Thursday, April 28, 2011

Openings Class

In the Openings workshop, we'll work on crafting impressive openings that capture the attention while setting up the story conflict and previewing your unique voice.

We'll discuss:
*Where to start the book
*Where to start the scene
*How to set up the story question
*How to introduce the characters
*How to showcase your voice on the first page
*The all-important first paragraph-- keeping it simple, yet profound

Plenty of exercises and individualized feedback!

Starts May 1, lasts two weeks. To sign up, click the Buy Now button on the left there.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Exercise

I keep thinking about Jami's setting example from yesterday, the one with the soundproofed room. I think there are two basic types of soundproofing -- the kind that keeps sound from leaving (or entering) the container, and the kind that also changes sound within the container. For example, sound booths are designed to muffle echoes and feedback.

With that in mind, how would you describe the quality of sound inside either of these soundproofed environments? Does it depend on the kind of noise being made? If you want to take a stab at a sample and post it in the comments, it might make for an interesting roundtable. Keep your examples brief, please, no more than a couple hundred words. We're not telling stories, but trying to achieve an effect in a few sentences of action or description.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Bit of Frippery for the Janeites

Another Setting Example

I've been so start-and-go with this series that I can no longer remember what number we're on. Thirteen? Ish? In any case, here's our next example. We're closing in on the last few in the queue, but if you want me to look at your setting example, send it to edittorrent at gmail dot com.

Here's what we know before this excerpt: We're in her point of view, and they've entered a police interrogation room.

Daniel shuffled his shoes against the concrete floor. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want it this way at all.” His features twisted with some inner struggle. “No matter what happens, in my heart I’ll always be with you.” The thick metal door slammed behind him after he fled without meeting her eyes.

Oh-kay. She ignored Daniel’s melodrama and scanned the room. Despite her history, she’d never been in a police interrogation room before. Never caught. As expected, the sparse room stank of sour sweat and smoke, with three utilitarian steel chairs around an industrial table. She made herself at home and shoved them all toward the back wall so she could approach the one-way mirror unimpeded. Once she’d finished the furniture rearrangement, the room’s silence gave evidence of its soundproofing.

There's some good writing here. All of the yellow-highlighted passages are setting details,and for the most part, all of those details are presented in the course of action. We don't read, "The floor was bare concrete." We read about the shoes shuffling against the concrete floor, which gives us setting, sound, and a hint of the character's emotional state. It's good technique. We have shoving, slamming, approaching -- a character interacting with the environment instead of merely observing it. This is almost always a good way to sneak in setting information without creating an info-dump. Show the characters in motion against the background. (Wonder how many times in my life I've said exactly that! Characters, motion, background.)

I highlighted a trio of phrases in other colors just so I can make some quick editing points. The fuschia one -- 5 out of 8 words there start with the letter S. It's too much alliteration to my ear. Try, "the sparse room reeked of sour bodies and sweat" -- which preserves the alliteration in the compound object of the preposition at the end. I think that adds resonance without distracting. And I think the alliteration in "room reeked" counterbalances it, but even so, it might be too resonant.

The phrase in red bothered me for a very minor reason. I've been in soundproofed rooms, and depending on the method of soundproofing, the way noise carries within the room can be affected. So it might be evident while she's dragging around those chairs, and not only afterward. And I don't know that a room is truly soundproof if it has concrete floors, but I suppose it's possible to describe it as soundproof even with concrete floors.

The pinkish-gray highlighted phrase gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the routine editorial decisions we have to make in every text. Ordinarily, we like to see things presented in linear time. If we were to revise that sentence to put it in linear time, he would 1) fail to meet her eyes, 2) flee, and 3) slam the door. However, this is the final sentence in a paragraph, and the last words of the last sentence always carry more impact than the stuff in the middle of the paragraph. So which of those three details do we want to resonate? Not the slamming door, but the fact that he didn't meet her eyes. That's the emotionally resonant detail, and it becomes highlighted by putting it in the last slot. So this is one of those instances when the ordinary "rule" favoring linear time is trumped by a competing "rule" for ending a paragraph on a strong note. There's an art to balancing all these competing rules, and in this case, I think the author hit just the right note.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Suspense. Where does it start?

We often withhold information to create suspense. But at what point do you start withholding?

I think if you start the withholding too soon you could just confuse the reader. How do you decide where to start withholding?

For example, let's say there's a phone call to the character.  She picks up the phone and says, "Hello?"

So the info in the phone call is the secret that you don't want revealed yet.  Would you stop right there, maybe end the scene there? Or would you have her listen (just "she listened and then hung up"-- no info) and then end. Or?

I'm wondering if the caller should be revealed and only the content withheld?

How do you decide where "suspense" begins?


Monday, April 18, 2011

Reality vs. Drama redux

So when you're writing, what do you do when reality is less dramatic than you want?  What do you, as a writer and as a reader, think is too much modification for dramatic effect, and what's acceptable?  We talked about how Sorkin made a character named Zuckerberg who founded a company named Facebook, and that this invention gets resonance from the actual reality but is made into a more entertaining experience than the reality (Harvard is way more fun, Z is way more evil, than reality). But let's go into your own authorial inclinations. When you're faced with the question of more precisely replicating reality or modifying it to suit your dramatic needs, how do you decide?

For example, let's say the protagonist is prosecuting a capital murder case.  Cases like this might drag on for months, and the preparation might also take months.  However, "months" isn't dramatic. Also, the prosecutor might be working on several cases at once. All the tension could go out of the book if the protagonist has months to prepare, and has to keep switching to other cases.  Drama is in focus, after all.

So if you were writing this, would you stick with reality (months between arrest and trial) or go with greater drama (more unreality-- the judge says, "Trial in 2 weeks!")?  Is there some mechanism that will make whichever you choose work better (like something that causes the judge to limit the amount of prep time)?

What about when there's a contradiction with fact?  Like maybe this case is taking place in NY state, which limits the death penalty to a few types of cases (killing a cop, I think). What would you think of ignoring that to make this a death penalty case?  Is that too far?

What is the dividing line for you?  What have you been willing to modify about reality, and what would be too far?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Involuntary Admissions

I was recently reading a mystery novel and rather quickly fingered the woman who was much later revealed to be the murder. I'd like to say it's because I'm such a genius, or because I can assemble evidence so well, but that's not true. I didn't ever figure out WHY she committed the murder or how she did it either. I was just sure that she was the one.

How did I "know"?  When I think back, what first made me think, "It's her?"

Well, she is 35 years old. The sleuth/protagonist went to high school with her. She is a grown woman, same age as he is, a divorced woman with 15 years of a professional career.  And she looks her age. And yet from beginning to almost the end, the protagonist and every other man in the book calls her "a girl." "The girl who called you the other day." "The pretty girl you're dating." "The girl who kissed me."

It was off tonally. In 2010 (when the book takes place), even high school basketball players (under 18!) are called "women." Only children (and old ladies -- "The girls and I are meeting at the senior center for bridge" :) are called "girls". Certainly in books where words are carefully chosen, that usage is going to stick out, first as offensive, and then as odd.

So what was going on? I suspect that this was a subliminal attempt to make her seem unthreatening (and thus hide her as the villain). And if it were just a couple times, or only an older man or woman had used that term for her, or if she were more girlish, maybe that would have worked. But in fact, it backfired, because after three or four such references (especially by the protagonist), I cottoned onto the tactic, at least subconsciously.

Okay, examples? When have you read a book and for -the wrong reasons- figured out something that you weren't supposed to figure out? When has a best friend been just a bit too loyal, and you thought, "Uh-oh, he's going to betray his friend for sure"? When has a mentor been just too giving? Or when has a hated boss done something that makes you think he's being set up?

I'm thinking if we can figure this out, we might be able to write "around" those savvy, suspicious, infuriating readers (like us) who bypass evidence and clues and go right to our voice and word choice to solve our secrets.

I remember my kid coming in to the living room and seeing a short scene in a film, and saying, "So John Travolta's the villain?" I asked how he knew that, and he said, "Because he's smoking a cigarette!"


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Borders and bankruptcy

As I was driving along 82nd St, I saw a guy by the side of the road waving a sign, "Borders Closing Sale!" (Is that like the worst job ever? Especially now when it's supposed to be spring but is still cold.)  So I yanked the car into the right lane and, squealing on two wheels, jerked into the parking lot.  Books. Sale. I couldn't help it.

Ten minutes later, I walked out bookless. The line at the register was too long (I was on my way somewhere) as usual, and the discount wasn't that extreme (I want $3 hardcovers, see). And you know, I can just order anything from Amazon. I realized even as I formulated that thought that I, yes, I was responsible for Borders's financial problems. Yes, I, the one who used to spend pleasurable afternoons in bookstores, sampling this book and that, walking out with $100 worth of books I never meant to buy... and now, you know, go online to order books. 

So blame it on me.  But I was thinking of how long we've been moaning about this. I remember back in the day, when most bookstores were small and independent, and I was poor and got most of my books from the library.  I remember used bookstores... I discovered Patricia Veryan's historicals at some point, and there was one 6-book series out of print, and I painstakingly assembled the series one by one by visiting used bookstores all around the state. (I had a travelling job then-- one of my weirder ones, teaching speed-reading to laid-off autoworkers in the old, cavernous, nearly derelict auto plants-- and would always stop in at the used bookstore to check their "V" section. Now I would, you know, just check eBay.)  And that was the big controversy, whether used bookstores were evil because they deprived authors, publishers, and new-book bookstores of revenue. What a quaint form of evil, compared to identity theft and copy theft and all that stuff.  And then came the big bookstores, the BNs and Borders, and remember how everyone thought they would destroy the independent bookstore? (Well, they did hasten its demise, certainly.) 

Anyway. What do you all think?  What are you hearing about this bankruptcy, what do you think it means? What does it mean to the writer and reader (that is, US)? And fess up. What have you done to create this situation?  (Come on. I'm willing to admit that "one-click buying" has corrupted me utterly.)

I am more and more coming to wonder if publishers and bookstores are making themselves expendable, or at least not making themselves essential. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How (where, when?) do you start scenes?

A scene is generally a unified passage of narration, chronicling an event or sequence of events and often the cause and effect therein. You can start a scene in a lot of different ways, but I'm wondering if it's an aspect of voice (everything is an aspect of voice, huh?) where you typically start a scene, if that doesn't maybe indicate what you find most important.

For example, I notice I usually start with a mental link to the last scene or what happened at the end of that, and then immediately into the head or heart (thoughts or feelings) of the scene's viewpoint character. That is, I think I value continuity a whole lot, but also the character's insides. I mean, I generally tell the whole story (not just the scene starts) from -within-, as if the reader is supposed to BE the character. 
He heard her go down the stairs, and the determined tap-tap of her footsteps made him smile. When the door slammed, he quickly attacked his bindings. He was just untying the ropes around his ankles when there was a rattle at the window, and Jace's face appeared in the glass.
Justin stared at his brother. He wasn't exactly surprised-- he wasn't sure anything could startle him at this point-- but still he felt some wonderment as he shook off the ropes and approached the casement to pull it open.
Jace, clinging to the tree branch, glanced back down the road and said rapidly, "Come on. I saw her get into a hackney. Let's go before she comes back."

If most of the book so far hadn't been Justin's POV, I might mention his name (Justin heard her go) in the first line. Also I realized that I wasn't giving much of the feelings (he's fallen in love with his kidnapper) so I added something about her footsteps making him smile, which is just the sort of sappy thing that happens when you fall in love (and it's a contrast with his usual businesslike mien). I always try to pay attention to the blocking, and I just realized that "threw open" sounds like the casement opened OUTWARDS, and if he threw it open, it would knock poor Jace off his perch. So I had it an inward opening casement (which is more common anyway)-- he "pulled it". 

I don't have anything that indicates how he feels about Jace (he doesn't like him), but that's pretty well-established earlier, and in fact, Jace's action in rescuing him is so at odds with what Justin expects, well, I don't think I could deal with that in the opening.  Mostly, I think, he's just shocked to see Jace.

Anyway, I tried to sneak in place and time, but didn't do well (is it day or night? Who knows? But of course they'd know) at that, but will try to address that in revision.  Most important for me is the link back to the previous scene, which is pretty easy because the whole story is not actually real-time, but not far from it (takes place in 3 days).  So the scene before ended with her leaving the room, and this takes up almost immediately after.  I'm not sure how I'd handle it if this were hours later. Still a reference back, maybe, like "He'd been asleep in his chair for hours when he woke and realized she wasn't coming back." Or whatever.

So that's one pattern:  Start within the POV character-- thoughts and feelings-- narration of events from within.

What's another?  Well, Theresa and I grumble about the undead trend toward dialogue openings. Let's see:

"Come on. I saw her get into a hackney. Let's go before she comes back."
It was Jace, clinging to the tree branch, peering in through the open casement window. Justin stared at his brother. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm here to rescue you!" Jace replied in an impossibly cheery voice.  His gaze traveled over the room and settled on the chair with its dangling ropes.
Justin realized that his brother was thinking the worse. "No, really, it's not what it looks like! She's really a very nice girl. Not violent at all. See?"  He held up his wrists. "She couldn't bring herself to make the ropes tight. That's how I got free."

 That's kind of cute, him trying to excuse Miranda for kidnapping him. I think I'll keep that part. But not the dialogue opening. Just not me. :)

What else? Well, how about "character in place"? Like:
Miranda peered down the busy Oxford street, looking for a hackney.  From here, it was just a mile to the Marshalsea prison, but the streetpath was crowded with Sunday strollers taking in the sun-- and pickpockets. She didn't think she could walk to the prison without losing her purse. 
How about action?
 The train was bucking like a bull!  As it came over the hill, the engineer leaned out of the cabin and shouted something panicky that was caught by the wind and blown away.  

 How about time and place, compared to the last scene, a quick summary that sets up context of the "new time"?
This is from the first Harry Potter, natch:
Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their nephew on the front step, but Privet Drive had hardly changed at all. The sun rose on the same tidy front gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys' front door; it crept into their living room, which was almost exactly the same as it had been on the night when Mr. Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece really showed how much time had passed. Ten years ago, there had been lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball wearing different-colored bonnets--but Dudley Dursley was no longer a baby, and now the photographs showed a large blond boy riding his first bicycle, on a carousel at the fair, playing a computer game with his father, being hugged and kissed by his mother. The room held no sign at all that another boy lived in the house, too.

 Here's one that starts with "character moving through place"-- From the Victoria Strauss novel, The Awakened City:
In his private domain, a succession of cave-rooms that he had shaped and altered in very particular ways, he sought the third chamber, where a circular well was punched into the floor. He had shaped it full of water before the ceremony; now he caused the water’s patterns to dance with heat, so that steam billowed toward the ceiling. He removed the chain that held the Blood and laid it on the floor--gently, for in spite of everything he could not quite break himself of the habit of reverence.

 Here's a "meta" opening, from a Neil Gaiman story, and "meta" sounds all post-modern and 21st Century. But in fact, Trollope and Dickens would "get" this, because it's a great way of establishing the setting/cultural context in a social novel (which is what they often wrote).  What's fun with this is it's an omniscient opening to a first-person narrative,  set in the 19th C, and I'm sure you'll recognize the narrator (it's a new Watson/Holmes story, which I'm seeing a lot of-- what gives?):
Fresh from Their Stupendous European Tour, where they performed before several of the crowned heads of Europe, garnering their plaudits and praise with magnificent dramatic performances, combining both comedy and tragedy, the Strand Players wish to make it known that they shall be appearing at the Royal Court Theatre, Drury Lane, for a limited engagement in April, at which they will present My Look Alike Brother Tom!, The Littlest Violet Seller and The Great Old Ones Come (this last an Historical Epic of Pageantry and Delight); each an entire play in one act! Tickets are available now from the Box Office

Here's a scene that starts with the conflict (from The Marriage Spell by Mary Jo Putney):
Each time Jack drifted into darkness, he expected not to emerge from the shadows, for they grew steadily darker, more determined to suck him into ultimate blackness. This time he was pulled back to awareness when Ashby said, “Jack, we have a proposition for you. Miss Barton is a talented healer, and she will undertake the risks of conducting a healing circle in return for the honor of becoming your wife. It seems a fair bargain to me. Do you agree?”

 Here's one that starts with a time, with reference back to the time of the previous scene (this is from Little Women) and a quick summary:
The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities. Being still too young to go often to the theater, and not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity being the mother of invention, made whatever they needed. Very clever were some of their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lamps made of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles from a pickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamond shaped bits left inn sheets when the lids of preserve pots were cut out. The big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels. 

Here's another "place" start, from the second chapter of The Scarlet Letter (okay, generalization here... 19th C novels often start scenes with PLACE):

The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston; all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be, that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle or vagrant Indian, whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators; as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.

Another "place" start, in a rather similar situation, come to think of it, public square, dreadful ceremony (Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins):
At one o’clock, we head for the square. Attendance is mandatory unless you are on death’s door. This evening, officials will come around and check to see if this is the case. If not, you’ll be imprisoned.
It’s too bad, really, that they hold the reaping in the square — one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The square’s surrounded by shops, and on public market days, especially if there’s good weather, it has a holiday feel to it. But today, despite the bright banners hanging on the buildings, there’s an air of grimness. The camera crews, perched like buzzards on rooftops, only add to the effect.
People file in silently and sign in. The reaping is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep tabs on the population as well. Twelvethrough eighteen-year-olds are herded into roped areas marked off by ages, the oldest in the front, the young ones, like Prim, toward the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one another’s hands. But there are others, too, who have no one they love at stake, or who no longer care, who slip among the crowd, taking bets on the two kids whose names will be drawn.
Odds are given on their ages, whether they’re Seam or merchant, if they will break down and weep. Most refuse dealing with the racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers, and who hasn’t broken the law? I could be shot on a daily basis for hunting, but the appetites of those in charge protect me. Not everyone can claim the same.
Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker.

Here's a solid "place" start-- it puts the character right in the specific place (The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connally):
The courtroom in Department 2A was crowded with lawyers negotiating and socializing on both sides of the bar when I got there. I could tell the session was going to start on time because I saw the bailiff seated at his desk. This meant the judge was close to taking the bench.
In Los Angeles County the bailiffs are actually sworn deputy sheriffs who are assigned to the jail division. I approached the bailiff, whose desk was right next to the bar railing so citizens could come up to ask questions without having to violate the space assigned to the lawyers, defendants and courtroom personnel. I saw the calendar on the clipboard in front of him. I checked the nameplate on his uniform—R. Rodriguez—before speaking.

 Here's an opening starting with a new character (not the POV character) (From To Kill a Mockbird):

Miss Caroline was no more than twenty-one. She had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish. She also wore high-heeled pumps and a red-and-white-striped dress. She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop. She boarded across the street one door down from us in Miss Maudie Atkinson's upstairs front room, and when Miss Maudie introduced us to her, Jem was in a haze for days.

Another start with a character (this one more about the POV character's reaction to this character) from Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins:
In my mind, President Snow should be viewed in front of marble pillars hung with oversized flags. It's jarring to see him surrounded by the ordinary objects in the room. Like taking the lid off a pot and finding a fanged viper instead of stew.
What could he be doing here? My mind rushes back to the opening days of other Victory Tours. I remember seeing the winning tributes with their mentors and stylists. Even some high government officials have made appearances occasionally. But I have never seen President Snow. He attends celebrations in the Capitol. Period.
 If he's made the journey all the way from his city, it can only mean one thing. I'm in serious trouble. And if I am, so is my family. A shiver goes through me when I think of the proximity of my mother and sister to this man who despises me. Will always despise me. Because I outsmarted his sadistic Hunger Games, made the Capitol look foolish, and consequently undermined his control.
 I notice that no matter what the scene starts with, it can include other aspects, or rather move from that element (place, say) to another element, usually conflict! Big surprise there, huh? But notice that what STARTS is often an indicator of what's important. Notice the diff between the 19th Century Hawthorne start (Scarlet Letter), and a rather similar situation (female character in public ceremony) in the 21st Century Hunger Games excerpt just below. The Hawthorne opening uses the setting of the public square and the situation of the woman sacrificed to the culture's morality to examine that cultural morality, that cultural tendency to find enemies. Hester (the main character) isn't in the opening of the scene. The Suzanne Collins scene puts the main character into the situation conflict upfront (and gives us the place while showing the conflict). The situations are remarkably similar, but the Collins excerpt focus on the character's viewpoint and conflict is quite modern. (I'm going to have to compare that to The Lottery scene opening, a clear model, and in the 20th Century, so we'll have three different centuries' treatment of a similar situation.)

Okay, given all that, how do you usually start scenes?  Or do you have a particular pattern here? Scan the starts of a bunch of scenes in a finished draft, and see if 1) there's some similarity to the way you start many of them, and 2) if you can characterize the start. Try to use internal scenes, that is, not Chapter 1, scene 1, so we get more of the SCENE opening rather than the BOOK opening.

If the scene starts the chapter, do you handle it differently, like more "link-backs" with the previous scene?

This is, btw, often a useful revision exercise. Once I just looked at the scene/chapter openings in a finished book, and found I'd started about 60% of the chapters with some variation of "The next morning, (character)...."

What do you find? What does that tell you about your voice, what you value in narrative, maybe what you want to change when you revise? Do you find the openings pretty clear even without context, or confusing, or...?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Your Setting Example #12

Here's a new setting example from an anonymous author that starts with a bit of action.

The luxury of a soft towel to wipe his face afforded him a few moments to forget why he’d been sent back to this vipers’ pit. He drew a whale-bone comb through his unruly, cropped curls until a clipped rap at the door brought his guard back up.

He grabbed his sword from the washing table and walked through the doorway into his living quarters. Two low couches surrounded a square table in the center of the room. A writing desk and dressing table stood against the opposite wall, his traveling roll and pack tucked neatly between them on the hand-woven rug. The closest window on the right was open, the breeze chilling a decanter of wine that sat on a table flanked with short armchairs. No sign that anything was out of place.

This second paragraph contains quite a lot of information to help the reader understand where things are in relation to each other. I bolded those pieces. This kind of information puts a three-dimensional space into the reader's mind and can really bring a setting to life. It's also an easy way to cheat a little description into a fast-paced bit of prose without slowing the prose too much. For example, compare,

He jogged to the mayor's house.

He jogged two blocks to the mayor's house.

The first sentences gives us a sense of action and destination. The second gives action, destination, duration, and a bit of orientation. That's a lot of narrative impact created by just two words.

So that's a good general technique, but I'm a little concerned about the way the description is handled here. The overall tone of this piece is deliberate and detailed, and it's possible that this excerpt would fit in perfectly to the overall piece. So I offer this comment with the understanding that the excerpt might work better as part of the whole. But here, given the nature of the action, this description feels a bit disruptive.

That is, we know the character is upset to be in this setting. We know it's a bad place, and we know that a knock at the door has him on high alert. We know that a knock at the door is threatening enough to require him to take arms. There's danger here.

The danger is paused to describe the contents of the room. And that's the part that troubles me a bit. He doesn't answer the door. He examines the layout of the furniture. It reads like a bit of a distraction from the threat which he has already perceived. The stimulus (danger at the door) is triggering a response (description of the room) that doesn't quite flow.

My guess is that the author intended the description to show something about the extreme caution required in this setting. I think the character examines the room for threats. But it doesn't quite read that way because we don't learn why he's scanning the room until the end of the paragraph. Maybe it would help if we had some indication that he thinks the knock at the door might translate into intruders hiding behind the chairs. A bit of action would do the trick, like this:

The luxury of a soft towel to wipe his face afforded him a few moments to forget why he’d been sent back to this vipers’ pit. He drew a whale-bone comb through his unruly, cropped curls until a clipped rap at the door brought his guard back up.

He grabbed his sword from the washing table and walked to the doorway into his living quarters. Weapon at the ready, he peered around the jamb and scanned the room for any traps. Two low couches surrounded a square table in the center of the room. A writing desk and dressing table stood against the opposite wall, his traveling roll and pack tucked neatly between them on the hand-woven rug. The closest window on the right was open, the breeze chilling a decanter of wine that sat on a table flanked with short armchairs. No sign that anything was out of place. 

 I highlighted the new second sentence and the concluding sentence it's meant to link to. Now the reason for the description is clear before it begins, and the conclusion at the end has a stronger context. Do you see how that works? If the excerpt were in a more intimate point of view, we might opt for a bit of interior monologue there instead of the action. As it is, I think action is a bit more in tune with the tone of the excerpt.

But the point is that by bracketing or framing that description with action that makes its purpose clear, it feels less like a pause and more like something that's part of the action.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Telling Just Enough

Sometimes in dialogue we have one character say something to the other character which they both understand, but the reader probably won't (at least not without more cogitation that this nugget is worth).  I see this a lot with allusions, either to the character past or to some cultural element.  This allusion is meant to tell something, maybe to make a comment on something Character B is doing.  But since the reader doesn't have the same mental database or shared past, it just becomes a puzzler.

For example:

Hugo never changed. He was ever a cheapskate, no matter how many books he got on the NYT bestseller list. Mary gestured grimly at the rusted fender. "Remember Madame Levin?"
Hugo grinned. "Yeah. Okay. I'll get a new car as soon as I get my next advance check. I promise."

Now I know we've all been told that dialogue isn't the place for exposition, that characters shouldn't tell each other what they both know. Right. Well, given that, how can we give the reader enough info to understand who the heck Madame Levin is and what the hell she has to do with the car?

If we can't do that, for goodness sake, leave Madame Levin out of it.

What's a way to slide in enough detail without having Mary lecture Hugo?  Don't give Hugo the instant and total recall shown above (which isn't plausible anyway). Try something like:

 Hugo never changed. He was ever a cheapskate, no matter how many books he got on the NYT bestseller list. Mary gestured grimly at the rusted fender. "Remember Madame Levin?"

Hugo echoed, "Madame... Levin? No."

"Our old French teacher?" 

"Oh, yeah. Madame Levin. Ou est votre homework. Yeah, I remember her. What's she got to do with my car?"

"She had that old Volvo, remember?  Used to park it along the fence to the football field?"

Hugo's brow cleared. "Oh. Right. And that second-stringer heaved up a hail-mary pass, right over the fence, and--"
"And it went right through her fender." Mary nodded at the car. "Same thing'll happen to you."

Hugo grinned. "Yeah. Okay. I'll get a new car as soon as I get my next advance check. I promise."

Too much? Well, then, maybe Madame Levin needs to remain in the distant, unrecollected past, not in this scene. This isn't a high school clique, after all, where the reader will put up with being excluded from all the injokes of the incrowd. :)


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Present tense trendy?

This is the second book I've read in a week which is narrated in present tense. Both were first-person legal thrillers.  Is this a trend? How do you feel about it?  When would you use present tense in your own story? What's the purpose and effect?


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Interlocking Dialogue -- Stimulus/Response

Just came across another example of dialogue exchanges that could be improved.  Here's the original:

He frowned. “You were in that class? I never managed to finish the term paper. Railroad schedules in Victorian Sussex. I remember the topic."

“I sat in the third row.”
 Just one of those bits of business. Probably the author wanted to imbed the idea that they were in this class together, or drop a clue about his knowledge of railroads or something.  But notice that the continuity of the question ("you were in that class?") and the answer ("I sat in the third row") is broken by the guy talking about his fascinating term paper.  Not a big deal, but it interferes with the reader's smooth reading of your narrative. And unless there's a reason to have the sentence elements this way, why be jagged?

So two options I can see:
1) Put the question at the end. Might have to rewrite a bit to make it clear the question is delayed because he's ruminating or reminiscing before he remembers his manners and makes the connection:
"I never managed to finish the term paper for that class. Railroad schedules in Victorian Sussex. I remember the topic." He frowned. “So you were in that class? "

“I sat in the third row.”

Moving the "he frowned" and adding "So" makes that question sound more like a conclusion or thought he came to as he recalled the course.

2) Have her respond not really to that question, but something he says at the end of his dialogue bit, like:
He frowned. “You were in that class? I never managed to finish the term paper. Railroad schedules in Victorian Sussex. Probably still have the incomplete on my record."

“I got an A.”

 There. She agrees she was in the class and adds a bit of information, which propels the story forward an inch or so, and does a bit of character differentiation (he got an incomplete, she got an A, or rather, he doesn't even remember the grade, and she does).

NOT a big deal. But the reader is going to notice a jagged stimulus/response diad if you don't. So train yourself to "hear" as you write or revise.  The fixes are usually minor and easy, once you notice the problem. 

You're in charge, remember. You might not be in charge of the plot or character (you know how things get out of hand), but you're completely in charge of these minor bits of narration. If you want to be known the elegance or eloquence of your voice, here's a place to start.  

But let me ask-- When you're reading, how sensitive are you to voice? How sensitive to these relatively minor (except perhaps to me and certainly to Theresa :) narration issues?


Friday, April 8, 2011

Your Setting Example #11

This excerpt was provided by Annette Genova, and is taken from an historical novel sent in ancient Sparta.

Moments later, damp earth, softened from a mid-day drizzle, squished through her toes as she trudged towards the shouts of the helots in the fields. The last weeks had taught her to move carefully, scanning for ruts and rocks to avoid. Even an innocent pebble could turn treacherous. But it felt so good to be out in the open land, sunlight pouring on her head and arms, bees buzzing in the anemone, the scent of pine tickling her nostrils. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun, just for one wonderful careless moment. Her foot slipped in a puddle, and the knee gave way, despite her tight bandage. Only a desperate lunge with her stick stopped her falling. She pulled herself upright with a groan and gingerly tried to bear weight. It hurt. She’d never make it to the fields.

What we have here is a good integration of description into action. When we talk about incorporating description so that it doesn't stop the action, this is more or less what we're talking about. The merging of action and description begins with the very first sentence. Damp earth (subject of the sentence). Then there's a brief pause to describe the damp earth, then we get the main verb "squished." That verb wouldn't resonate quite as much if we didn't know that the earth was damp, right? Notice, too, that the descriptive detail is provided right at the moment it becomes relevant to the action. Sometimes we want to describe in advance, and sometimes, as here, we can do it in the context of the action.

But I wouldn't be me if I didn't tackle that highlighted sentence in the middle. It's pretty complex, and I'm not satisfied that it's as good as it can be. Let's break it down.

But it felt so good to be out in the open land
(1) sunlight pouring on her head and arms, 
(2) bees buzzing in the anemone, 
(3) the scent of pine tickling her nostrils.

Actually, you know what we're going to do here? I'm going to throw it back to all of you. Let's just analyze this sentence and see what we can make of it. Those numbered parts 1, 2, and 3 -- do you identify them as phrases or clauses? Do they modify felt or land? Is the sentence elliptical, and if so, what are the missing words? As always, I'll ask you to be kind in your comments. We don't like bloodbaths around here, but we do like reasoned analysis and thoughtful comments. :)


Dangling modifiers please!

I'm collecting dangling modifiers again!  The more fun the better.  Can you all contribute examples you find (suitably disguised if you want)?

Here's one I just saw!

John gave her a furious look as she strode forward, eyes raking her face and back.

Dangling modifier, check!
Violent body parts, check!
Impossible physical positioning, check!

Many elements (like "as she strode forward") are portable. We can put that "As" clause at the start of the sentence and get rid of the dangler at least (because then at least it's clearer that it's his eyes doing the raking).

That of course won't fix the murderous body parts, and the fact that her face and back are apparently on the same side of her body. But I'm not a miracle-worker here, people!

Dangling examples, please!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Putting People in Their Place

When you're working on a scene, remember the reader is gathering the bits of information you're supplying to "design" the setting: Where they are, who is there with them, where more or less everyone is placed.

If, for example, you have Peter and Mary run out of the rain into the 7/11, we can probably-- as long as you tell us it's a 7/11-- envision the store (though do make sure we have information about whether it's day or night). However, from what we've been told, the store has three people in it now: Peter, Mary, and the store clerk. (We expect the store clerk to be in there, so if he/she's not, let us know quickly so we can re-adjust.)  If Mary goes to pay for her cigarettes, and Peter's daughter suddenly says, "I thought you quit smoking," we're going to be disoriented. Isn't Peter's daughter still out in the car? (Or "Peter has a daughter?")

Surprise can be fun in stories. But this sort of accidental surprise isn't. It breaks the "fictive dream" of a story and particularly ruins the experience of the scene.  Think of it.  As you read, you try to build the world, build the scene, right?  You assemble the information that the writer presents and make a setting out of it, and people the setting.  So there's a car, and there are Peter and Mary, and there's a parking lot, and it's raining, and they run in, and it's a 7/11.

Now sometimes there'll be new information that you didn't get earlier, like this is one of those super 7/11s with produce and a deli.  And usually if the new info is presented right, even if it's a bit delayed (like you learn that not when they enter, but when she goes to get a cup of coffee and is presented with a super 7/11 array of six different coffees), you quickly adjust the experience to allow for that.  But sometimes, the new information is jarring, and you think, "Huh? When'd that happen?" And the dream is broken, and this is just a book again, just ink on paper or pixels on the screen, not Peter and Mary and the rain and the 7/11 at all.

So how do you know what is new info that the reader is elastic about ("Okay, no problem, six kinds of coffee, super 7/11"), and what is new info that will jar the reader right out of the dream ("The daughter?  But I thought she was asleep in the car!")?  And how do you protect against that, or set up so there's no "jar" at all?

Well, you know, I think part of the issue is whether we're supposed to be in this with one character, in a character's point of view.  And if so, what would surprise the character not at all or mildly (six different coffees when I thought this was just a regular 7/11) also won't have much effect on the reader.  But what would presumably really surprise the character (if in fact she was in this store in this scene) will jar the reader. Would Mary be surprised to find the daughter at her elbow, dissing her about smoking?  Yeah, if Mary left her asleep in the car! "Where did you come from? What are you doing here?"  Well, the reader has that sense of shock too. And if you want the shock, I think Mary has to experience it.

... "I thought you quit smoking."
Mary turned suddenly and there was Emma at her elbow, barefoot and clutching her blanket. "I thought you were asleep in the car! Does your dad know you got out?"

If Mary reacts with surprise, we relax, because it was MEANT to be a surprise. We weren't meant to know that Emma was in the store too. We didn't miss anything.

But if Mary doesn't react with surprise:

"I thought you quit smoking."
"I did." Mary dropped her change into her purse, and her cigarette pack into her pocket. "This is just to prove to myself that I can resist temptation. Did you find the beef jerky you were looking for?"

Well, then we're going to stop and look back and try to find where in the scene Emma got out of the car and came into the store, because clearly Mary not only knows Emma was there, but that she was looking for beef jerky.  That wasn't in the information base that lets us start building this scene, and so we go looking back for it, and if we don't find it, well, there goes our dream and your credibility.

This might seem like a minor issue, but it's not. It goes right to that "suspension of disbelief" required for the reader to get immersed in your story.  If you want us to believe that these are real people in a real world, you have to be careful not to propel us back to the real real world by making this world seem like it's made of paper and ink.

This is, I think, even more paramount when the reader is (as most are) accustomed both to real real life and the "real life" presented in film and TV.  In real life, when we stop at a convenience store and leave a child sleeping in the car, it's something of a conflict. Do you wake her/him up (and you'd know if it was her or him, of course) and carry him/her drowsing and protesting, through the rain to the store (and then how do you manage to carry both child and package of purchases?), or leave him/her sleeping peacefully in the car for the three minutes, during which time of course the car could be hijacked with child inside and even if it turned out okay (as it usually does on the news) you will regret it all your life?  You think I'm joking? This was a constant conflict for me when my kids were small. It's not something any parent's likely to think negligible.

In real life also when we enter a store we quickly, automatically, size it up visually. Will it have what we need? Is there a long line at the cashier's? Does it smell like sour milk (in which case, can't buy the milk)? Does it feel safe? How many people are loitering in the background? Can we abide, even just for a minute, the music blasting out of the cashier's CD player?

A film or a TV show has no smell or feel, of course, but it has video and audio.  So when Mary (Anne Hathaway) and Peter (Ewan MacGregor) emerge from their Prius and cross the wet parking lot, we hear the car doors slam and the raindrops splattering on the asphalt, and we see the neon reflections in the puddles and we see her putting her purse over her head to keep the rain off, and we see him sprinting to get the door first so she will think he's a gentleman, and when they enter the store, we see the young cashier's instinctive glance over (any customer could actually be an armed robber) and we see the first rack has the bright wrappers of candy and we see the flourescent light getting soaked up by the scuffed vinyl floor tiles, and we see the truck driver at the coffee stand filling his travel mug, and we hear the Muzak and the voice the teenaged boy is trying to deepen so he can get away with buying beer.  Couple seconds, and our eyes and ears record all that.

Now let's say that a minute into the scene, Mary goes to the cashier and requests a pack of Marlboros, and Peter's daughter Emma pipes up in that insufferably wise little-girl-in-a-film way, "I thought you quit smoking."

Given that we SAW Mary and Peter dash into the store, and we looked around the store, and Emma was nowhere in sight... well, the "continuity editor" or whatever she's called is going to say (while they're still filming), "Hey, got to get Emma out of the car and into the frame."  Too right. CUT!!!! TAKE TWO! So rewind. Mary gets out of the car and dashes into the store. Peter is slower and gets more wet, because he stops at the back of the car, opens the door, unhooks Emma's safety belt, and picks her up and carries her into the store. (Can you see it? Am I the only one who goes "awww" thinking of Ewan M cradling a sleeping child, bending his own head to protect her from getting rained on?) And then she wakes up and he puts her down, and we see all that, and so it's not a big jarring moment when she goes up to Mary and makes that carping comment about smoking.

So... so...  we're fiction writers. We don't have a camera!  And we also don't have someone else in charge of continuity.  We have only words to express our consciousness about this scene, to give the reader the experience of the characters.  So the question becomes: How closely do we narrate? How much blank can we assume the reader will "fill in"? How much is too much? When does too much detail become obnoxious?

Now I tend to over-narrate, I admit. Every step, every raindrop, every door slam. But you probably don't have to be that fastidious as long as you anticipate what the reader needs to build the scene and fully participate.  What's important? Yes, it's important how little Emma got from the car to the store. Yes, it's important it's raining. Yes, it's important that it's a 7/11 and not a Safeway.  Yes, it's important that it's night. No, the car model isn't all that important, and it's not all that important which of them first opened their car door. But it is important that it was dark outside and bright inside. And it is important that Peter carried his daughter while outside  and only succumbed to her protests to be put down once they were inside.

There's no substitute for "sitting in the scene". Yep. Experience the scene from inside the POV character and narrate what's important, what the character notices. AND THEN GO BACK AND MAKE SURE YOU HAVE IT RIGHT!  For example, maybe you want Mary actually to be surprised, thinking that Peter left Emma asleep in the car, and here she is, snarking about smoking. Okay. But if Peter had brought Emma in-- even if Mary didn't know it or see it-- is there any "rewind" necessary to set that up? Even the slightest fill-in might make this more experiential for the reader. Mary gets out of the car, slams the door, runs through the night rain and flings open the store door... and as she enters the moist, bright store, she hears but doesn't really register Peter's door slamming, and then the squeak of another door. Or maybe just a door slamming. Something to allow a subconscious hearkening back to the car, see. Mary might be inside now, but outside still exists, right? And the car still exists, and Peter and Emma still exist, even if Mary isn't consciously thinking about them. And then she (and the reader) can be surprised when Emma appears at her elbow... but see, the reader will then have the right experience, not "I must have missed something" but "oh, right, Peter must have carried her in without my noticing-- that's what that second door slam was."

No substitute for being in the character, for experiencing with the character. That's what you want the reader to do, right? So you have to do it first.


Great tag line



The Borgias.

Saw that on a magazine ad. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Terms that also mean the opposite

Came across a term that can mean one thing and also its opposite (like "inflammable" used to before everyone realized how dangerous it was to have that particular term ambiguous :).

This is from Deborah Lipshadt's book on the Eichmann Trial. She mentions that she got sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving for calling him a Holocaust denier, but he did it in the UK, and she wrote, "I found that the UK libel law was the mirror image of the US one."

I took that to mean it was identical. You know, the exact image?

But she went on to explain that she meant "the exact opposite" in that in the US, the plaintiff has to prove that the allegation is untrue, and in the UK, the burden is on the defendant (her) to prove that it was true.  And of course, that makes sense. When you look in a mirror, you aren't seeing an "exact" image because your right eye is on the left side, etc.

Just another example of "Crazy English." I love that stuff, you  know, you drive on the parkway and you park on the driveway stuff.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Paragraphs past and present

Came across an interesting paragraph issue the other day. What makes for a coherent paragraph? Well, first maybe it's about one thing or a couple related things. So this paragraph is about her reading the poem, and the next paragraph is about the cat getting into a fight outside her window and ruining her concentration. Whatever.

But even within the paragraph, you want to make the progression as coherent as you can (usually).  One aspect I notice (and edit) is time progression. There are three basic times, of course: Past, Present, Future. Unless I have a good reason to do otherwise, I think it's more logical to group the past together, and then progress forward in time (or the reverse).  Mixing them up (like past-present-past) in the same paragraph might feel incoherent. (As always, your intent trumps. If you have a reason to mix it up, go for it-- this is if there's no prevailing logic otherwise.)

Let's see how that works. Here's a past-present-past paragraph:

When Danielle had gone to high school here, Pemberton was a factory town, with smokestacks smutting the horizon. Now as she parked the car, the sun set dramatically in the clear air.  The factory had closed three years earlier. Danielle's father had worked there as a tool-and-die maker, until his lungs grew too congested and he moved to Arizona five years ago. 

Notice that the first and third and fourth sentences are in the past, while the second is "now". Can we make that progressive (past to present, or present to past) yet still smooth, with the two "air" references together?  I think I'd move the smutting reference a bit-- let's see.

When Danielle had gone to high school here, Pemberton was a factory town, with smokestacks smutting the horizon.  Danielle's father had worked there as a tool-and-die maker, until his lungs grew too congested and he moved to Arizona five years ago. The factory had closed two years later. Now as she parked the car, the sun set dramatically in the clear air.

I could see that "present" starting too-- let's see:

As Danielle parked the car, the sun set dramatically in the clear air.When she had gone to high school here, Pemberton was a factory town, with smokestacks smutting the horizon.  Danielle's father had worked there as a tool-and-die maker, until his lungs grew too congested and he moved to Arizona five years ago. The factory had closed two years later. 

I don't know... but I do want to point out that usually, if you're going to use the name of the character and then replace it with a pronoun, put the name first, even if you've moved sentences around.

This is one of those editing experiences that seemed a lot more important before I started the blog post. :)  But paragraphs can be incoherent in interesting ways, and fixing them is fun. Really!


On Athletes and Writers

An interesting Slate piece on the value society places on developing writers. I take issue with his assertion that we don't need new writers today because we already have Dickens and Shakespeare's works. But it seems that he also disputes his own point. What do you all think of that?


Friday, April 1, 2011

Special Guest Post: Self-Publishing

Ed. Note: Between us, Alicia and I know a lot of people in the writerverse. Lisa Alder is one of those people we both know and admire for her bright spirit, her smarts, and her can-do attitude. So when she said she was looking into self-publishing, we knew she would not only figure it out, but would do a fantastic job with it. This is why we asked her to provide one of our very rare guest posts. Here are Lisa's tips on self-publishing, all learned by experience.

Self-Publishing: Nine Things You Should Know Before You Make the Leap
First off, I want to give you a little of my background before I get to the advice. I’ve been writing for years. Literally years. I’ve got an entire closet full of unpublished manuscripts. With every rejection, I’ve tried to take the feedback and improve my craft. And I still haven’t been able to sell a manuscript. I have a great agent who has multiple NYT bestseller clients. So far, she hasn’t been able to sell my work. After writing a novella that was ultimately rejected by several e-publishers, I was pretty discouraged. 

So, I decided, besides a little bit of money, I didn’t have anything to lose. Thus began my self-publishing journey.

With the very high profile news about Amanda Hocking’s success (great blog for very frank advice and view of self-publishing: ) and authors, such as Barry Eisler and Connie Brockway, deciding to self-publish their next manuscripts, there is a lot of buzz about self-publishing on the internet.

Only you can decide if venturing into the world of self-publishing is for you, but based on my own experience so far, here are nine things you should know:

1. It’s a lot harder than it looks. You are the writer, the editor, the graphic designer, the copy editor, the programmer, the marketer, and the accountant. Basically you can’t just write and let other people take care of you. It takes a lot of effort to get your manuscript ready for sale. 

2. Pay a professional editor to look over your work. I know there are people out there who will disagree but a professional editor is going to get your work publishing ready. I don’t think you need to pay someone thousands and thousands of dollars BUT you need someone who has experience in the business.

*Get recommendations from people who have used the editor.

*Stalk them online and listen to what they say to make sure they’re a good fit for what you write. Remember: Just like when you’ve got a manuscript under submission and you’re waiting for the call that says, “We love you and your work, it’s perfect!” It’s never perfect.

3. Copy edit the manuscript. Use the tools in Word or Word Perfect (whatever word processing program you use) to go over the manuscript. Then give it to a critique partner or friend who is good at copy editing. Make their changes. Copy edit the manuscript again. And then one more time. It’s amazing how many little things fall through the cracks.

4. Calibre is your friend. You can use the FREE program to convert your file into the proper e-book format for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I want to stress here, this isn’t hard. BUT it takes time to figure out the mechanics. This is actually a separate blog post in and of itself, but here are a few tips.
*Convert your document to a Word .doc NOT .docx – Calibre doesn’t like .docx.

*You can’t use tabs. Once you’re all done with the manuscript, you need to take out all the indent tabs. (Yes, this is a pain) Not even for your chapter headings.   

*In the Word Home tab, under Styles, use Heading 1 to highlight your chapter titles. Once you convert in Calibre it will form a Table of Contents.

*Then Save your .doc As a Web Page (.htm or .html). Load the .htm into Calibre by clicking on the Add Books icon. Once it is added to Calibre as a .zip file, you can begin to convert into the appropriate e-book formats. Click on Convert Books icon. Tell Calibre which format you want to convert the manuscript to, and then in the ‘Look and Feel’ section, click the box that reads, Remove spacing between paragraphs. This will format the book properly for e-readers.

*Finally, proofread the uploaded book in the preview section before publishing. (I had to re-format/re-save/re-enter/re-load/re-upload about 8 times before the formatting was correct) 
5. Research your market in the e-book world. The romance genre, erotic romance in particular, has had electronic readers for years so the availability of your book in only e-format is not a big deal. But if your target audience is say, the over 65 reader, self-publishing may not be the right choice for your work.

6. Don’t slap something together and throw it on the Internet. You always want to remember that everything you put out there reflects on you and your author brand. Continue to work, work, work on your craft. If the manuscript you are publishing has been rejected by traditional publishing houses, review their advice, analyze their comments and see if there are any common themes in the feedback. Be open-minded and make the changes necessary.

7. You can’t just publish it and be done. You need to contact review sites (who review the kind of book you have written) and request a review. You need to promote the book on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever social media outlet you are comfortable using. Guest blog and give away a copy of your book. 

8. Have more content ready to go or at least be working on it. Readers are voracious.
If they liked the first book, you want to be able to offer them more in a timely manner. (That said, Don’t rush! The last thing you want to do is alienate readers by not giving them a consistent read.)

9. How to price your novel. There’s been a lot of discussion online about e-book pricing with many people trashing the .99 cent model. I suggest that you really think about what your work is worth. Pricing is tricky. You don’t want to devalue your work but you also don’t want to price so high that no one buys it.
Is it justified to offer the first book in a series at a lower price to entice people to try? Sure. However I don’t think you should price everything at $1.00. I talked to several self-published authors to get a feel for how they priced their work before deciding on a price.

So above are the nine things I learned while I leapt. In my quest to self-publish, I spent money for an editor and for someone to design my book cover. I have no idea yet if I’m going to make any money. My biggest hope is that readers like the world and the characters I created. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But at least now I will know.

I’m still absolutely trying to earn a traditional publishing contract, but in the meantime I’ve taken control of this one step in my journey to publication. Honestly, it feels great.         


Lisa Alder recently published The Demon’s Bargain, an erotic paranormal romance novella (edited by Theresa-who is amazing!). Available now on Amazon, Smashwords, and The second novella in the Demons Unleashed series will be out in May.