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/

Writing & Worrying

I’ve started working on a third romance novel. If you read my news earlier, I signed a 3-book deal with Kensington e-books. I’m ahead of schedule on deadlines, so I can do happy dances and buy a special bottle of wine. I can celebrate. But once Monday morning looms again, I’ll be back at my keyboard, trying to pound out 7 to 10 pages to finish a new chapter. It’s what grounds me.

So why the “worrying” in my title? I’m ahead of schedule and happy with the book I’m working on. But… I’ve never been good at writing the same-old, same-old. I really enjoyed writing the first romance. It has a lot of humor, which I didn’t think I’d be good at, but it fit my two protagonists. I was “hearing” them in my mind, so the humor just came. The second romance had a smart-ass protagonist, so she came up with comebacks that I’d never think of on my own. But both romances followed the norm. Boy and girl meet. There are sparks, and eventually they get together. A proven formula. So what did I do for book 3? Fiddle with it, of course. Lord forbid I should feel comfortable and repeat what had worked for me.

One of the things that kills book series for me is when I feel like the writer found a formula and I can memorize the rhythm because it’s the same, book after book after book. By the time I’m on the third book and I feel like I’ve read it before, just with different names and settings, I’m done. Now, mind you, most of these series run a long time, so readers obviously don’t have a problem with it. But I lose interest, and it’s the same with my writing. I like to change it up. For this book, I want the protagonist to be interested in the wrong guy, but it’s made it a challenge to find a set-up that lets the reader know the right guy is in the wings, but neither of them know it. I have the first fourth of the book finished–at least, a draft to work with, and I’m still doing the juggling act of Paula saying “I want him,” but the reader knows she should kick him to the curb. And it’s been fun.

I might have to tweak my early chapters, but my daughters kissed quite a few frogs before they found their handsome princes, (and even then, one of the princes didn’t work out), so it’s a pretty normal happenstance. I just have to make it work.

By the way, I have three Mill Pond, short-short romances on my webpage, if you’re interested:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/. You can click on them at the end of the left column.

https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Twitter: @judypost

Writing: Wait for it

I’m starting to work on a new romance (my third). I’ve immersed myself in the people and world of Mill Pond so much, I think about them while I’m working on other things. That’s why three Mill Pond short stories have snuck onto my website. In my head, the setting has become as charming as the characters who people it. I want to visit Tessa’s bakery, Harley’s vineyards, and stop at the specialty farms that dot the area. So I love Mill Pond, but I want the new novel to be a little different than the first two. I loved writing about the McGregor brothers, but I want a different set up this time. Instead of boy meets girl, there’s attraction, there are complications, until they finally get together, I wanted to change it up a little. And that’s when the trouble began.

I can picture the entire story in my head. I have a hazy vision of its twists and turns, but when I sat down to write even brief plot points, I couldn’t figure out how to let the reader know or suspect where the story was going. And that’s important. Most writers spell out the book’s big question in the first paragraph anymore, almost always on the first page, but occasionally, not until the end of the first chapter. This story didn’t fall into place that neatly. My protagonist thinks she’s in love with the wrong man. She has no interest in the right man, and he’s not interested in her. He’s interested in the unattainable, and it’s going to take them the entire book to figure it all out. Sounds like fun, right? But how to write the first chapter?

I did character wheels–more complicated than I’ve ever done. I learned new things about my characters, and that will add depth as I plod along (and when I reach the middle of a book, it IS plodding). But it didn’t fix my first chapter. So I did what I always do. I started writing and let my characters take the lead. They weren’t much smarter than I am. The first attempt was crap. It had enough little nuggets, though, to make me think of a short scene I could add. And that scene helped me think of another clue I give the readers. It took three days of writing words I knew didn’t work before I finally had a glimmer of what to do. On the last day, I left my writing room, and my husband looked at me and smiled. “You’re happy with it now,” he said. And I was.

I have nine plot points I pounded out that will head me generally in the right direction. I’m going to write two or three more chapters, let my characters fuss and get to know each other, let me listen and watch them, and then I’ll write more plot points. They keep me afloat when my brain reaches a deadend. And then I should be ready to sit down and dig in. These characters are more opinionated than most I create. Who knows what trouble they’re going to give me? I might get frustated writing this book, but I bet I don’t get bored:)

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
My author page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy
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

Finished. Finally:)

I did way too many rewrites on Witch Gone Bad. What started as a fun writing experiment ended up being more work than I ever expected. But I have to tell you, it’s sure been fun! What I didn’t think about–and should have–is that if I use 5 POVs, I need to know 5 characters well enough to bring them to life. At least, in my head. And since I learn more about characters as I go, that took me a minute. And rewrites. Something to ponder if I ever get a brilliant idea like this again:)

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Writing: I’ve had fun!

I mentioned that I was trying a writing experiment with POV. It’s taken more time than I expected it to, but I met my goals. Each day this week, I’ve put one part of a short story on my webpage, with one more to go up tomorrow. Each part was from a different POV character. What have I learned?

It’s fun writing from the villain/antagonist’s POV. I don’t do that very often. As a matter of fact, I use third person, single POV in every series I write except Fallen Angels. Those are the only books I write with multiple POV, and I still rarely write from the villain’s veiwpoint. I think it might be hard to do without giving too much away, but it worked for a short piece. And letting myself live inside Merlot’s head helped me understand her more. I read once that villains don’t think of themselves as bad or wrong. Instead, they focus on what they want, what they’re striving to do, and they justify their actions. They often feel they’ve been wronged, and they’re putting things right. Merlot has that tendency. Hezra, on the other hand, (in part 4), decided to turn to the dark arts and makes no bones about the fact that she wants power. It was fun writing from her perspective, too, but I still wanted to make her an individual–not just the “evil” who battles my protagonist.

I’m putting up the last part of the story tomorrow–the big showdown–but this experiment has made me think more about villains/antagonists. For me, Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series really got interesting when she had Hugh D’Ambray walk onto the pages to play mind games with Kate and to battle her and Curran. For me, she created two of the most intriguing “bad guys” I’ve read for a long time when Hugh and Kate’s father, Roland, became active in the series. Not that she hasn’t had a strong, almost invincible enemy in every book. That’s part of urban fantasy, but Hugh and Roland are unpredictable and do the unexpected, and that’s made them really interesting. She’s made them such a blend of good and bad that the reader has mixed feelings about them. It’s sort of like reading The Silence of the Lambs. I hated Dr. Chilton more than Hannibal Lecter. Odd, right? But a really well-done villain can pull a reader’s emotions in strange directions. For that reason, I’ve decided to spend just as much time on my villains and antagonists as I do on my protagonists from now on. They can really make a story zing.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Writing: One More Week of Fun

I’m still waiting on one more critique on the romance I wrote. It’s summer. Everyone I know has busier schedules, so I know that when I give them my manuscript to read, it might take them a while. I fill the gap with writing short stories, and I’ve started to make character charts and plot points for my next novel. For the first time, my mind skipped to the FOURTH romance that was noodling in my head instead of the THIRD. Unusual for me. I’m a linear type of writer. This happens, then this, etc. Some of my friends write scenes and then figure out where to put them in the story. Impossible for me. Others let plot revolve out of their characters and their journey. My plots are built on cause and effect, scene and sequel. I write lean and rewrite as I go, and then when I do my final draft, I have to add more description and detail, more internal dialogue and emotion. And my mind doesn’t usually skip from one plot point to one far off in the distance. So I was puzzled. Until I realized that I didn’t know my characters well enough. I thought I did. I’d used them in two other stories, but they were walk-on characters, pretty minor. I could hear them and see them, but I didn’t know what really made them tick, what pushed their buttons. So back to the good, old character wheel for me, and then the story blossomed.

The first romances I wrote–to see if I could do them–were novellas, only forty pages each, and I made them into a bundle–The Emerald Hills series. I peopled the entire town with characters who owned little shops and then made each character bump into someone who’d eventually win her heart. My daughter still bugs me to write something new for Sheriff Guthrie and the Orange Tabby, but he found his soul mate, with the help of the stray cat. His story’s over (for a romance). So is the cat’s. Guthrie adopted him. I tried to give each novella a different flavor, a different type of protagonist, but a review I got made me rethink how I did the series. (If you look at the bundle, its says that I have no reviews, but each novella had them, before I lost them when I combined them into one book. *sadness*). The reviewer had read all of them, though, and said that the rhythm and tone of each story were too similar. And she had a point. I don’t want to make that same mistake with my romance novels. I want each one to have a different feel. Let’s hope that’s a good idea. I’ll have to wait and see.

Oops, I took off on a tangent. The point is, I’ve been blithely jotting notes and ideas for the third book, and I’m finishing a new Babet and Prosper. I’ve even let myself try a little writing experiment that I have to admit has been SO much fun! (It’s on my webpage). But after this week is over, it’s time to hit the rewrites and get back to serious work time. I might not write as many hours in the summer, but I still have books to finish.

Hope you’re having a great summer, too, and happy writing!

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

Writing: a little experiment

I just wanted to let you know that I’m trying a little writing experiment. I like to try new things once in a while, and I decided to write another five part story on my webpage. I really enjoyed doing that with Freya’s Story, only I wrote that more like a 5-act play. You know, prologue, conflict, rising action, falling action, denouement. Okay, I wasn’t that good about strictly following the structure, but I sort of did. Anyway, this time, I want to try something different. I’m making each section really short, but my goal is to have the protagonist make a bad decision in every story segment until the end. I’ve never structured a story that way, so I think it might be fun. Well, at least for me. Not so much for Ophelia. But we’ll see. I posted the first part tonight, and I hope to post one part every Friday until it’s done. http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/ophelias-story–part-1.html

Hope you like it.

Writing: the elusive tease

I just finished reading The Awakening: Book One of the Judas Curse, by Angella Graff. The book mixes Mark and Judas from the Bible with Greek gods–an intriguing idea, at least to someone like me, who loves myths and legends. Graff went one step further and wrote Ben, a protagonist, as a detective who rejected all things religious and faith-based. His sister Abby, however, chased down miracles and stigmata. Their opposing approaches proved interesting until they felt contrived. The brother and sister rarely discussed their views or the WHY of how they chose them. They just fought about them, over and over again. The repetition felt stuck in for the plot, but didn’t contribute to character development. A missed opportunity. Yet this book had some original, offbeat slants that I enjoyed.

My main problem with the book was that the author kept teasing us with information that she’d almost tell us, but then withhold. She wanted us to hang in there to find the answers. That only works for me for so long, and then I get frustrated, and then I don’t care. My opinion? This technique doesn’t work. My big complaint, though, is that she NEVER told us why Mark and Judas were cursed and who cursed them. I’d have been able to identify with the characters’ struggles a lot more if I understood their history and burdens more. I’m not even sure what the curses actually were. Graff hints that Judas’s curse is that he can heal. Okay, I can buy into that maybe. Not totally. People would mob him and some would want to use him, but Mark’s curse was even more vague to me. Mark kept saying that he brought death and wars, but I never really understood why. The hints just didn’t cut it. Graff introduced enough interesting, odd events for me to hang in there to the end of the book, but the withholding of information began to feel like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. And the donkey, this time, was me.

I’ve seen other writers use this technique to keep readers turning pages. Hell, when I first started writing, I used it until an editor dashed off a quick note that informed me that I’d build more tension if I just spelled things out. “This is what the protagonist wants and what he’s dealing with. This is who the antagonist is and what he’s doing. Watch them collide and see what the protagonist does to achieve success.” At first, that seemed so simple to me. Too simple. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if I didn’t give the reader all the information he needed? If he had to add things up? But no, the editor was right. The readers weren’t intrigued. They were frustrated. I was cheating, withholding information from them that they needed. I’m not saying that a writer can’t create characters readers aren’t sure are trustworthy or a plot that looks like it’s going in one direction and then takes a surprise twist (that’s been foreshadowed, but we didn’t expect). I’m just saying that a writer has to play fair. We give readers vital information and THEN we try to trick them. Agatha Christie excelled at this. She gave us the significant clue, but tricked us into looking at something else. Or, in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling makes Snape look like a villain, but he’s actually trying to protect Harry. But the information was there, on the page. She gave it to us and let us decide. She didn’t try to play hide-and-seek with it.

Angella Graff created an interesting, unusual premise for a series. She came up with one thing after another that I didn’t expect, but her book would have been stronger–for me–if she’d trusted her own writing more. She didn’t need to tease me into turning pages. Her characters and plot were enough to make me do that.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy
twitter: @judypost

Writing: Character-driven plots

I’ve repeated probably too many times that I’m a plot driven person, but if my clever twists and turns aren’t driven by characters that readers want to spend hours with, I’m in trouble. When the last page is read and the book hits The End, what do readers remember? I’d bet on characters. With that in mind, I’ve paid more attention lately to character-driven books.

My friend, Karen Lenfestey, writes women fiction. The plots of her books aren’t driven by murders or battles (two of my favorite things:), but by how characters deal with life-changing challenges. The conflict and tension are more internal than external. How do you build a plot based on emotions instead of good vs. bad? I invited to her my blog to tell us how she does it.

How would you define women’s fiction?
I’d say women’s fiction is about the complicated relationships in a woman’s life: the dynamic between a boyfriend or spouse, children, siblings and girlfriends. Once, at a writer’s conference, I said that the main character needs to be likable and the mystery author beside me disagreed. He said, “My main character is a horrible drunk.” For me, if the character doesn’t have some redeeming qualities, I’m not willing to invest my time to follow her on her journey.

Who are your favorite authors in this genre?
I like Liane Moriarty (What Alice Forgot), Elizabeth Berg (The Art of Mending), Ellen Giffin (Babyproof), Anna Quindlen (Blessings), Susan Wiggs (Just Breathe) and Claire Cook (Must Love Dogs). I also love a good suspense novel written by Harlan Coben or Alafair Burke.

Do you outline a novel?
I spend a lot of time mulling things over in my mind. I try to create a character to whom I can relate and a problem which will challenge her. Usually I jot down ideas of what I want to have happen at some point in the novel, but it’s not that organized. I do try to keep roadblocks coming and increasing in intensity for my characters. I get bored if I’m reading a book that goes on for pages about what the scenery looks like. I want action!

How do you do your research?
The truth is, my real life is rather tame, so I’m forced to do research. I like to interview people and read about unfamiliar topics. For example, in my Secrets series, Bethany’s boyfriend, Parker, seems to be everything a woman could want: smart, kind and handsome. He also has Huntington’s disease. For me, this created dilemmas about whether he should get married and have kids. I did a lot of research on-line and I have a friend whose father had Huntington’s disease. She was gracious enough to share her experiences with me so that my book could ring true.

Any clues for someone who wants to try to write women’s fiction?
I aim for characters that feel real—like your neighbor or a good friend. I then give her some flaws and make her desperately want something that she can’t have. I write “Happy Endings with a Twist” because readers appreciate surprise endings.

Are you writing another 3 book series?
For some reason, I keep writing trilogies. I didn’t plan to, but my friends wanted to find out what happened next to everyone they’d fallen in love with in “A Sister’s Promise.” So, I wrote “What Happiness Looks Like.” When I wrote “On the Verge” which is about a newlywed who hits his head and his personality drastically changes, I invented new main characters, but my old favorites slipped back in there. I do think I’ll keep writing series because I’m not ready to walk away from my characters after just one book. Now I’m working on a brand new series. For me, this is the hardest stage. . .creating book 1.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in novels?
I’m not good at remembering names, but I like smart, witty and capable women like in Jennifer Weiner’s and Claire Cook’s novels. I just read a novel where the main character was a police officer, struggling with diabetes, when her mother got kidnapped. I loved that she had such a powerful job despite her medical condition.

Care to tell us about your new release?
In “A Mother’s Conviction” a doting foster mother competes against a less-than-stellar birth mother to win a little girl’s heart. Here’s the blurb: Single mom Bethany Morris loves her 6-year-old foster daughter, Willow, as if she were her own. When Willow’s real mother is released early from prison, Bethany isn’t ready to let the little girl go. She wonders if people really can change and tries to justify her reluctance to say good-bye by digging into the mother’s shady past.

Across the state line, Willow’s half-sister lives with her dad, Conner Walker, a man who never stays in one place for too long. When he returns to the town where he grew up, he realizes he’s been cheating his daughter out of a place to call home. For the first time in years, he wonders if he should keep running or risk making a stand in court.

To what lengths will Bethany and Conner go to keep their families together? Read “A Mother’s Conviction” to find out!

Thanks, Judy, for inviting me to stop by.

And thank you, Karen, for sharing with us!!

http://www.karensnovels.com
facebook.com/karen.lenfestey.3 Twitter: @KarenLenfestey I’m also on GoodReads

You might want to check out Karen’s new release, “A Mother’s Conviction,” available both in e-book and paperback at Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YQOPWQS