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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Finding Your Way By the Stars, or With a Map?

First, I want to apologize for missing the hop last month–life and work have been stressful and chaotic. I’m hoping to get back on a regular blogging (and writing) schedule at long last, now that work isn’t so rough. We all go through tough times as writers, don’t we? Times that try us and tear us away from our creativity. I think the important thing is to not give up and hope for the best. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, anyway!

Today, I’m going to talk about outlining, or, in my case ‘loose outlining.’ You’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “pantser” in reference to writers. If not, a “plotter” is the type of writer who works out the story before writing it–whether it be in notes, an outline, or by creating a structure for the story in some other way before actually getting down to business. A “pantser” is a writer who just dives in and makes up the story as they go along, aka they’re writing by the seat of their pants. Both camps tend to have their own way of doing things and often view the other as some kind of aliens. I know I did for a long time! 😀

Here’s the thing: for most of my writing life, I was a pantser. It was just how my brain worked. I would come up with ideas, and have some kind of vague direction I was going, but I just got in the water and swam, and let the current take me where it would. This probably wasn’t a good idea when I FIRST started writing, as you can tell a lot of my early stuff suffers badly from ‘wandering writer’ syndrome. But over time I perfected it and got better and better at just following the story–and making it follow me, which was more important. You wouldn’t catch me writing no outline, no sir! I liked my freedom! I liked my open, creative flow. Down with plotting!

Then…something happened, and I can’t even tell you when or how. I started writing down notes, and then before you knew it, I started plotting out the whole story beforehand. Something I swore I’d never do. I always thought working like that would stifle my creativity, but instead it gave me a framework to play on, and most importantly, it helped me keep the story on the right path as I navigated from beginning to end. I knew what I was aiming toward and that actually HELPED my creativity. When I knew what was coming, I could plant the seeds of it way beforehand, which made the story richer.

Now, I’m definitely not a super-ridgid, detailed outliner type. My ‘outlines’ tend to be one to one and a half pages of general plotting from the start to finish. There’s still a lot of gaps and places to fill stuff in. I don’t and probably can’t plot out detailed scenes ahead of time, but I can make a summary of the story, kind of like a synopsis, and that gives me something to work with. Still, for this old pantser, that’s quite a leap into different territory!

Do you think you can teach an old writer new tricks? Have you ever changed something about your writing style? And are you plotter or panster? Could you be the opposite?

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Building Character

Creating characters is much like meeting someone new in real life: when you first meet them, you know nothing about them–their personality, what they like, what they hate, what they do for a living, who their friends and family are. You only know what you can immediately observe, like their appearance, the sound of their voice, and their mannerisms. And even then, most of those things can be misleading because people act differently around new people and they cultivate what they look like. It takes time to get to know someone and start to understand them. It takes time for your readers to get to know your characters too, but most importantly, it takes you, the writer, time to get to know them as well. And you’re the person who’s going to have to know them inside and out by the end of the book.

Some authors build characters before they even begin to write, working out their entire life story on paper first, but I’ve never been like this. I also feel that even though this gives you a sketch, it doesn’t fill in all the details until you actually start working with that character. Just as a potential employee can give you a detailed resume, you still learn new things when you interview them. I’m the type of writer who likes to learn my characters as I write them. Sometimes they really surprise me. Of course you go in with an idea of who they are, but you let them really start to express it in the framework of the story.

What are some important ways for you–and the reader–to get to know your characters? It can be a bit like peeling an onion, going down layer after layer until you get to the core. Then again, some characters will never show you their core–because that’s who they are as people.

  • Physical. As I said, the first thing we take in about a person is how they look. But most people also build their appearance. They choose clothes they like, do their hair the way they prefer, and decorate and adorn themselves to show off their personality. The way your character looks says a lot about them. Are they a wholesome, clean-cut type or a wild and rebellious type with neon green hair and piercings? This can say a lot about them with a single glance–and it can say deeper things about them, too. For example, in my Siren Song series, my main character, June, has spent her life being ashamed of and terrified by her supernatural powers, and of how other people react to them. As such, she’s covered in tattoos, to distract other people from that fact about herself and to give them something else to focus on. Sometimes we use our looks to direct attention elsewhere.
  • Their preferences. As you get to know a character better, you’ll find out what they like and dislike. Their favorite foods, movies, music, and color can say a lot about them, especially if the information is delivered at the relevant time. Maybe your character hates the color pink because her mother decorated her entire bedroom in it as a child. This not only says something about the character, but about her family dynamic and feelings toward her mother.
  • Emotions. Now we’re getting deeper. As we see the emotions your character goes through, it tells us a lot about their personality. Especially negative emotions–what frightens them, stresses them out, or makes them angry. This can say a lot about how they handle the world around them and what sort of emotional and mental constitution they have.
  • Reactions. How your characters react to things that happen to and around them is a very important key to their personality. It shows their level of resilience, morality, perseverance, and empathy. How a character reacts to a dramatic or important situation can say more about them than any other character trait you give them–and it tells the reader a lot, too.
  • How other people react to them. It’s also equally important how your characters react toward each other. How people react reflects their personalities, but it also shows how the other person projects a personality that people respond to. Even if that projected personality is all a sham, the fact that other people react to it tells us how well or poorly constructed it is.

Those are just a few tips for getting to know a character. Sometimes the best part about writing is the little things you discover along the way, things you couldn’t have worked out beforehand. It’s like getting to know a new friend. How do you get to know your characters?

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Life Isn’t Easy

This month for the blog hop, I thought I’d tackle something I’m going through at the moment: real life getting in the way of writing. Unless you’re a professional writer (meaning you make most or all of your income through writing) you’ve probably had the “day job” block your creative flow. Most writers, I think, have dealt with the trials of life bludgeoning them in their writing kneecaps: a job, kids, family issues, illness, tragedies, stress, and all those other nasty curveballs life likes to throw at us to knock us off our feet. By the time we get a moment to write we’re too physically and/or mentally exhausted to make the words come. What we’re slogging through not only makes us tired, it makes our brains sluggish as well.

My job has been difficult for the past month or so and it’s draining my resources. The good news is this will end eventually, but not until sometime in June. Until then, my focus will continue to be off, I’ll continue to resent that I don’t have enough time/mental capacity to write, and I’ll continue to be bitter, feeding into this awful angry, non-creative cycle I’m stuck in right now. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not.

I’ve decided to try to come up with a game plan to make this, if at least not better, then more tolerable–and maybe, if you’re stuck in the mud too as real life continues to dump more dirt on your head, you can use it as a shovel. I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help me wedge writing in around all the chaos:

  • Schedule time. I’m not a scheduler, so this is hard for me. I tend to write when I write, and I don’t really like to make a rigid structure out of it. If you do, you’re already ahead of me on this one! If I know I’m going to have a stretch of downtime where I don’t have to focus on anything else, I can pencil my writing in there. Will I want to write when I get to that time? I might not, but they say the best way out of a rut is to do things anyway, even if you grumble and groan, and eventually they get easier. Just like exercise–it hurts at first and you feel resistance, but eventually your muscles get stronger and the workout easier.
  • Break the writing down into smaller chunks. This is also hard for me, because when I write I tend to write a lot, but I don’t have the time or energy for that right now. If I promise myself I’ll do smaller portions, eventually those will all add up to something big, even if it’s not as fast as I’m used to. And that’s okay! I need to give myself reasonable assignments and goals during this tough time. I can write only 1,000 words or edit one chapter and still feel accomplished.
  • Be consistent. This is a hard thing to maintain when life is a whirlwind, but consistency also makes the wind feel less like it’s trying to knock you over. When I tell myself “I’m going to do X and Y on these days, and I’m not going to waver from that,” it helps things feel a little more stable. Hopefully, this will also give me small things to look forward to. Routine is comforting, especially when the rest of your life is out of whack.
  • Stick to one project. If you’re like me, I always have several writing projects going on at once. That’s just how I am. If you don’t do the same thing this bullet point won’t help you and I envy your dedication! I definitely like to juggle several balls at once, but right now that’s making me not do ANYTHING because it all feels so complicated and overwhelming on top the other difficulties in my life. During this time I’m going to try to focus on one thing only and get it done, bit by bit. At least then I won’t just lay around crying about how I’m not getting anything done.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. This is the most important task for me, and one I really, really need to take to heart. Is the world going to end if I don’t get another book written by the end of summer? Of course not. Is everyone I know going to hate me and refuse to ever speak to me again if I don’t stick with my writing right now? Why on earth would they! Are the writing police gonna show up at my house and arrest me if I don’t get some writing done every day? The writing police don’t even exist! Or do they…

I’m trying to be easier on myself right now, as well as trying to get my brain to shut up about how I’m being lazy and not taking care of my muses. Wish me luck!

How do you deal with life when it gets in the way of your writing? Any tips or tricks?

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

The Dreaded Synopsis

So, you’ve written an entire book. You’ve polished it until it shines. You dotted every i and crossed every t. The plot makes sense, the characters feel real, your beta readers absolutely love it, you’ve checked for mistakes a million times, and the book is as good as you’re going to make it. Now, it’s time to submit it. But wait–before you can do that, you have to do the really HARD part, the part that’s even harder than writing the book.

You have to write a synopsis.

*groaning from the audience*

If you’re like me, you can make the effort to write a book without batting an eye, but when the time comes to write the synopsis you fall down on the floor and whine and cry like a two-year-old who was just told they can’t have a fourth cup of chocolate pudding. Writing a synopsis is hard. It’s an art form as much as writing a book.

First of all, you have to condense your ENTIRE book down into–how many pages? Well, that depends. There’s no absolute standard “this is how many pages a synopsis is” largely because the editor/agent you’re submitting to makes this decision. Some want a short, one-page synopsis. Some want it to be longer, sometimes 5+ pages. One would think a longer synopsis would be easier to write, but it’s not, necessarily. Because a synopsis is also about telling a story, and yes, it needs to sound just as interesting as your book in order to sell it.

When editors and agents look a synopsis, they’re looking for a couple of things: they want to see if the plot works when it’s all pieced together and if it makes sense, and they want to know what happens in the book from beginning to end to find out if it’s original, engaging, and if it will sell. It sounds unfair, but these professional people don’t have time to read your book if the synopsis makes it sounds weak, disjointed, or just overall boring. The synopsis is a briefing of what’s to come, and it tells them if it’s worth their time to explore further.

So, what needs to go into a synopsis? Here are the key components:

  • The major characters. These should be introduced quickly and their role in the story should be sufficiently explained. Depending on the length of the synopsis you might also add in some of your minor characters, at the point where they come into the story.
  • The conflict. This should be presented immediately, so the person reading the synopsis will understand right away what this story is about.
  • The major plot points. When you have to write a short synopsis, it’s helpful sometimes to list all your major plot points, and then figure out which ones you don’t really need to mention, or can gloss over, because you’re going to have to be very, very succinct.
  • The climax. What happens at the pinnacle of the book? How are things resolved? What changes, and how do your characters deal with it?
  • The conclusion. Synopses are not spoiler-free zones. The editor/agent needs to see how you end the story, to know if it’s appropriate and satisfying.

Writing a synopsis is not a whole lot of fun–at least, not for me. And guess what I’m doing right now?

How do you go about writing a synopsis? Do you have any advice for other writers?

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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

A Common Theme

Many times authors don’t just write one book with the same characters and world–series, sequels, trilogies, quadrilogies and more are pretty common in a variety of genres. They’re often found in sci-fi and fantasy, and in the genre I write, romance. It’s also common in the mystery world, with multi-volume series that focus on one sleuth or detective. It’s this last example that brings me to what I want to talk about today:

The shared world series.

A “shared world” is usually written one of two major ways: either the main character or several major characters appear in every book, but the books only interconnect insofar as they take place in the same universe; or, every book has different characters but takes place in the same world with the same premise. Personally, I’m writing about this subject right now because I’m currently writing a shared world series. Mine is in the second format: every book has different characters, but they all have similar experiences in the same universe, revolving around the same premise. The first book in this series will come out this spring–I can’t wait!–but I’ve also written several more books in this series already.

Shared worlds, no matter how they’re written, have a few key components:

  • The books can be read in any order and still make sense–they’re not dependent on each other the way sequels and trilogies are. It’s not a single story told across multiple books.
  • The same characters or same premise/subjects appear in each book.
  • The set-up of the universe generally has to be explained in every book, to make them stand-alone.

As I write this series, I’m finding the last point to be the most challenging. Even though by this time I know everything about the world I’m writing in, and it’s been presented in every book so far, I have to explain the key components over again in each book no matter how annoying it is for me. That’s because every book could be the first book the reader picks up. The hard part is that I have to do it without repeating myself to the point a reader reading EVERY book would feel like I’m just being repetitive, and do it in a creative way that makes it non-invasive and part of the story. I’m trying to do this by adding new details to the setup every time and varying things a little. Yes, it’s a challenge–but it’s fun!

I know a lot of readers enjoy a shared world series. It’s great to write too, because you get to explore new characters and stories but with an established background already in place. Do you read books like this? Do you write them? Let me know in the comments!