Category Archives: WRITING: CRAFT

A Change in Plans

A quick note before I get into today’s post. The series on formatting will continue next week. I want a little more time working with some of the programs I’m going to discuss before blogging about them. Sorry for the delay but I wanted to be comfortable with the programs before not only reviewing them but, in at least one instance, recommending them.

As for today, well, the title says it all.

Last week, I released Nocturnal Rebellion. It is the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series and the sixth title overall. This was the first series I started and Nocturnal Origins was the second book I published. To say this series and its characters have held a special place in my writer’s heart is to put it mildly. Because of that, I expected a few days, maybe more, of mourning after Rebellion’s release. Why? Because Rebellion brings an end to the current story arc and I’m not sure where the story will go from there — or when the next installment will happen.

Okay, that’s not quite right. I have a glimmer of a spark of an idea about where to go next but that’s it. Knowing Mac and company won’t be part of my regular writing schedule for a while is, well, odd.

Normally, I take a week or so away from writing after a book release to do some promotion and to simply get my head cleared of that book and ready for the next project. That’s when I try to catch up on my reading, reorganize my office — okay, cleaning it and getting it ready for whatever I’m about to start writing — sleeping and gaming. It is also when I catch up on those projects around the house that I put on hold while I got the last book ready for press.

This time, however, it didn’t happen like that. I took a day. A single day. Then I dug into my office, clearing away all the notes and research used during Rebellion’s writing. Once that was accomplished, I sat down and over the course of the next two days, made notes on the projects that have been floating around in my mind, those I knew I needed to get done in the next six months or so as well as others that, it seemed, had been lurking just below the surface until I finished Rebellion.

By the time I was finished, I had notes on 12 separate titles. 12. What the bleep?!? Fortunately for my sanity, not all of them are novels. More fortunately, some were for titles I’d already planned and, in a couple of occasions, are projects I’ve already gotten very rough drafts completed for — the next in the Honor and Duty series as well as the next in the Sword of the Gods series. What I hadn’t expected doing this were the several standalone titles that cropped up or the additional titles I hadn’t planned in the Eerie Side of the Tracks, including a novel that hit me out of nowhere but that I’m very excited to write.

So what’s the change, you ask.

First, and least important, is the fact I sat down and actually made notes on more than the current work in progress. I very rarely do that. While I’m not a pantser, I most definitely am not a plotter either. I’ve always fallen somewhere in-between. Whether this indicates a change in my process or not, I don’t know. I’ll admit, the prospect of my process changing is a bit scary. But it’s happened before and I adapted. I’ll do so again.

The second change is in the publishing schedule. Again, it’s no biggie. That is the joy of being an indie. I can shuffle my schedule as needed. But, in this case, there is no shuffling needed. I simply added more titles to it. In a way, that’s reassuring. It is also daunting because it means I can’t goof off and say “I don’t know what to write”. And yes, there was a teen-like whine with that quote.

The change is the obvious one. For the first time in more than five years, I don’t have a story with Mac in the hopper. Part of me mourns that. But it was time for this particular story arc to come to an end. Yet, even as I write this post, I know Myrtle the Evil Muse is thinking about what to do with our band of heroes next. She’s already teased (okay, tormented) me with a scene with a panicked Mac discovering she’s pregnant and wondering the best way to potty train the baby of two people who shift into jaguars. Do you buy stock in diapers or kitty litter? Do you buy teething rings or scratching posts?

You see why I call my muse evil?

Crap!

Even as I sit here typing in this post, I hear Myrtle cackling madly. It’s not enough that she inflicted me with a book that wants to be written NOW! I feel a new series coming on. In case you’re wondering, it’s a bit like feeling a headache coming on. Why? Because Myrtle isn’t subtle. She comes racing in with her combat boots and bullhorn.

Seriously, the change I refer to in the title is more of a mental change than anything else. I noticed something as I wrote my last couple of books. I was allowing myself to be distracted by the internet, by gaming, etc. I know the reasons why but knowing them doesn’t always mean I do anything about them. So, I made the decision to change one very basic and yet important part of my writing. I have switched machines. My PC laptop no longer is my work machine. I’ll still use it for a couple of post-edit functions because it has a larger screen and some of the programs I use after I finish a manuscript. But the actual writing now happens on the MacBook Air. So far, it has been a very positive change. It is as though my subconscious understand that when I’m on the Mac, it is “work”. the PC is “play”. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I’m not recommending everyone go out and buy a laptop or desktop that is a totally different OS from what you have now. What I do recommend is that you review how you write and be honest with yourself about whether you are allowing yourself to become distracted too easily. I know authors who have machines without internet connectivity that they use to write on. Others don’t put games or social media apps on their work machines. I finally am starting to understand why.

The other thing I’ve done is blocked off several hours in the morning and then in the afternoon where I don’t go online. I don’t check email and I don’t go to Facebook or similar sites. This is “work” time. That has helped as well.

In other words, I am practicing what I preach — I am treating my writing like my business. I’m still looking at ways to get better, both with time management and with promotion. Boy do I need to get better at promotion. How about you? What can you do to improve your productivity? What techniques are you using that seem to help?

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE

Random crumbly bits of author stuff

In no particular order. Your mileage may vary.

1) If you’re wondering about going indie, consider your lifetime fiction output. General rule of thumb — from a man I trust to know his business — is that “entry level” competency is reached when you have at least 500,000 words of books and stories in your trunk, and/or have several personalized rejections from trad pub editors. Prior to that, you may not have done enough “homework” to have your storytelling muscles up to the task of surviving in the indie marketplace. I know plenty of people immediately publish everything they’ve ever written, ever. I sometimes think that’s a mistake. I know I will get beat up for saying this.

2) If you’re wondering about going trad, consider your ability to withstand rejection. How long are you willing to wait for the editors/agents to decide you’re good enough? Keep in mind: waiting is not necessarily a bad thing. In my experience, breaking into trad pub print was one of the most satisfying events of my life. But I am from the old days, when the two options for authors were: outlast the gatekeepers, or shame yourself with vanity print. Anyone who has been through any kind of selection process — in any arena — will understand the joy of passing a tough bar. Just because it’s tough, doesn’t make it irrelevant. Although the tastes of many agents and editors can often seem wildly out of sync with the marketplace.

3) Editors and agents are not mind-readers. They cannot see into the future. There is no guarantee what will be a hit, or a dud, until it’s either a hit, or a dud. Some agents and editors develop reputations for “making” big-market talent, but this is akin to panning for gold: you have to devote a lot of time to sifting through silt, sand, and mud, just to get the little flecks and small nuggets of gold. In the words of one Hollywood producer, nobody knows anything. Ergo, the hits and the duds happen as they happen — and the one who ought to be a hit, isn’t, while the one who ought to be a dud, also isn’t. “Failure” in trad pub may have nothing whatsoever to do with the author or the stor(ies) and everything to do with events beyond an author’s control. Which is perhaps the #1 glaring flaw of trad pub that drives so many people to indie in the first place.

4) But indie isn’t an instant road to cash and fame, because now the slush pile is the whole world. Millions upon millions of books and stories being shoved at the audience, with fire-hose force. Standing out in that torrent, can be just as much of a chore as waiting in line at the gatekeepers’ transoms. You aren’t guaranteed anything. No matter how zealous you may be about the mode of delivery. Yes, indie grants the author full and total control, from start to finish. As well as the lion’s share of the take. But this also imposes the lion’s share of the responsibility. And if you thought it was painful waiting on editors and agents, it can be equally painful waiting on the audience at large. If you publish an indie book in the forest . . .

5) Don’t go cheap on covers. I know I am cutting against the grain with this. But seriously, don’t go cheap on covers. You want your cover to look like the trad pub covers that caught your eye when you were just a reader. Most artists will license an extant piece of artwork. May cost you anywhere from $200 to $500 dollars, which is stunningly inexpensive, considering that some of these men and women have done posters for Hollywood and done famous works which are known across the industry. I know many indie authors are poor as church mice, but still, don’t go cheap on your covers. You have a vanishingly short period of time in which to capture a prospective buyer’s attention. Pouring your heart and soul into a manuscript, then spending an hour on a free, terrible cover that you kludged yourself — with poor photoshop skills — is like devoting months of hard work to your diet and the weights at the gym, then going to the beach in dingy, grease-covered auto shop coveralls.

6) You can do everything right — according to the pattern established by your successful friend(s) — and still get bupkus. This is because the market is not a science. 1 + 2 does not necessary equal 3. It can equal 10,000 or it can equal zero. Consumers are legion, but they are fickle. They want a “sure thing” and herd dynamics dominate in every corner. Mountains of marketing advice is put forth, regarding ways to “game” the herd dynamic: get your product viral, so that the inertia of talk is on your side. When people are buzzing over your novel, especially if this buzz tends to self-reinforce as buzz-about-the-buzz, you can rake in wads. But there are still no guarantees. Like fishing. You can have the same type and kind of lure as your buddy next to you in the boat, with the same rod, same reel, same everything, and he will catch a dozen, while you reel in just one or two. Or none. And you have to be prepared to live with this. Pick yourself up off the hot pavement. Go wash your face and your hands. Then try again. And again. And again. And if this sounds way too hard for way too little return, there are 101 careers which serve as far easier paths to far better money.

7) So don’t quit your damned day job. Seriously. Do. Not. Quit. Your. Day. Job. It sucks trying to write full-time and work full-time. It sucks more not paying bills and being forced out of your house or your apartment. It sucks even more depending on the good will of your relatives, or your church, or government programs. If I had $10 for every embarrassed pauper author who proudly proclaimed, “I am a full-time writer, so fuck you,” and then (s)he went back to begging for lunch money, I wouldn’t have to work anymore. Starving artistry is not a holy calling. Really, it’s not. I know I am gonna get burned at the stake for saying it. But seriously, do not check out of the “mundane” work force. Not unless you’ve got a metric ton of dough in the bank, or you’ve got a spouse who eagerly volunteers to carry the mundane load — while you labor at the desk in the attic. But if you’ve got responsibilities to meet, and mouths to feed, please, meet them and feed them. As Steven Barnes said at Norwescon ’07, suffering for your art may be noble, but making your family suffer for your art, just means you’re an asshole.

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: ART, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

A Thread Run Through It

There is always more than one twist.

 

In order to make a strong thread, you have to make many, many twists. In order to sew pieces together, you need a thread run through them.

 

When I was a much younger woman, I spent a couple of years serving as an apprentice shepherdess. In practice, this meant I helped move sheep, feed sheep, clean fleeces, pitch hay and in general do scutwork. But I didn’t mind, because sheep are amiable companions when they aren’t being rockheaded dolts, and best of all, it was mostly outdoor work. One of the things I learned while I was doing this was how to spin a fleece into thread, and then the many ways a thread can be made into something else entirely, be that a garment, a blanket, or macramé. I never did learn how to knit, and I’m a clumsy spinner (not enough practice) but I can clean a fleece pretty darn quick and I know the basics of natural dyes and mordants. I do know how to crochet, and weave, but mostly I lack the patience to do that as anything but a whimsical amigurumi from time to time.

 

I’m talking about fleeces, but really I’m talking about writing, because what I learned about spinning forms a metaphor for creating a plot that runs through the disparate pieces of a book and ties them all together into a unified whole. Just like sewing up a garment, you take bits and scraps of cloth, and make them into something beautiful and richly colored. It’s not easy, by any means. For one thing, while I have done quilting, I ran around the Grange Hall as a tiny girl while the women sat and stitched, and I know how incredible the work can be when done by a master. My patchwork attempts are passable, but could be better. I’ll keep practicing.

 

A fleece from a sheep is, in essence, a lot of soft, fluffy hair. It’s hair, not fur: it will keep growing and growing until it’s cut. If you don’t shear a sheep every so often, it’ll die. Now, obviously this isn’t biologically premium, but a modern sheep is bred to hold onto it’s hair and not shed it, which is what wild-type sheep (and some goats) do. Once upon a time, gathering fleece to spin was a laborious process of gathering clumps of shed hair off bushes and thorny weeds, then cleaning it and carding it. Carding is the process of combing the hairs until they are all running in one direction. They still, if you take a clump and pull in opposite directions with both hands, will come apart. You’ll wind up with a tuft in each hand. But if you take that bit of fleece, and give it a twist, it’s harder to pull apart. Give it more twists, and suddenly you have yarn. Twist it tighter, with less fleece strands going into the spin, and you have thread.

 

Linen is a similar process, but the prep to yield strands is a lot more labor intensive. I’m not getting into that – I’ve never done it, although I’m familiar with the theory. And I’ve gotten sidetracked already from my thought.

 

A good plot has some twists in it. Readers who find the path smooth and easy to follow from opening to conclusion might bother to walk all the way to the end, or they may get bored and wander off, to leave the book unfinished forever. Throw in a few left turns, and suddenly they are wondering what will come next, and they will keep reading, compelled to find out what happens. In thread, the idea is to be as smooth and even as possible. In writing, you want slubs. Slubs are the funny little bumps and clumps that give raw silk, for instance, it’s characteristic ‘nubbly’ look. In a book, you want that sort of unpredictable thing in the plot. It’s still got the strong thread, but there are unique elements readers will only find in this story – it’s the slubs that will make your work memorable.

 

The more twists, the stronger the plot thread. But watch out! If you overspin thread, it starts to coild back up on itself – in DNA, that’s called supercoiling, and it’s part of how 6 meters of DNA can be packed into every single nucleated cell in your body (not every single cell – red blood cells have enucleated, and don’t have DNA) but it is considered less than ideal in spinning thread. It’s less than ideal in a book, too. Once that path has become so convoluted the reader loses track of what is happening, why, and to who, they start getting a headache and vowing to never read another of your books. I have a few authors I avoid for just this reason, personally. I’m sure some of you do, too.

Upcoming

Next week, if I can get enough data crunched (Since as you read this I am flying from Ohio to Oregon to move kids back and forth between Mom’s house and mine) I will be presenting a summary of a guided promo push I’m doing with a free book, and 6 paid outlets for book promotion (Fussy Librarian, Ebookhounds, and more). It should generate some interesting results. On the first day alone, featured in Fussy Librarian, I gave away about 350 730 copies, and on the second day, a whopping 2600. The idea is to break into some new market areas by giving away the first book of a series. If you want to get in on the action, Pixie Noir is free from Aug. 3-7!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: CRAFT

Formatting revisited

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for answering my questions last week. I’ll be pulling your responses together and posting the results in the next few weeks (assuming real life settles down. It has been “interesting” of late).

Recently, formatting has been a topic of discussion with some of my writer friends. I knew I’d written about it before but was surprised to realize it’s been more than 2 years. So I thought I’d revisit the topic. Much of what I wrote before still holds but, as with anything, there are a few tweaks to the articles I’d like to make.

I’ll start out by saying I’m lazy. When I start a new project, I set up the document so that I have to make minimal formatting changes when it comes to converting it for either print or digital formats. The only real change I have to make is in line spacing. When I write, I have line spacing set at 1.5 o 2 lines. When I convert to digital that gets changed to 1.15 line and print depends on several factors but it, too, is usually around 1.15. But more on that later.

I also write in Word. No, I’m not going to get into a debate about what word processor program is best. I use Word for several reasons. First, it is the one I’m most familiar with. Second, it’s review function is, in my opinion, the best one of the major word processing programs available. Third, old Word Perfect (which rocked) does not convert well into e-books. Yes, there are issues with Word but the advantages outweigh them. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it. My only caveat is that you need to do two things with regard to any program you use. First, you have to make sure you understand the licensing you are agreeing to. Some licenses do not allow you to use the program for commercial purposes. Others restrict where you can use that file for commercial purposes (Apple). You also have to know what sort of licensing you are getting when it comes to the fonts included with the program. So read the boilerplate, even if your eyes start to glaze over.

The second issue is you have to understand that each of these programs have junk code written into them. That code can cause problems when your files are being converted into e-books. There are ways around it, ways that don’t require going old school and hand-coding the html. More on that later.

I’m not going to completely recreate my original post on formatting your document at the writing level. You can find it here. When you are getting started, here are a couple of things to remember. Don’t ever, EVER use “tab” when you start a new paragraph. Set first line indent in your paragraph formatting box. Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. (It is no longer taught in keyboarding classes, so it is an indication you are not “young”. Yes, it can matter.)

Now, another general comment. Most of the online outlets require a table of contents for e-books. Don’t panic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to manually create one. In fact, I haven’t included a ToC page in a work of fiction in the last five years. Instead, I use what’s called an “Active Table of Contents”. If you use the Headings options in your word processing program, the Active Table of Contents will be automatically generated. That will satisfy Amazon and the other major players. More importantly, it means you don’t have to worry about whether you have put the ToC in the proper place in your book. (Remember, Amazon has now forbidden placement of the ToC at the back of a book because less than ethical authors were doing so to work the system of page turns in Kindle Unlimited.)

Now, for the nitty gritty of formatting. This is all general information and can be tweaked to fit what you like the best. Remember, this is initially for writing the manuscript and for digital conversion.  (Note: I tend to increase the font size on Heading 1. I haven’t done so here because some sites like Smashwords have a font size limit and I can’t remember it off the top of my head.) One other thing to consider. You want your e-book or print book to look as “professional” or “traditional” as what readers are used to. That means you have to do your homework and discover what is standard for your genre. The information below is a starting point and can — and should — be tweaked to make it look the best for your genre and length.

Heading 1 (for section titles or chapter titles)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14 (you can go to 16 if you want but I wouldn’t recommend going any larger. Remember that a lot of folks read on their phones and a larger font will do odd things on their screen)
  • Special characteristics — Bold Italic
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not be applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Heading 2 (used only if I am using Heading 1 for anything other than chapter headings)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14
  • Special characteristics — Bold
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not been applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Normal (used for the body of the text)

  • Font — Georgia (This is my personal preference, but you can use Times New Roman, Garamond or others. My recommendation is to check to see what other books in your genre use.)
  • Size — 12
  • Special characteristics — None
  • Alignment — left
    • First line indent of 0.3 to 0.33
  • Spacing — 1.15

Here are a couple of things to remember:

  • No tabs.
  • No spacing before or after paragraphs.
  • When you have section breaks within a paragraph, use something to denote the break. I use *   *   * to do so. It is centered and, using the paragraph options dialog box, I remove the first line indent. You can use other indicators but, if you use special characters, make sure you have the license to do so.
  • Also in the paragraph dialog box, be sure you turn off the widows and orphan option.
  • Have a “page break” at the end of each chapter. This will make your reader have to “turn the page” to begin the next chapter, thereby making your e-book more like a “real” book. To insert a page break, you can either go to “Insert” at the top of your page and then click on page break or your can simply hit CTRL and Enter at the same time.
  • When showing internal thoughts, most authors use italics. That is what the reader is used to, at least here in the States.
  • I keep my margins and paper size — at this point — at 1 inch all the way around and at 8 1/2 by 11.

Something else I have been doing for some time now is not indenting the first paragraph of each new chapter. That first line is left justified. I then capitalize and italicize the first word to three words. I don’t tend to do more than that because of the varied font sized readers can select on their own. The last thing I want is to cap a long phrase or the entire line and then have it looking weird to my reader because they have increased the font size and the flow of what looked find on my screen now takes up several lines.

They key is that our e-books needs to look as professional and “traditional” as anything our readers might buy. The second key we have to keep in mind is that not everyone reads our e-books on their phones or tablets. Some read on dedicated e-book readers. Despite what some of the so-called studies say, dedicated e-book readers are still popular and will continue to be as the population ages. Why? Because an e-ink screen is better for the eye. There is less reflection off the screen than there is from a tablet screen or even the printed page.

But that means we have to keep in mind that some of the fancy font work we can do for print or for files read on a tablet can’t be done for an e-ink reader. So, if you want that fancy first letter in a chapter, you need to consider doing it as an image instead of font. Why? Because it won’t translate properly to e-ink and your reader can be left with something that looks not only odd but might not even appear. Of course, the downside to using an image is that Amazon charges a transmission fee and the more images you have in a file, the larger the file size and the more that transmission fee will be. So, you find other ways to make the first line to “special”. That’s why I cap and italicize the first few words. I can get fancier with the print version.

If you do all this while writing, you have set yourself up for a very easy road to conversion for your e-book. Better yet, you have very little you will have to change for your print version. Most of those changes will be global search and replace, a few minutes at best.

I know I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of the conversion process yet. I’ll save that for next week. In the meantime, if you want to jump ahead, here’s a link to the earlier post about it. Yes, things have changed. But it is a good place to start. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with an updated version.

Until then, ask any questions you might have, either about today’s post or about what you’d like me to cover next week.

Later!

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Questions for Readers

This morning, between phone calls and the latest in a line of repairmen, I sat down to blog.The moment I did, the bane of so many writers’ existence hit — no, not writer’s block but the cat. Actually, in my case, the cats. Both decided they wanted to be in my lap. It didn’t matter the laptop was in my lap. No, they wanted there and they were willing to fight — one another and me — for the privilege. As a wise two-legged who has been owned by cats most of my life, I did the only smart thing possible. I carefully removed them and, promising them treats, made my escape to the kitchen where I opened a can of stinky food. Now, with them happily nomming in the other room, the dog asleep, let’s see if I can get this post finished before something else decides to interrupt me.

First up, book covers. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal of late. Partly because I am working on the expanded edition of Vengeance from Ashes and that will require a new cover, one the differentiates it from the original version. Another reason I’ve been thinking about it is because Sarah posted a cover in a discussion group the other day that in no way, shape or form signaled genre. Then I came across this post, via The Passive Voice.

So here’s my question for you. Do you care what sort of paper a book cover is printed on or are you more interested in the visuals of the cover itself? When shopping for an e-book, especially if it is not a book you are particularly looking for, how much impact does the cover have on you stopping to read the blurb?

Here are a couple of other questions to consider: do you get upset if the cover art doesn’t accurately depict the main character (assuming the MC is depicted on the cover)? How likely are you to stop and read the blurb if you are looking for particular genre but the cover signals something else?

Yes, there is a reason I’m asking these questions (well, one other than the fact the repairman is making so much noise I can barely think and the cats are back from their stinky food, looking as if they are about to restart the fight over who gets to sit in my lap).

Moving on. I saw a post on FB the other day where it seems GRRM has said he might — MIGHT — have the next book out next year. Sometime. Maybe.

So here’s my question. As a reader, do you lose interest in a series if an author takes too long between books? How long is too long? For myself, I can give an established author a year or two between books, especially if I can see they have other titles coming out. But an author who doesn’t put anything out, or very little, but who enjoys the life of being famous will lose my interest pretty quickly.

I worry when I go a year or a bit longer between books in a series. Yes, I have several different series going and tend to have a new book out every 3 to 4 months. Still, I worry that my readers will move on to other books if I don’t get new books out on a fairly regular basis. I have a hard time understanding those authors, especially the ones with more than enough money to live well and not worry about where the next rent check is coming from, who don’t write. Okay, if you’re blocked, move on to another project. If you’re tired of the series, say so and do a quick story that ties it all up. Or just say you won’t be writing anything else in the series. Sure, you’ll piss off some readers but at least it is better than stringing them along.

And no, GRRM isn’t the only one to do this. He is just the most recognizable for most of us.

Speaking of waiting for the next book in the series to come out, what are your thoughts about books that end in cliffhangers? What about those authors who end book after book with Charlie hanging off the edge of the cliff? Will the other characters arrive in time when the next book is published to save him? What if the series is cancelled? Will poor Charlie be left on that cliff for the rest of literary history?

Yes, there is a purpose for all the questions. Let me know what you think. thanks!

Oh, and don’t forget Nocturnal Rebellion is available for pre-order.

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Filed under AMANDA, cover design, WRITING: ART, WRITING: CRAFT

Alarms and Diversions

I had an unpleasant experience on Friday. They were testing the fire systems in the lab where I work, and that meant that at random points during the morning, the alarms would blare out – once, while I was working directly under an alarm, which was an interesting experience as you feel the soundwaves physically – and lights would flash. We’d been told this was going to happen, and that we did not need to evacuate during the process, but as I commented to a colleague, they hadn’t said we *couldn’t* leave the building. We wound up all putting in earbuds, then an engineer went through passing out the lil’ sponge rubber ear plugs, which helped – but didn’t entirely reduce the unpleasantness of the noise, not to mention the bright flashes from the alarm lights.

 

While this was going on, I was charting, and managed to miss signing off on a time on one of them. While reviewing them later, I realized it, and realized that I’d missed it because of the alarm. We do funny things when we’re under duress, we humans, and it’s something to contemplate about when I’m writing. This was not a life-or-death situation – it was a known alarm, but it still made me jump about a foot when it went off – and the charts merely record temperatures, and the time I removed this one can be deduced by looking at the time I installed it’s replacement.

 

However, it’s a great way to introduce uncertainty, jangled nerves, and missed connections into a story. Imagine a spaceship where you couldn’t escape the alarms, and they went on and on and on… people would be going mad. Hearing loss. Even after the alarms stopped, I was having tinnitus for a long time. I’ve had reviewers not like that I didn’t put a huge amount of detail into fight scenes, but I wrote those in consultation with people who had been in similar situations. The fog of war is a thing. You miss stuff around you, you’re so highly focused on what you’re doing, you can’t possibly be aware of what’s happening all the way across the battlefield. Or the space station, which is so partitioned off you couldn’t see it anyway.

 

While I’ve seen readers complain about smart characters making stupid mistakes while under duress, the reality is that when you can’t think straight because there’s a screeching that rattles your bones, you can make mistakes. There’s a reason the military drills in skills over and over and over – so you can do what you’re supposed to do, even when the brain is over there in the corner gibbering. Something deep down takes over and you do it. I’ve never personally been in combat. I was, however, trained in first responder skills, and when I reached motherhood, there were a few situations that came up where I had to be calm in the face of potential tragedies. To have panicked wouldn’t have helped, and it would have frightened the children. So I know, a tiny bit, what it feels like to operate on that other level.

As a plot device, this can be a handy way to get your protagonist in a lot of trouble. Pile on the alarms and diversions until he doesn’t know which way is up, and you can fit in plot twists that would work as amusement park rides!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: CRAFT

What is long enough?

Thanks to Sarah for filling in for me yesterday. Family always takes precedence over blogging and my son is home on leave.

This morning, as I was talking with Kilted Dave about what to blog about, I came across a post from an author wondering if they should change how they write. No, they weren’t talking about their writing process but more the length of what they sell. They were noticing how some authors are releasing titles every month or so but that those titles are shorter works. So they were wondering if they needed to move away from novel-length work to shorter work in order to sell more.

My first response, after beating my head against the proverbial wall, was shake my head. Yes, it hurt to pound it against the wall and I needed to clear the cobwebs. But also because you can’t judge what is right for your work by what other authors are doing. You have to look at each individual work and decide what length best serves the story.

Oops, there I went and did it. I said the icky word: story.

Let’s face it, story is what we need to be worried about. Have we written enough, well enough to not only give the reader an enjoyable and engaging story or plot but also characters they can identify with and cheer for or against? If we haven’t, it doesn’t matter how long or short the piece is. Without that development, it won’t sell for long and you certainly won’t garner the sort of reviews that help other readers decide to buy your work.

There is something else to consider when you are looking at how long a story should be and that is the way you write. Not everyone is a natural long fiction writer and not everyone finds writing short fiction easy. I can take almost as long to write a 12,000 word piece as I do a 100k word novel. Why? I’m not really sure. Well, in one way I am. You can’t go into as much detail, have as many scenes and sub-plots in a 12k word piece as you do in something longer. So you have to pare it down to the essentials — plot, character, message (if you have one).

Now, Amanda, you can release a novel in serial form.

Yes, you can. But what about the reader who accidentally misses one installment? Or what happens when your reader realizes that those $0.99 installments or episodes are suddenly costing them as much — or more — than a traditionally published e-book? I quit doing episodic fiction as a reader when I realized that the novel when and if it ever finished was going to cost me much more than I am willing to pay for an e-book.

I also realized that a number of authors releasing their work as “episodes” really didn’t get the idea behind serials. They hadn’t spent time reading the serials from magazines like If and Analog back in the Golden Age of SF. They hadn’t watched serialized shows like Flash Gordon and others (no, I’m not THAT old but they used to play them late at night on the weekends). There is an ebb and flow to a good serial that most of those trying to do them now simply don’t get.

The basic lesson is you have to give the reader a reason to come back and pay you more money to keep reading your work. Going hand-in-hand with that, for me at least, you have to prove you are going to finish the serial. I do NOT want to spend $0.99 or more per episode only to have the author decide in the middle of the thing that it isn’t worth finishing. Then there is the problem of making sure your reader remembers to go grab the new episode when it comes out. Unless you have figured out a way to make a subscription to the serial work, you run the very real risk of losing readers simply because they don’t remember to go back each month to grab the new title.

So I will repeat the rule we’ve all been told who knows how many times. A book or story is as long as it needs to be. Quit putting artificial word count limits on yourself without taking the plot of your book into consideration. Anyone who has been around short story writers knows the agony they go through after writing a story and then having to cut words to meet a word count requirement for one publication or another. There are times when they have to say the market they initially wrote the story for won’t work because they can’t cut it any more than they already have.

Also, don’t go into a project with the mindset that you think you only have so many words in you for it — ie, you don’t think you can write more than x-number of words — and then limit yourself to that number. I have known writers who, before they have put the first word down on paper have said they really don’t think they have more than 40k words in them for a certain project. What always happens is they either wind up not giving the reader the description the reader needs to truly enjoy the book or they rush the ending — something that is very noticeable. If you have spent 38k words building up to the climax of the story and then you have the final showdown and the cigarette moment in 2k words, you have probably just done your reader a disservice.

In other words, don’t worry about what other people are doing. Yes, there will always be writers out there who write faster than you do. They may write long fiction or short fiction. It really doesn’t matter. All that does is putting out the best work you can.

And now, for the mandatory author promotion. Nocturnal Rebellion will be released in the very near future. To help ramp up for its release, I have lowered the price of Nocturnal Origins, the first book in the series to $0.99.

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

I have also started working on the “Special Edition” version of Vengeance from Ashes. I’m really excited about this project. These special editions will include new material and it has been fun planning them and, once Rebellion is out, I’ll be working on them in the evenings after the days are spent writing the next book in the series. Well, not really writing as it has been drafted already but taking a very rough draft and making it publishable. Then it will be on to the next project, whatever it might be.

 

 

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT