I’m over at Word Whores this gorgeous Sunday, telling the story about the moment I decided to be a career writer.
Month: June 2013
Why Your Protagonist Should Never Be YOU – and Other Advice
The cholla have started to bloom and their intense pink is startling against the sere desert landscape. This plant was backlit by the setting sun and I wanted to capture the way it glowed in the light. I got about halfway there, I think.
So, I have a story to tell you all today with two take-home messages.
Recently at a conference, I was having drinks with a couple of friends, when an aspiring writer sat down with us. Though she and I knew each other glancingly, she was good friends with the other two gals. So, she proceeded to catch them up on her efforts towards publication. She reported that the agent she’d been going back and forth with and just rejected her latest submission. She was understandably upset and frustrated.
Lord knows, we’ve all been there.
She went on to say that one of the agent’s issues was that the heroine wasn’t likable. And the writer said, “but my heroine is me, so there’s nothing I can do about that.”
Okay – some of you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but I had a lot of sympathy for her in this, because I’ve been there. In face, A LOT of us have been there. It’s surprisingly (to me) common for the protagonist of a writer’s first novel to be avatar of the writer herself. (I don’t really know if the guys do this, too, but I’ve heard it over and over from the women.) Worse, we all thought at the time that this was a great idea.
In other words, it’s a classic newbie mistake.
While it’s not horrible in itself to use yourself as a foundation for a protagonist – it’s an extension of “write what you know” – the crucial problem is exactly what’s going on here. When your heroine is YOU, then you don’t have perspective on how she appears on the page. If someone – especially and industry professional – says they’re concerned that your character is unsympathetic, you have to be able to look at the characterization and make the needed adjustments. The moment you decide that this character is you, then that advice becomes a personal insult. As if somehow YOU are unlikable.
And this is really not the case.
(Okay, maybe it is, but that’s beside the point.)
When you portray a character in a story, it’s impossible to say everything about that person. A human being is a complex assortment of characteristics. Even after many years, we don’t know everything about each other. Anyone who’s been in a 20+ year marriage/partnership can raise your hand now. When we write, we CHOOSE certain things to define our characters. A particular gesture. A haunting moment from their past. A certain quirk about public transportation. The skilled writer finds these key characteristics to create the person in the reader’s mind. Once the reader understands that person, they sympathize.
This is a primary goal for the writer. The reader has to be on board with the protagonist. Even with a difficult or unreliable narrator – I’m thinking of Amazing Amy in Gone Girl, for example – the book works because we get her thought process. The first part of the book establishes our sympathy with her.
With ourselves as the protagonist, there are at least two problems with accurate characterization. First, very few, if any, of us can see ourselves objectively enough to create an accurate image. Second, we see ourselves from the inside-out, which doesn’t allow for a clear picture of the outside-in.
Maybe those are the same things.
Still, the first take-home message is: don’t make your heroine your avatar. Even if you start there – as most of us do – then change her up. You might have to give her characteristics that are the opposite of you, just to create that distance.
So, there we were, listening to this gal vent and I finally said I had a couple of pieces of advice for her, if she wanted them. She nodded, but became immediately distracted. She ended up not hearing my advice at all, which was fine. The first piece was what I’ve told you all here – and it’s entirely possible she wasn’t ready to hear it.
The second piece of advice concerned the agent she was wanting work with, which is something I’d never put in any form of writing. The only time I’d ever offer someone that kind of input is in a situation like that – among friends, with plausible deniability.
This is one reason to go to conferences or other real life events – because people will tell you things in person that they wouldn’t be caught dead committing to the public record.
Now, I know I’m not a Fancee Writer. I have no illusions there. I don’t have books on the big bestseller lists (yet!) and I’m low on the totem pole. However, I am ON the totem pole. I have a few years of experience as a published author in the industry. I know a lot of things I didn’t when I started out. So, that’s my second take-home message: if someone like me offers you advice, it’s worth listening to. You don’t have to take it. In fact, it’s better not to take any advice without proper scrutiny. But give it a listen. Especially that in-person, twixt-thee-and-me bar conversation. You’ll learn things there you’ll never learn anywhere else.
And here’s a bonus piece of advice, should you care to consider it, 😉 if you find me at a conference or other event, I will likely give you unvarnished, honest advice of the sort I’d never put online. I’m happy to do that because other writers did it for me. We’re all in this boat together.
Grab an oar and climb on board!
Have a great weekend, everyone.
POV and Writing Discipline – Enjoying the Pain
I made a point of spending time out in the garden this weekend, which meant I did a lot of reading. It’s lovely to reconnect with my reading-self. I’m on my 31st book read this year, so I feel like I’m making progress there!
Last Friday, I mentioned that I’m wading into drafting Book 2 of my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. This is the one I think of as The Flower Princess – at least until Kensington lets me know what they want the titles to be. So, I’m wrestling with setting up the conditions for this book, one of which is a change in point of view (POV).
See, in Book 1, The Middle Princess, the story is told in 1st person, from the POV of the heroine – the middle daughter of three. I toyed with adding in the hero’s POV – and even wrote some passages along the way – but ended up taking them out entirely. In The Flower Princess, the story moves to the youngest daughter, so I’m writing it in 1st person, from her POV.
This is good and right and what I planned to do.
But I keep having *other* ideas. Like I want to cut away to the first princess’s POV – mainly because I miss her. And I’m struggling with working in the hero. It would be much easier to build the story by including his POV, maybe in little 3rd person snippets. It would be much easier to build the story by gathering in other characters’ POVs, too. I got all excited about these possibilities, to make my job easier – and then stopped myself.
Because I recalled that I recently read the second book in a Fantasy Romance series that my agent compared to mine. I’d loved the first book – 1st person heroine’s POV, too – and eagerly looked forward to the release of the second book. In the sequel, the author kept the heroine’s 1st person POV and added alternating chapter’s of the hero’s 3rd person POV. Now I understood why she’d made that choice, because I was in the same position.
However – and this is a big caveat – as a reader, I hated it. It could be a “just me” thing, but I ended up not enjoying the sequel nearly as much. I’ve read other books that combine 1st and 3rd like that and I haven’t really liked them either. The thing is, even if this IS a “just me” thing, I need to be true to my own aesthetic. If I disliked it as a reader, it’s not fair for me to use the device as a writer, simply because it will make my job easier. If it would make the story better, then sure. My reading experience, though, leads me to believe it would not make the story better. Just less work.
The whole thought process – a lot of which occurred in the walled garden above – made me think of sestinas.
Exactly where you were going, too? Thought so!
Okay, okay – if you don’t know, a sestina is a complex poetic form. The official definition:
a structured 39-line poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line stanza… The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern.
Did you get that?Here’s a little schematic to help you out.
Okay, now go write one and come back.
Yeah, it’s kind of like calculus for poets.
And yes, I’ve written them, back in some level of schooling. They make an interesting exercise for a writer because the discipline involved. It makes you think hard about your craft. Words can’t be employed willy-nilly, but must be carefully selected and repeated.
It occurred to me that making myself stick to the form I’d chosen for The Middle Princess, would create a kind of story-writing discipline for The Flower Princess. It will make me work harder to build the story staying only in her POV. It’s good for me to hone my craft.
And I can always edit in more POVs later, if it doesn’t work.
The beauty of the first draft, eh?
Finding Your Writing Career Strategy
Amazing, witchy moon last night.
I’m guest-posting over at B.E. Sanderson’s Unpublished Writer’s Guide today. She asked me to explain how I overcame bumps in the road to publication and it’s a pretty interesting story, I think.
Getting Sidetracked – Knowing What Knocks You Off Course
I’m over at Word Whores today, talking about which season sidetracks my wordcount the most. Warning: contains graphs. 😀
On Juggling Projects, Starting New Novels and Title Angst
What’s that? Oh, just Ruby as a recommended read at USA Today. 😀
Okay, I might be a little THRILLED AND GIDDY!
This has been a bit of a transition week for me. On Saturday I finished making the additions to Oro that Carina asked for and sent that off. That one will be in the Erotic Holiday Anthology (which I’ve been referring to as the Ero Ho Ho Antho), scheduled to release November 21. With that production deadline looming, the Carina team has been busy with getting cover ideas and, sadly, retitling the story. Apparently a surprising number of people out there don’t know that Oro means gold in Spanish.
~drums nails on desk, looking mean~
I haven’t ever dug in my heels on a title before – and, now that the ever-patient Carolyn Crane talked me out of my tree – I won’t now. But that story will always be Oro in my heart.
So, I’m also aware that, after ORO, I don’t have anything contemporary or erotic romancey lined up for next year. Thus I spent a few days this week working up new project ideas. With the brainstorming and insightful feedback of my lurvly CPs, Carolyn and Marcella, I’ve now got concepts for six novels. One would be a contemporary romance trilogy and the other three would be new installments in the Facets of Passion series – but longer stories. And now all six are sketched out.
I know, I know. Can this really be me? Is the non-plotter actually pre-plotting?
Noooo… Don’t be silly. These are just overall road maps. But I am getting better at preconceiving how a story will go. It takes a different kind of writer muscle, but I think I’m developing it. Fabulous Agent Pam will take those out on the road, so I’ll keep you posted!
Then yesterday, I started in on Book 2 of The Twelve Kingdoms. This is the sequel to The Middle Princess, which I’ve been calling The Flower Princess. Those names will change, but that’s what they are to me until then. I set up my storyboard for Flower Princess – which meant retiring all the notes for Master of the Opera, which is pretty much done now, except for line edits, etc. – and dug into the opening scene.
It feels less huge now, but it’s always interesting to start a project I know I’ll be working on for the next three months or so. I expect developmental edits for Middle Princess during that time, but those two should dovetail nicely. In fact, I’m delighted by that timing as it will let me really submerge in that world.
It also occurred to me yesterday that, with turning in Flower Princess by November 1 and with the Book 3, The Sword Princess, due May 1, that I’ll have the whole trilogy written before most readers ever see the first book (out in June). In some ways I think that’s a really good thing for me. I’ll have less of a sense of anyone looking over my shoulder. I felt a lot of that in the Covenant of Thorns cycle, when I wrote Rogue’s Possession, with Rogue’s Pawn being out for so long. Twelve Kingdoms will be in more of a bubble. I’ll be interested in the difference.
What I am noticing is that I’m also getting much better at compartmentalizing projects. A very useful skill to have, the way I’m wanting to get these different stories out there.
So, that’s a rambly recap of where I’m at right now. Apropos of nothing, really.
You all have a fab weekend!
Why I Hate Thank-you Notes
Jackson has been enjoying the summer, by which I mean, he totally wears himself out playing and then crashes into deathlike sleep for hours on end. He never moved when I took this pic.
I was playing around on Twitter this morning as I contemplated what to blog about today. My list of potential topics is over 40 now, which is truly unmanageable. I really need to cull them. Some I’m no longer fired up about. Or I’ve delayed too long and they’re no longer relevant. But this is one of those things I think about as I’m browsing my top-heavy list and then, once I happily settle on a topic, I close it and move on.
By the time I’d finished going through emails and various other sorting tools for the day ahead, I’d seen this tweet go by:
People of New York – if you are paying $100 for delivery of a Cronut – there may be something broken in your priority setting mechanism
The person was referring to this deal, if you care. I don’t, but I searched for it, so you don’t have to. I’m generous like that.
What left a sour taste in my mouth was, not the willingness of people to pay for pricey pastries, but the judgement of the person sending this tweet. It presupposes that the tweeter knows what the correct priorities are. It also demonstrates a lack of compassion for other people’s lives. Maybe a cronut doesn’t seem worth it to me, but how am I to judge its worth to someone else?
It dovetailed with a lingering annoyance about a Dear Abby letter I read last night – and made a note to add to my topic list. The person wrote this:
DEAR ABBY: In this season of graduations and weddings, I would like to urge the honorees to send proper thank-you notes to friends and family who give them gifts and money. Time, money and preparation are put into these events, and the effect is spoiled when guests have to contact stores or scrutinize their bank statements to learn if their gifts were, indeed, received but simply not acknowledged. Thank-yous aren’t difficult. Some “rules”: Rather than text or email, write a note on paper and mail it with a stamp via the U.S. mail. If you do, you will be forever known as “that polite young couple” or “the young man/woman who sent the nice note.” Three lines are all that are needed: “Thank you for the —-. I look forward to using/enjoying it when we entertain/grill/vacation/walk the dog, etc. Again, I appreciate your thoughtfulness.” That’s it! If showing good manners isn’t incentive enough, remember this: These are the people you will be inviting to weddings, baby showers, and your own children’s graduations and weddings in the not-so-distant future. A little courtesy goes a long way. — APPRECIATIVE IN HITCHCOCK, TEXAS
Now, those of you who know me, know I have a THING about thank-you notes. I even have used the tag on this blog before. And this particular letter sums up everything that I hate about them. Among them:
- “proper thank-you notes” – appreciation is not enough, it has to be the Proper Kind. There are RULES.
- “the effect is spoiled” – because the spirit of giving is simply not enough.
- “Thank-yous aren’t difficult” – there’s that judgement thing. You don’t know what is difficult for someone else.
- “Some ‘rules'” – why are there freaking RULES about receiving a gift that should be freely given???
- “rather than text or email” – why? why? why? why does only paper “count”???
- “you will be forever known as…” – so, really, this is a form of social blackmail, right?
- the template – if it’s this formulaic, what on earth makes it meaningful? this isn’t gratitude, it’s a receipt.
- “If showing good manners isn’t incentive enough…” – then we should do this to ensure steady delivery of future gifts? Isn’t that awfully damn mercenary?
Back when I was graduating from college, my mom and I had a Terrible Fight. We have never fought much, but this was a doozy. In fact, I recall it as the biggest fight we’ve ever had. (I don’t know if it felt that way to her.)
And it was over thank-you notes.
So, there I was, spring semester of senior year. As usual, I was way over-committed, a lifetime tendency I’ve attempted to curb. I was taking a full course load – including re-taking freaking Immunology because I’d inexplicably gotten a D in it and I needed a C- for my major. I’d passed both semesters of Organic Chemistry, but Immunology? No no no. (I did pass – with a C-, even on the second go! I have no idea what my deal was.) Anyway, there were classes. Plus my honors thesis in Religious Studies, which I’d delayed from the previous semester. I was in a play, so I was in rehearsals or performance most every night. I was director of our peer counseling center and we’d had a number of issues. We were having trouble with my sorority chapter, in which I’d invested so much time and love. I was working at the med school on a research project and applying for grad schools and interviewing for the Peace Corps and trying to decide what to do with the Rest of My Life. On top of all of this, I felt the onrushing deadline of college ending, which meant I would lose this family I’d become a part of. I knew that, though, we’d keep in touch, that the friendships I’d made would end in this very temporal way. I wanted to be with people as much as possible.
I was frankly overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, all the wonderful people who’d supported me growing up, were sending me graduation gifts. Thoughtful, wonderful and generous gifts. And I was not writing thank-you notes.
(This is why it really puts my back up when someone proclaims that something “is not difficult.”)
Of course, it became one of those tasks that simply grew worse the longer I neglected it. At first I hadn’t written one, then I hadn’t written five, ten, twenty. And these were my mom’s friends, asking her if I’d received their gifts. She felt I made her look bad. We had a big fight on the phone and I ended up sobbing because it was just more than I could bear to deal with.
I profoundly wished that none of those people had sent me gifts at all.
It all worked out. I eventually wrote the thank-you notes and my mom and I joke about that incident from time to time. She had her own stuff going on that got displaced into our fight. She also declared me officially detached and that I could bear the social burden of non-thank-you noting on my own, which I gladly accepted.
This is why you will never get a thank-you note from me. Certainly not a proper one. Really, if you need one, I’d really rather you not give me anything at all. I’m totally good with that!
I’m also, always and forever, absolutely fine with you not sending me a thank-you note.
So, here is my message:
DEAR EVERYONE: In this season of graduations and weddings, I would like to urge those giving gifts and money to friends and family to also give the gift of tolerance. If you feel the effect of your time and money is spoiled when you have to contact stores or scrutinize their bank statements to learn if your gifts were, indeed, received but simply not acknowledged, then don’t send anything. Thank-yous may not seem difficult to you, but for people going through major life events, they can be the thing that knocks over the teetering, towering To Do pile. Some “rules”: Texts and emails – even phone calls – can still be heartfelt communications. Please don’t measure the sincerity of someone’s appreciation by the price of a stamp and notepaper. People can still be “that polite young couple” or “the young man/woman who sent the nice note” if they avail themselves of electronic communications. Please recall that your gifts of time and money are totally voluntary. You are not required to give anything and it might be best if you don’t, if you’re only giving so you can receive a particular template response. Often the greatest gift you can give is understanding and compassion. A little tolerance for the pressure other people are under goes a long way. — APPRECIATIVE IN SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Why It’s a Sign of Love for Writers to Tell Their Families to Bugger-Off
I’m over at Word Whores today, talking about Father’s Day, loved ones and how get them to not encroach on writing time.
On Not Treating Bookstores as Temples to False Gods
Me at the Lori Foster Reader and Author Get Together with Stephanie Collins of Book-A-Holic Anon. She won my Ruby basket in the raffle, so this is the triumphant celebration.
So, I’m going to go a bit eBook ranty today. Those of you sick of hearing about this from me may be excused. It’s Friday, after all, and the middle of June. Go frolic!
What triggered me this time is Stephen King. (Yet again, really. Something about this guy and his attitudes gets under my skin. I know this isn’t a popular position, since everyone seems to regard him as a demi-god who can do no wrong.) He announced in May (yeah, I’ve been brooding about this for a couple of weeks) that his new novel will be available in hardback only.** He retained the digital rights and so there will not be an eBook version soon, if ever. At least, not a legal one.
**UPDATE: I’ve been corrected on this. I read the article wrong and it’s “hard copy” only, not hardback. Apologies!
He said “let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”
Because, you know, those of us reading eBooks do so from sheer laziness. And you can’t buy hardback books online. Oh wait…
So, his ostensible reason is to support Independent Bookstores. I’m sure the fact that he and his publisher and his agent make the most money off a hardback is irrelevant. No, this is about sacred principle people. In fact, one of the bookstore folks quoted in the article said that unfortunately, many people would rather purchase books from their computer or mobile phone, than browse a bookstore. He went on to say, “I’d just as soon not have people buy their books while typing a thank-you note.”
Because buying a book is such a Special Thing that it’s rude to multi-task? Should we perform ritual cleansings first? Perhaps sacrifice a small mammal?
See, what irritates me about this is the underlying assumption that paper is what makes a book valuable and that bookstores should be treated like temples of the book. In fact, when I tweeted about this, someone replied that they had practically worshiped their hometown bookstore.
I get that. I really do. I loved loved loved my hometown bookstores – and my hometown libraries. They were places of refuge and they gave me what I desired most: books.
The thing is, however, that worship was never about the STORE. It was about the STORIES. It makes me think of the whole concept of false gods. There are many parables in religions all over the world of people focusing their prayers on golden idols, instead of on the concept of god. That’s always been the danger of the temple or the church – that the physical housing outstrips the reason for going there in the first place.
I like bookstores and I like paper books, but what’s important to me is the story. The medium of delivery is unimportant to me. I prefer eBooks because I can keep them without my home looking like it should be on Hoarders. I resent the implication that I somehow owe it to The Great Book God to “stir my sticks” and go to a store and buy a story on paper, because that’s somehow holier and more reverent.
I call B.S.
And what this reminds me of is that cray cray interview with Prince in Billboard. (I would have linked to the original article, not Gawker’s summary, but Billboard has it so buried there’s no evidence of the actual article on the direct link. At any rate, Prince spend a lot of time ranting about how his music will never be available digitally and that digital music is a fad that will die away.
I also have a friend from Texas who won’t get a website for her business because she thinks the internet is a fad and will disappear soon.
People don’t like change. I get that.
But let’s be realistic here. It’s not about the stores. It’s not about the paper.
Beware the false idols.
Does Writing Faster Mean Cutting Out the Art?
During my travels last week, I stayed with a friend of many years, Kristine Krantz (aka KAK). She blogs on the Word Whores with me and also writes fantasy. We met via the RWA online chapter FF&P, sometime back in the vicinity of 2009. We became critique partners and friends.
At that time, we were both in the same place – shopping these fantasy novels we’d written and hoped to sandwich into some pre-cut genre somewhere. Though my path was hardly a straight-line – no A-ticket Cinderella ride for me – mine has gone faster than hers. She’s still “pre-pubbed” or whatever euphemism you’d like to slap onto that vicious purgatory of waiting for the market to catch up to your genius. I know this is a hard place to be, because I’ve been there. Another friend and sister Word Whore, Allison Pang, who I met at the same time and in the same way, also shopping a like novel, did manage to pull the A-ticket and full Cinderella ride.
(The moral of our three paths, by the way, is that none is strewn with rose petals and nobody, so far as I know, has received a sparkle pony life companion.)
At any rate, (I’m sure by now KAK has scanned ahead to find out just what the hell I plan to say about her) KAK invited me to stay at her house while I attended the Lori Foster Reader & Author Get Together. This turned out to be an unexpected delight because we spent many hours on her delicious screened back porch, overlooking her park-like back yard, while we worked on writerly things and talked.
There’s something truly restorative about rambling conversations on writing and publishing with like-minded friend who’s as keenly interested in the minutiae as you are. Though we see each other on IM, the conversations only go so far. I also realized, as we talked, that I haven’t been updating her regularly on all of my “business.” It’s a funny thing – as you get into dealing with Published Author World, you tend to talk most to people in the same tangle. I don’t *think* I ditched my pre-pub buddy, but we’ve been working on really different things. And, as you faithful readers know, my life has been moving really fast lately.
In fact, she FINALLY (hee hee hee) completed a monstrous revision of her epic fantasy novel. “Revision” is probably a misnomer because she really wrote a whole new novel with the same world and characters. I feel quite a bit of guilty responsibility for this since I was the one to give the crit that triggered the massive rewrite.
She says she doesn’t blame me.
But it took her a long time to do this. Meanwhile I’ve been working fast. It’s nice for her to be able to do this, because she has the luxury of time right now. We know you pre-pub authors get sick of hearing this from us – we got sick of hearing it, too – but writing before contract is REALLY different than writing for contract and under deadline. We know it’s not nostalgia-worthy since being in that hem-tugging, please-see-me stage of publication wears on the soul, but having the luxury of time is something we look back on fondly. Also the lack of expectations.
KAK and I had this conversation. She mentioned that she’d noticed me blogging about writing books I sold on spec and how it feels different. I said, yes, that it feels like another kind of writing altogether. For me it means:
- I have to form a plan ahead of time, because selling on spec means I sell the concept and THEN write the book. This is not a natural pattern for me.
- Writing a story you’ve “pre-sold” to an editor creates this lens where I feel like I’m writing FOR the editor. That person is very firmly in my mind, because they are now the primary recipient of my story. I haven’t decided if this is good or bad.
- There is a firm external deadline. I have to plan ahead – by a year or more, in some cases – to ensure I have the time to write and revise the way I want to.
This last is crucial because, as I rambled on the topic, KAK nodded and said, yes, you write faster and cut out the art.
Which I’ve been mulling ever since.
Because I don’t think that’s true. I can totally see why it would seem that way. There is certainly not the time to lovingly tweak and polish every bit. There is, also, a definite sense of creating a product that fits a particular expectation (see #2 above). However, I don’t feel like I’m cutting out the art.
Maybe this is self-delusion, because I really HOPE I’m not cutting out the art.
I definitely have not managed to short-cut the suffering. Writing a book faster is no less painful than writing it slowly. It’s more that I am more efficient about it. Some of this is experience. I know by now where I’m going to bog down and how I’m going to feel about it – and I’m quite a bit more ruthless about pushing through it. I don’t have time to wander for weeks through the Enchanted Forest (see last Friday’s post, if you have no idea what I’m referring to). I’ve BEEN through that stinking forest and now I just take the direct – and sometimes arduous – path straight through to the Fountain of Story.
I think it’s less cutting out some of the art and more knowing how to pack the art in there. Like really experienced travelers can pack for a two-week trip in 30 minutes and not forget a thing. You just get good at it.
Mainly because you have to.
Speaking of which, I have a novella due on Saturday and just shy of 9K to go to finish.
See you on the flip side!