Tuesday, March 29, 2011

a realization

Bear with me, you probably realized this ages ago. But for me, it's a recent thing. I've figured out what I think the coolest thing about epublishing is.
  • the immediate gratification? No.
  • the royalties? No.
  • the control over just about all aspects of the book? Sort of.
To properly explain the coolest thing about epublishing, I have to backtrack. Let's go back to January, when I entered the ABNA contest with my novel, The River and the Roses. I also started perusing the ABNA forum, which is full of wonderful, supportive writers, by the way. I highly recommend it. One thread prompted everyone to submit their first paragraph to be evaluated. So I did. Originally, my first paragraph was nearly half a page long, and contained a detailed description of my character. Zzzzzz. But I'd never thought about it before: how you open your novel can make a huge difference in your reader's interest.

For years I wrote for myself, creative writing teachers, and writing groups, but didn't have any interest in pursuing publishing (I was intimidated). When I was in my teens and early twenties, I read a lot of books on writing. Then I eventually consciously stopped doing that, because it was fueling my internal editor, and my internal editor, when fueled, is a nasty mofo. My point is that while I knew some things about writing, I really never paid any attention to writing to sell.

So going on that forum opened my eyes: the first paragraph of my novel would put people to sleep. Okay. So I gave that some thought. At what point in The River and the Roses did things really start to pick up? Well, that question was easy to answer. My main character, Veronica (the same Veronica as in "Veronica in Paris" fyi), has been repressing her psychic ability for most of her life, but when a murder happens near her apartment, a nightmare-vision of it overcomes her defenses. This is the inciting incident for the novel. I figured, perfect. I'll start the novel with the dream, and then flashback over the day leading up to the night of the murder (important stuff happens that I couldn't cut out). I sent this new version to a couple of my beta-readers, and they both liked it a lot. So I thought, alright. I'm good. I'm ready for this novel to go to the contest. And I posted the new opening paragraph. That's when some comments I got started to make me uneasy.

"Never open with a dream."

Agents hate it. You'll sink your manuscript the moment the agent realizes you're starting with a dream.

At first I figured, well, maybe that's true most of the time, but Veronica is a psychic. She's very much inspired from tv's Medium. How can it be wrong to open with a dream in her case?

But the more I read, the more this got hammered home. I read agent blogs. I read other forums. I read articles. Everyone said the number one bad way to open a novel was with a dream. So I scratched the opening and started over. I tried starting the novel a few minutes after the dream, when Veronica finds the body and the police arrive. She's in shock, there are flashing lights, they're taking her in for questioning. Exciting, right? Good opening, right? No, apparently not.

Disoriented characters are a no-no, too.

Plus, this flashing forward and then flashing back to the day that preceded it wasn't going over well with critiquers either.

So I went back and cut the flashforward scene entirely. Now I was left with a similar opening paragraph to the original, although I'd chopped the description down a lot. But still, it was pretty low energy. So I tried cutting the very beginning out and starting a bit later, when Veronica is at least doing something, planning a party and shopping, and after a couple of short paragraphs she has her first weird psychic thing. Nothing major, like the dream, but still.

So, I got it, right? It's a decent opening, right? No.

"You have to start with action! You have to grab your reader by the short hairs and yank them into your book!"

Sigh. I wrestled with ideas. I'd come up with something, and then throw it out. It got so I hated that opening chapter. And then I came up with a new thought, which tied in to a subplot I had already decided to introduce throughout the rest of the novel. I wrote it up: Veronica is walking her dog on the morning of the day of the murder, and she sees a ghost. She's embarrassed because she reacts to it and no one else can see it. Good, right? You guessed it. No. Too dream-like.

Luckily for me, at this point, one critiquer said she did like it, and she pointed out some ways to ground it more so it wouldn't feel so dreamy. So I took her advice, and I'm pleased with the result. I'm not changing the opening again, people. I'm done.

So this is a super long-winded way of getting at the coolest thing about epublishing, but I still have more I have to tell you before I can get to it. Still there? I'm amazed.

While I was laboring over my novel's opening, I was also still reading novels before bed. I read one called Unholy Ghosts, by Stacia Kane. Good paranormal suspense book: I recommend it. As I started this novel, it struck me that Kane opened it exactly right. High action, introduces the character and what she does, etc. In fact, it was so perfect, I felt like it must have gone through the vetting process at absolutewrite. As a quick explanation, absolutewrite is a big writer's forum. It's got some amazing people on it. There are experts who will explain things to you never thought you could find out about (in my case, arson investigation, the territorial disputes between PDs and FDs, Koreans and shamanism, and more). There are people who will give you step by step instructions to accomplish some formatting feat in your Word document. And there are the Share Your Work boards. Maybe it's because I opened myself up to it by saying, "Critique me with your gloves off," but I have gotten beat up one side and down the other of those forums. The worst being "Query Letter Hell." But my first chapter of River didn't fair well, either. And to be honest, most of the feedback I got wasn't very helpful, because people would say I was doing this or that wrong, and never suggest how I could do it right. Anyway. So I'm reading Unholy Ghosts, and I'm thinking, man, Kane is nailing it. She's got it down. Her book would totally pass muster on absolutewrite. Yeah, because she's a mod there. No joke. And there's nothing wrong with that. Is there?

"We are the same"

I started to think about this experience I'd been having, with the opening. And I'd also been reading a lot of articles and forum posts about other right and wrong ways to do things (you can even see the results of some of that in my blog post from earlier this month about naming your character and ending your novel). In fact, I became obsessed with the idea that I could write a perfect novel that followed all the rules (a bit like Kane's). I started gathering all of the rules I could find in a notebook. I outlined a novel to follow every one of them.

And then one day, as I was walking my dog and chatting with my husband, I started feeling uneasy about it. Not so much because I learned long ago that I can't force myself to write something, even if I like the idea (Stephen King talks about how he wishes he could write like Amy Tan, but he can't--I can totally relate--I want to be Jacqueline Carey so much; it's like she took all of the things I love and put them in Kushiel's Dart... but I can't write like her). But because I started to think, wow, eventually all the commercial novels out there will be fundamentally the same. Not the stories, but how they are told. A horror novel and a mystery novel and a western and a romance--they'll all start the same way, follow the same path, and end the same way. Not blatantly, you understand. But the skeleton will be the same--start with some nondreamy exciting incident, go through the correct number of plot steps, include all the important aspects of a plot, and end by tying all of those together. And the only novels that won't do that will be from established authors who can get away with ignoring the rules.

I already can tell you the ending of most movies or what a character will do next in tv shows without having seen them before. Knowing the structure and rules of novel writing means I can do the same thing when I'm reading, and the best I can hope for is that while I'll know a twist is coming, I won't quite have figured out what it's going to be.

How sad is it to know a twist is coming?

Which brings me, at last, to the coolest thing about epublishing.

There are no more rules.

Don't get me wrong. I think River's Veronica-sees-a-ghost opening is good, and I'm keeping it. I'm glad I had to work on it so much, because I do think it's better for it. But the cool thing is, if I want to open my next novel with a dream, because that's the best way to open it, I can. No agent will look at it and say, "Damnit, another dream opening!" and throw it in the garbage. Epublishing means the only people I'm beholden to are my readers. I'm guessing that breaking all the rules may create a big mess, but just think of the creative possibilities of that mess! Just imagine the weird directions novels can now go in! Or, how about this... I have a critiquing partner on a forum who wrote an epic fantasy that's the first book in a trilogy and it's something like 200K words. He's been told on forums like querytracker that he's got to cut that thing down because no agent will consider publishing a first novel that long, epic fantasy or not. But he feels that it's already as trim as its going to get. So if he epublishes it, does he have to amputate some part of it that he feels is vital to the story? No! How cool is that?

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Is this really a good thing? Don't authors need the gatekeepers in traditional publishing to force them to tighten their prose, make better plotting decisions, etc.?"

I put it to you that the answer is no. The only people authors need to please are readers. If my friend publishes his epic and he gets readers, that's all that matters. Now what may happen is that when an author puts a novel up, very few people will buy it, because it has massive flaws and gets bad reviews. Then it's time to go back to the drawing board. And who wants to have to keep pulling their novel off the retail pages to fix it? No, I think good authors will work their hardest to create the best novel they can to begin with anyway. Most of us are not hacks trying to throw a few cliches together and thinking it will sell. Most of us love what we do. We love our characters. It matters to us that a story hang together well. It feels good when you come up with a solution to that plot point nightmare you've been struggling with for weeks. So while there will be people who epublish before their novel is ready, they'll learn. And once they do, they'll become better writers for it. And best of all, the novels they will produce will be original and wonderful and not fettered down by rules!

Pretty cool, huh?

You've made it through this whole post. That means you have an unusually robust attention span. So tell me, what do you think about all of this?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Schedule for Up-coming Posts in fellow writer's blog

Below is the schedule of posts for April at http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/ .

4/01—Six Questions for David A. Bright, Editor, Gemini Magazine
4/04—Six Questions for Randall Brown, Founder, Matter Press and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts
4/06—Six Questions for Mandy Ward, Editor, Welcome to Wherever
4/08—Six Questions for Keely Christensen, Editor-in-Chief, The Red Asylum
4/11—Six Questions for Mike O'Mary, Founder, Dream of Things
4/13—Six Questions for Betsy Dornbusch, Editor, Electric Spec
4/15—Six Questions for Stephanie Taylor, Publisher, Astraea Press
4/18—Six Questions for Laura E. Davis, Founding & Poetry Editor, Weave Magazine
4/20—Six Questions for Darby Larson, Editor, Abjective
4/22—Six Questions for David James Keaton, Editor-in-Chief, Flywheel Magazine
4/25—Six Questions for Amanda Deo, Editor, Thunderclap
4/27—Six Questions for Chris Deal, Editor, Nefarious Muse
4/29—Six Questions for Celia Kyle, Publisher, Summerhouse Publishing

Saturday, March 26, 2011

epublishing your novel

I'm so excited. I've epublished my novel, Broken Ones, on Smashwords, and it will soon also become available electronically on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Clicking the "publish" button on Smashwords was SO COOL. Seriously. So cool!

So I had to do a fair amount of research to get it all done, and I thought I'd bring my findings here so that perhaps someone feeling as overwhelmed as I did yesterday can get it all in one place.

First of all, publish to at least these three retailers: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.* Every retailer has their own format to follow for epublishing. This is annoying, and I suspect when we move out of this "wild west" era of epublishing, one of the things that will happen is standardization of formats. But in the meantime...

The simplest order to epublish is as follows (at least in my experience):
  1. Publish to Smashwords
  2. Publish to B&N
  3. Publish to Amazon
Why? Because Smashwords has this wonderful free guide: Smashwords Style Guide. Warning: it is 73 pages long. Don't be intimidated, though, the first two dozen pages or so just tell you why using their guide is useful. The bulk of the instructions exist from around page 25ish to page 68, and there are a lot of images. And it is totally worth doing what they advise.

One thing I didn't think they made clear is that they won't take a .docx file. Only .doc, so "save as" .doc (it's listed as Word 97-2003) if you're using the latest Word.

Once you have your Smashwords formatted document, it is way easy to convert it to B&N and Amazon. Just remove the Smashwords copyright info and replace it with the appropriate info for whichever format you're doing. On the B&N site, you can upload the Word doc as is. For Amazon, you have to convert the file to html. Don't worry, all that means is "save as" a web page or as html, depending on what your program calls it.

Always look at the preview. When I first uploaded my file to Amazon I saw I had lost my paragraph indents. Then I realized I'd uploaded the .doc file, not the .html file. Because Amazon will take a .doc file, but the .html file keeps all that nice Smashwords formatting you created whereas for some reason it loses some from the .doc file.

Alternately, you can use Guide Henkel's guide to formatting, which provides you with step by step instructions for creating a clean, issue-free html file. Note that you cannot use this file for Smashwords. You definitely can for Amazon, and I didn't try for B&N. I ran into one problem with it, and commented on Guido's blog, and he responded within like, an hour. Really supportive. If you do decide to go with this guide to format your Amazon Kindle, be aware that the first line in the style sheet needs to be changed. Quoting Guido here from the email he sent me:

Simply change the first line in the style sheet

       html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0.1em; }

to this one

       html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0; }

and you will be fine. Kindle does not interpret the padding command properly and applies it only to the left side of the page.

When you're ready to upload your formatted book:

Have your bank account information handy when you are ready to upload your book. This will save you time and help you avoid annoying your significant other by asking him/her five different questions about your bank account. Believe me.

I created a paypal account for B&N because they pay you every time you earn $10 with paypal, versus every $75 if you choose to be paid by check.

A note or two about creating a cover:

You can do it yourself. I did. There are places online with free stock photos and illustrations, but in the end I went to dreamstime and set up an account, and paid $9.99 for 8 credits to buy a 4 credit image. So I paid, essentially, $5.00 for my cover and the right to use its photo commercially. I then used Paint to add the title and my name. I chose my photo carefully, as I wanted to combine the concept of "broken" with a sense of hope, and I also wanted a literal broken window since two windows get broken in the book. I also like to think the sunbeam could be a ghost image, but that might be stretching it. And I also carefully chose the font and how to format it. I suggest you look at your cover as a thumbnail in your file directory, because it will be that small (or nearly) in some of the directories Smashwords lists it in. If you can't read your name and title, start over.

You want an image that is minimum  800h X 600w because that's the minimum required by all three companies, I believe. At least two out of the three, for sure.

If the thought of creating your own cover gives you hives, you can, I'm told, go to DeviantArt and hire an artist on the cheap. One person told me it would cost around $35. One of my critiquing buddies is going to have his nephew do his cover. There are lots of possibilities.

Finally, some things to consider:

  • Price: if you go by what epublishing guru J.A. Konrath says and does, price your ebook at $0.99 for promotional periods, then raise it to $2.99. Why? For one thing, on B&N and Amazon this makes a big difference in terms of your royalties. B&N Nookbooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn 65% while anything outside of that range earns 40%. Amazon Kindlebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn 70% while everything else earns 35%. So once you've got some momentum going on your sales and you have some five star book reviews, it may make sense to raise your price to $2.99, especially if your book is at least 65K words. Readers apparently judge value based on length a lot of the time. I've also read that some authors prefer not to list at $0.99 indefinitely because the $0.99 ebook attracts a certain kind of reader, and that kind of reader can be unpleasant. I wish I remembered which blog I read that on, because I'd link to it, but I don't, so do some searches for more information.

  • Don't publish your book until you've given it revisions and a thorough edit. I mean, don't get me wrong, I probably missed some typos in my novel--I think I catch them all, and they still slip by me, masters of stealth that they are. But I think typos are forgivable. What hangs me up when I'm reading are things like passive voice, overuse of to be verbs, etc. And stories that confuse me, etc. So don't put your book out there until it's been through some beta-readers, etc. Broken Ones had a total of six beta-readers and I still caught way too many gerunds and to be verbs in my last edit. And try to eliminate every "there was" or "there were" you find. And to quote Stephen King, "The adverb is not your friend." Apparently a lot of crappy self-published ebooks exist out there. I believe that while some of these are selling, eventually the cream will rise to the top. Make sure yours is creamy.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has epublished or is considering doing so. Please comment and tell me a bit about your journey!

*ETA: I have been asked, "Why go through the trouble of reformatting to submit to Amazon when Smashwords automatically formats for Kindle (as well as many other formats)?" My answer: because at this time Smashwords does not place your book for sale with Amazon. That means if you want your book listed on Amazon for people to buy for their Kindles you must submit it separately to Amazon. Smashwords does list your book with B&N, but only if you make their Premium List, and I'm not going to take my chances.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

feminists, atheists, and being child-free

Recently on Twitter I browsed through the list of people one of the people I follow follows. (Say that five times fast.) Because of her interests, quite a lot of these people were child-free feminist atheists. Or possibly some different order of those.

It made me think, as I clicked "follow" on a few of them, about whether I'd define myself that way. And I came back to a decision I made years ago after reading bell hooks--I couldn't tell you which one of her titles, as I have read most and can no longer pinpoint which one says what. I will not call myself a feminist. I am pro-feminism. This is for a number of reasons. hooks argued that labeling yourself with an -ist limits you, so that's reason #1. But I also have become frustrated with feminism because of the infighting and the exclusive nature I find most feminist groups have. And I wish they didn't, because I love women. I wish I had biological sisters and would love to hang out in a place with spiritual sisters. It's just so rare to find a place really like that, that doesn't get ruined sooner or later. At least, how I define "ruined." I'm thinking of the infighting again. But on reflection, since I don't have sisters, I probably idealize sisterhood. After all, siblings fight. I guess I just don't have the energy for that anymore. I used to totally be into feminist stuff--women's studies classes, I founded an online discussion group, etc. Just sorta done with that now. Read bell hooks. She nails a lot of the other reasons why, and you'll get way more out of reading one of her books than reading this blog. Incidentally, she's also the reason I quit graduate school. Well, maybe not THE reason, but I agree with her when she says (totally paraphrasing here) that high graduate theory is elitist, excludes the average person from being able to participate in dialogue, and doesn't help anyone who really needs help.

Anyway, back to the list of labels.

Atheist: I'm not an atheist. I can't live that way, I fear death too much, for one thing. For another, there's too much synchronicity in my life. I'm a daoist, and I also think there is a spirit world out there that I can sometimes interact with. Not like my psychic character, Veronica, does. But like some speck on her shoe might. I'm serious. So I'm sort of a daoist-spiritualist. I guess.

Child-free: I have no children, so I could claim this label, but since it's not a choice I've made, I wouldn't. I'm not against being child-free. In fact, in hooksian fashion, I might say I'm pro-child-free. But if I got pregnant tomorrow one of the emotions I'd be feeling is excitement. Another would be terror, no joke. But the point is I'd go through with it. I also have often thought about adopting/fostering. So I have no political stance anti-having kids. I am appalled by people who choose to biologically have more than say, seven. I think they are making a choice that is ecologically reprehensible. If a person wants and can afford to have 7+ kids, for the love of the earth, ADOPT. And really, that number could be lower, but I wanted to choose one that actually causes me to feel appalled. And probably I could meet someone tomorrow who is the 8th child in a family and think, "Gee, what a nice person, I'm glad they were born." So it's all relative, in the end. But IN THEORY I object to people having more than seven kids. So there.

Since I intend to epub a book fairly soon, I will have to rewrite my Twitter bio, so when that day comes, I'll probably put something about being pro-feminism in there, as I still do support it as a cause. I could put that I'm a daoist... animist? I'm still trying to work out the exact right label there. And maybe about being pro-LGBT/gay marriage (except get me started on marriage as a legal institution sometime--I dare you), and supportive of those who choose to live child-free. Except I'll only get 140 characters, so probably I'll stick to just one or two of those.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sample Sunday

The following excerpt is from my women's fic novel (which of course has ghosts in it) BROKEN ONES. It takes place near the beginning. Louise, an anthropology lecturer at San Diego State, allowed her sister, Marie, to spend the night at her place to escape the wrath of her abusive husband, Everett.

Any and all comments warmly welcomed.

The pounding on my front door woke me, which told me two things right away. One, I’d overslept. Two, whoever was at my door was about to break it down, they were pummeling it so hard.
I straightened out the tee-shirt and drawstring pants I was sleeping in and ran my fingers through my hair a few times, although from the feel of it, there was no taming it.
“Alright!” I shouted as I made my way to the front of the house. “Alright, stop it!”
“Marie!” came the answering bellow. “Marie, I know you’re in there!”
Everett. “Oh, god,” I whispered, unsure of what to do. A quick look around my living room showed that they had already left. The afghans were folded, stacked one on top of the other on one end of my old worn-out couch.
Everett started pounding on the door again.
“Everett, knock it off!” I shouted, and opened the door. He stood there, red-faced and panting, eyes wild. Everett has coffee hair and eyes, and just a hint of olive in his complexion, but at the moment it was as dark as a beet.
Everett Karrar came from a “nice” middle-class family in Point Loma. WASPy-types; they went to their church and attended fundraising events at local nonprofits. Everett fit their image of the good son—he’d done a tour in Iraq, got honorably discharged due to an injury, and now worked as a CPA at a firm in downtown San Diego. He had a wife and three kids, and he moved in the same circles he grew up with. But to look at him now, you’d think he was a reject from the Springer Show. He was so mad, spittle was flying from his mouth with every breath.
“Everett, she’s not here,” I said, trying to project calm.
“I know she’s here!” He was trying to push his way past me.
“See for yourself,” I said, and stepped out of the way so he could come in and look around.
Everett stalked into the entryway. I watched him take in the empty living room, and his eyes came to rest on the afghans on the couch. Some of the red was fading from his face. He kept his eyes on the afghans and said, “She was here.”
I shrugged. “Yeah. She spent the night.”
His eyes darted to me. Two spots of red stayed in his cheeks. “Where’d she go?”
I shrugged again. “I don’t know. You woke me up. I didn’t know she’d left.”
His eyebrows plunged down and his eyes teared up. His hands balled into fists. “Bull-fucking-shit, Louise. Bull-fucking-shit. You think you can hide my wife from me? My kids? Where is she?”
I stood and stared at him, trying to look bored. Inside, I could feel my pulse accelerating, and my hands went cold. I wasn’t going to tell him where Marie went, and I wanted him out of my house. But Everett used to be a Marine, and although his body was going to seed, he was still a lot stronger than me.
“Everett, I don’t know,” I said. “She was here when I got home last night. She asked to stay over, so I said sure. Now she’s gone.”
Everett grabbed my arm, fingers hard and squeezing. “You think you can just laugh at me, don’t you, Louise! Who the fuck are you to get in the middle of things? She’s my wife!”
“Let me go,” I said, yanking away, but he kept his grip on my arm. “Everett, I told you, I don’t know where she is!”
“Yeah, you do,” he said, nodding. “And you’d better tell me.”
“Listen, you fucker, I’m not telling you anything!” I said, my temper snapping. I raised a bare foot and slammed it as hard as I could against his shin, raking down to pound his sneaker. It wasn’t all that effective, except that his face flushed bright red again. “Let me go!” I shouted.
Everett gripped my arm tighter and then threw me down and away from him. I stumbled and my knees hit the floor.
“Jesus, Everett!” I cried. I scrambled to my feet and pointed at my door. “Get out!”
He ignored that and strode towards me.
“Get the fuck out of my house!” I shouted. “You’re crazy!”
That’s when he punched me. I hit the floor again.
“You think you can hide my kids from me? You think you can hide my wife? Where are they?” he yelled. I tried to get on my feet again but my head spun and my jaw felt like it had exploded. “Where are they, Louise!”
I grabbed at the couch for support, pulling myself up. He was fucking crazy. I had to call the cops. On my feet at last, I lunged for the phone, which sat on a table by the wall.
“Oh no you don’t!” he growled. My feet flew out from under me—he’s knocked them out—and then the phone was in his hand. I don’t remember much after that.

Monday, March 14, 2011

this is the end... of your novel

I recently finished writing a new subplot and associated characters into my RiP (revision in progress, which is a complete draft, now in its fourth cycle of revisions, as opposed to WiP, work in progress, which is still an incomplete first draft). Because of this milestone, I reread the novel's ending. I think it's a good ending, but then I realized it's not something I've given a great deal of thought to. I also read this article today, in which the assumption is that everyone reading knows loads about how to write a good opening chapter and almost as much about writing a good final chapter. But I don't. I mean, I have in the last couple of months become much more familiar with the do's and don't's of novel openings, but I haven't read anything or discussed the question of novel endings at all.

So I figured, maybe you haven't either. And I did a little research, mainly by reading these articles:
Of the above, I found the third article to be the most useful. The first was an interesting overview of three possible formats, the second was hard for me to follow (although take that with a grain of salt because my attention span is about as small as a grain of salt), and the fourth was a teaser opening to an article and I'd have had to buy access to the rest. And I just don't have the money for that right now.

What festinapeoples suggests in her eHow article is to create an outline of everything you've already written as you near the end of the novel. This isn't something I've tried--I don't use outlines. When I start a novel, I have a general idea of the story. I know several elements I'll be including, who the major characters are, and more or less where I want to end up. I often have several scenes already worked out in my head. And the task becomes to go from the logical beginning--although, considering the difficulty I've had with the opening of the RiP, there's nothing logical or straightforward about it--and make my way in the most coherent manner to each scene, until I've come to the end. But what I have done is create 3X5 cards as I reached the midway point of the WiP--it was getting hard for me to keep track of everything.

Festinapeoples's outlining method sounds similar. She suggests that you create it to be sure to tie up all of the loose ends you've created in the beginning and middle of the novel. My cards serve the same purpose, but they have the advantage, imo, of being easier to move around than the outline. Maybe the ideal is to do both.
  1. Create the outline of all preceding scenes or chapters.
  2. Create 3X5 cards for all the remaining scenes (my chapters have several scenes each, so it works better if each card has a scene, not a chapter).
  3. Make sure there's a card addressing each loose end from the outline.
  4. Play with the order of the cards until everything hangs together nicely.
So that's for the organizational side of it. How about the actual ending, what should that look like?

Of course there are a lot of ways to go about this, and genre is a huge factor, as is the overall tone of your novel. My novels are paranormal fiction, with a strong women's lit quality. While some parts may get dark, at times, the overall tone of the stories is light. I write to entertain. I like to end with dialogue. My RiP ends with the mc and her love interest talking about the events they've just gone through together, and then the love interest asking the mc out. I think it's sweet. We'll see if my crit partners agree!

I'm guessing the dialogue-sweet-ending thing would not work for everyone's novel. Stephen King, for instance. I don't think he chooses that format very often.

How about you? Have you given much though to how to end a novel? Do you have wisdom to share about the right way and the wrong way to do that?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Talking about a story idea

I don't talk about a story idea until I've completed a first draft. The closest thing is to ask someone a question about some detail, and find I'm forced to explain an aspect of the story for the person to be able to answer. And even that makes me horribly uncomfortable, and I've resolved to avoid doing it again at all costs. I have two reasons for this:

1. More often than not when I have done this, the person(s) I told my story to will find some flaw in it or come up with a helpful suggestion, which destroys the idea.

2. (And this is the main one) Talking about the idea relieves the pressure to write it and get it out of my head.

I have a friend who loves to hash out her stories over the phone and it's really hard for me to cooperate with that. Inside, I'm screaming, "Dear god, stop now before you kill this thing!" And, I have to say, she rarely completes a story.

How about you? Do you ever talk about an idea before you've written a first draft of it?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

name your baby--er--character

I am obsessed with names. Especially character names. Show me your query, and I will probably become fixated on a character name in it and raise some issue that no one has ever shown any concern over before. When selecting my own character names, I go through a whole process. It's actually a lot of fun for me. Here's what I do:
  • Decide on a word or words that best describes the character. Recently, for instance, I needed to find a new name for a character who I would describe as hard, bitter, inflexible. 
  • Go to a couple of my favorite name sites, such as this one or this one, and do meaning searches on the words I chose, and some synonyms. Now often, especially for negative attributes, this doesn't go very far (although Mary means "bitter"--did you know that?).
  • Go to BabelFish and run the words through various language translations. I settled on "Felsen" for my inflexible character's last name. It means "rock" in German. I'm really hoping it means "rock" as in "stone" and not as in this. But in the end, it doesn't matter--it just has to mean "rock" to me. I don't expect anyone else to look up the meanings of all of my names. And since sometimes I tweak the spellings of them to suit my needs, it would probably be an exercise in frustration for anyone to try.
  • Sometimes, if the above steps don't come through, I'll go on to search the names of gods and goddesses, mythological creatures, historical figures, etc., to find a name that resonates.
A few things to consider when naming a character:
  • Make sure none of your characters' names are similar. This is a rookie mistake. A lot of people do it unconsciously--they like the sound of certain vowels and consonants in a name, and without realizing it, they use them over and over. Honestly, I think Tolkien did it with Arwen and Eowyn, among others. I bet he had all sorts of justifications for it in his world-building. In the end, it's still a lot harder than it needs to be to discuss who you think Aragorn should end up with.
  • Look at their ethnicity and ancestry. If you are going to name a character Billy Gambini, have a reason. Even if only you know the reason. 
  • Consider whether the name sounds like anything unfortunate. Unless you chose it to be funny. And trust me, folks, I've seen some unfortunate character names out there--this is the sort of thing I notice.
  • Avoid choosing unusual names unless they fit with your genre. If you have a character named Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, they'd better be the headmaster of Hogwarts.
  • Likewise, make sure the name is easy to pronounce, even if your character is an alien from a culture where they click their beaks when they speak. Please, for the love of Groosalugg, avoid apostrophes.
That's all I've got for now, although I suspect I'll think of five more points and come back to edit this post again later.

What process do you use to name your characters?