etc. to show themselves. The longer you and your character hang out together, the more things you learn about him/her. I’m not sure you can manage it for the first book in a series. The first book is usually set-up–introducing a new world/setting, forcing the protagonist to deal with whatever big problem he has to solve before the end of the book, and throwing the poor miscreant into one disaster after another. We get to know the protagonist by his thoughts, even more through his actions. Les Edgerton wrote a great post on this, one worth remembering: http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2012/03/character-actions.html?spref=fb. Still, we get to know our characters even better the longer the series progresses until somewhere along the line, the characters speaks to YOU, instead of you trying to bring the characters to life. When the characters tell you, “This is what I want to do. This is how I feel. What the hell were you thinking when you put me up against a barn full of mutants?”…then things get REAL.

I’ve hit a point in the favorite series I read where the writers’ characters have scraped away most of their emotional defenses, and they are who they are–warts and all. I love it. And since I’ve read it and thought about it, I want to strive for that more in my own writing. Not so easy to achieve, but boy, does it work. To give you a few more ideas on how to develop your characters fully, Sue Bahr did a great post on it recently: https://suebahr.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/character-development-in-five-oh-so-easy-steps/. I guess, for me, meeting characters–whether you’re reading about them or writing about them–is like meeting a new friend. In the beginning, you form an impression of them. Do you like them? Dislike them? But the longer you know them, the more you know THEM. And that’s when it gets good.

My point? I learn a lot by reading writers I admire who started out really good and then they hit awesome. When they reach that point, it’s time for me to ask, “How did they do that?”…And more importantly, “How can I do that?”

BTW, happy spring! Last week, we had a super moon cause a solar eclipse on the vernal solstice on March 20th. That has to inspire us, right? It inspired me. I put a new, short-SHORT, Mill Pond romance on my webpage.

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Happy writing!