Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Can You Hear Me How?

I love the way the Brits say "Jaguar."Or maybe there's just something about an accent (and a nice suit). Either way, this commercial got me thinking about dialogue and the way characters speak. I know when I'm writing dialogue, I hear each character speak in a certain way and try and put that on the page. This has been a challenge with the characters in my current project, The Whirlwomen Trilogy. The characters are from different regions, eras, cultures (and possibly more) and I try and keep those distinctions present through their speech.

I maintain these distinctions in various ways. For instance, my time travelers from ancient Ebla do not use contractions. This gives their dialogue a formal tone. Conversely, the budding mage from N'awlins has a relaxed way of speaking littered with contractions--some of which he makes up on the fly. The time leap involved in the story also offers a convenient way to give characters distinct voices through their word choice. Just think how the English language has been influenced over the years due to technological and sociological shifts. Better yet, google it.

Accents, however, are a little more difficult to convey aside from including them in the character description. Spelling variations sometimes work-- "I love the sneekah bah!"(Snicker bar). But they can also be hit or miss, or worse, considered a typo. If I'm going to use a spelling variation, I make sure it is an effective one. Oftentimes, my editor disagrees.

Dialogue sets characters apart. It can also show how a character is acclimating to a new environment through subtle changes in lexicon. Write precise dialogue and each characters will have a unique voice bringing them that much closer to stepping off of the page.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Write Now; Cull Later

Since my last blog, writing has gone something like this: I'm writing! The pages are scrolling up; the rewrites are getting done; the project has taken on that organic feeling that comes when you work at it every day. I'm not even worried about whether it's good or not which is precisely why things are getting done. What stinks can be decided later. That's what the 100 million rewrites are for. 
Nothing can slow a story down like the Premature appearance of the Editor, or PE. That mini dopplegänger standing on one shoulder whispering wait, you can write that better; do you really want him to do that and her to respond that way? Should the wind really keep blowing south by southwest? (Of course, there are other things that can slow the story down, but I talked about that in my previous post.) 
For every one paragraph that is written, immediately read/critiqued and rewritten, four more could have been hammered out. Whatever, two of the four might not make it through tomorrow's refresher read, but at least you're that much further along in getting that big lump of ideas, actions, side-plots, character arcs, what ifs? out of your head and into times new roman.
That lump is going to get whittled down and kneaded soon enough. Let the PE in at the start and you'll do very well in publishing pamphlets. Let the story spout like a geyser and you'll have a completed work on your hands before you know it. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

One Less Lament

Writing has gone something like this the last few months: Sit down. Open laptop. Open work-in-progress. Stare at work-in-progress. Write a sentence or two. Rewrite a sentence or two. Hit the Safari tab. Get lost online sending out resumes, checking Facebook, clicking through news sites, checking email, checking blogs (and lamenting how long its been since I've made an entry), rinse, soap, repeat. Hence, my progress has been rather dismal. 
Then comes the guilt. I have the time, why am I not being more productive? I'm waaaayyyy behind publication schedule for Book II of the Whirlwomen Trilogy--am I ever going to get it to market? Will my readers even care when I do? Will this project end up on my closet shelf with the other half dozen that are in various states of incompletion?
It's not a productive cycle. Nor is it any good for my writing esteem. 
The thing is, nothing is moving along productively in my life right not. My income has been drastically reduced for an extended period. Contract work has been inconsistent and finding a new job elusive. The embarrassment around my finances has me avoiding social interactions and isolating. Constantly being on the verge of panic does not support the creative process. 
You hear the stories of writers being on the edge of total ruin just prior to their breakout novel being published. It makes good publicity fodder and has probably contributed to one or two writers actually choosing to suffer as part of their craft, but that just doesn't seem to work for me. I don't like to suffer. I don't like high-anxiety. I like comfort and stability. I've convinced myself that anything else scares my characters away, stifles my stories. 
But things are what they are for now. It'll be a shame to look back on this period and realize I had so much time to write and didn't. My favorite yoga teacher often says during more challenging postures: "It's just a situation. Situations are temporary. Don't let the situation take you out." It's much easier said then done, but those really are words to live by. Each time I let "the situation" immobilize me creatively, I'm telling myself I'm not really a writer. Why? Because writers write. No matter what.  
So once again, I'm in front of my computer. After I finish this blog, which is more of a mental dump then constructive, informative reading (sorry), I'm going to get back to work on "Flicker". I may not be that productive, my characters may still be in comas, but at least I'll be back in the game, have one less lament. Like a good day on the yoga mat, a few pages on the computer screen reminds me that pushing through the discomfort oftentimes leads to nirvana.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vanishing Cheap Tricks

One of the challenges I’m having in writing "The Whirlwomen Trilogy" urban fantasy novels is NOT making every moment magical. Falling back on the paranormal to explain or progress too many plot points in a story set in modern-day makes what should be the exception predictable and mundane. Readers want their imagination stretched, not bombarded with so many mystical interventions and newly discovered powers that they lose sight of, well, reality.
Here are three guidelines I’m using during the first-draft rewrite of “Flicker” to weed out paranormal overkill:
-One of my main characters is still discovering the extent of her powers and I'm itching to give her magical abilities infinite rein. But I can't unless she's evolving into a superhero, which she is not. So, I'm checking to make sure that I maintain a 70/30 balance between obstacles that are overcome with normal human capabilities and those that are surmounted with discovery of a new power or extension of a known one. 
-Another character in "Flicker" is a shapeshifter. She leans towards shifting into cats and birds, but her ability is unlimited. She's a perfect scout in situations dangerous for humans, which is fine, as long as she doesn't become the hound dog of the group just because she can. To avoid this character rut, I'm limiting her shapeshifting to fight or flight situation and having another character who is a skilled tracker (in this world and beyond) flex his keen ability when the need arises.
-Finally, the biggest challenge is not being cliché. That's true with any kind of writing, but in fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal fiction, where the author is limited only by her/his imagination, I think it's critical. That's not to say I can't use magical/paranormal device that have been used before. I do, however, have to showcase my character's more traditional abilities in unique scenarios or have them used in a new way. A great example is the way J.K. Rowling gave the magic wand and flying broom stick a modern-day makeover in the Harry Potter series.
These are only loose guidelines that are specific to my work, but they do reflect observations made while reading popular fantasy and sci-fi works by well-known authors. Much of learning the craft of good writing is in good reading. 
Wishing everyone some Happy Holiday Reading!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marketing Options Beyond the Fridge

I recently had a burst in ebook sales. Okay, so 11 purchases of "Flung" in four days may not be a big deal, but it is somewhat satisfying considering my marketing efforts have been zilch + zero = nada these past few months as I focus on getting "Flicker" (book II in the Whirlwomen Trilogy) finished, edited and ready for publishing. I can only imagine what my sales would reflect if I was actually doing some marketing.
Sometimes, you have to pay for what you need. So, I've been doing some scouting for marketing services that are affordable, target e-savvy readers, and have a proven track record. I've found a few options that meet these criteria and thought I'd share.
Duolit is a team of two women who describe themselves as an author and a geek. Together, they blog regularly about self publishing, offer an impressive amount of ePublishing information on their website, and provide support services for indie authors. Services range from an hour-long phone consultation to a three-month long, intensive coaching program designed to boost indie publishing success. The first option will cost just under $100; the second, just under $1,000.
The book promotion services offered by Joey Pinkney provide different options. I found this brother via Twitter. His social media game is tight with 25-30K visits to his website monthly and more than 70K Twitter followers, and more than 3K Facebook friends. His pricing starts at $5, which will get you a banner advertisement on his web page for three days; an author interview will cost you $25; and for $100 you'll get an author interview, a book review (good rating not guaranteed), a review trailer and social media campaign. View his full marketing menu on his website.
A more traditional approach is the press release service offered by Piece of Cake Pr . As a journalist, I know the value and the pitfalls of the press release. It will either land in the right hands or be super SEO friendly and rank high on Google search, which could lead to a published book review read by thousands. Or, it will be used for scratch paper and be buried on page 10 of a Google search. Either way, every author should have one for each book release (even if it ends up being an addition to your refrigerator art which I'm sorry to say is as far as mine got though it is an inspiration every time I refill my wine glass). Piece of Cake PR offers two press release packages priced at $89 and $159 respectively.
There are lots of other choices out there, as well as some good books that can guide do-it-yourself efforts. The operative word, however, is effort. A concerted effort at that for a successful campaign. Effort takes time and for me I'd rather shell out a little cash than take time away from writing.
(On a side note, consider this: ePublishing is revolutionizing the publishing industry. Indie authors have created a niche market for editors, graphic designers, and other support services. In effect, we are creating jobs. Let's support each other's efforts so that everyone can do what they do best and we can all have a little change in our pockets.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Old School; New Tricks

I'm old school. I always believed that a true writer slaved over a lengthy--say 100,000 word-- manuscripts for at least a year then handed it over to a gray-haired, bespectacled editor with a flask hidden in his top drawer who then whipped it into bestselling shape. And of course, said editor worked for a big New York City publishing house which had already validated said writer's talent by forking over a six-figure advance.
Times have changed. And so have I.
Having jumped into the ePublishing world as an Indie author/publisher, I'm noticing a trend that I believe will eventually be an industry standard--even for the big boys. This trend became apparent to me last night as without hesitation I kept spending $1.99 to get to the end of Stephen King's Odd Thomas intermission mini-series "Odd Interlude." There are four installations, probably not more than 90 pages each. I might have thought twice before one-clicking (damn/bless Amazon for making it soooooo easy) a purchase totaling about $8, but $1.99? I could probably scrape that up from the bottom of my laundry basket.
When it was all read and done, I felt the satisfaction of having read a full-length novel, which, in fact, I had if you multiply 90 x 4. I did have the benefit of having access to all four installations, something that would not have been possible several months ago as the episodes were published a few months apart, but either way I'm pretty sure I would have stayed with the story.
While King is a mega-author and can probably sell his stories by the letter, I've noticed a few Indie authors who are doing well selling shorter fiction, but in volume. Chick lit author D.D. Scott is one of them. She chronicles her book sales and offers great insight to self-published authors on her website The Writer's Guide to ePublishing. Since 2010, Scott has ePublished about 30 books and made over $1k last year. Her books aren't more than 200 pages and she sells them for .99 cents, but she boasts a 300K readership and did I mention her profits?
Short fiction sells and for the Indie author, volume is where the profits start adding up.
I revisited my business plan/production schedule today and noticed I'd made a note on June 29th (also my mom's birthday--RIP) to consider publishing "Flicker" in three installments (mainly because I was behind schedule and panicky that my readership will lose interest by the time I publish book II of The Whirlwomen Trilogy). Now I see that's not such a bad idea and am gearing up to get the first 100 pages to my editor and the cover designed.  I may be old school, but I do know how to learn from others and I'm always up for new tricks. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

iTunes U: Learning Management and Inspiration

I recently updated my iPad and was immediately intrigued by the iTunes U app that was installed during the process. The app is a doorway into a world of learning, inspiriting and research that speaks directly to my obsession with knowing a little bit about everything. And for those on a more organized learning curve, like college students, the app is an extension of the classroom that can be utilized on-demand.
iTunes U gives instant access to free, educational media including lectures, white papers, how-to's and curriculums. Learn best practices and trending theories from business leaders and educators; chill out with 3-minute meditations designed to increase mindful awareness (right on!); or listen to Ian Frazier expound on The Art of Literary Humor. Students can search for the most recent lectures and papers by college professors and the more tech savvy k-12 schools are providing content for parents, teachers and students that significantly expand the educational experience. I think it's a pretty cool way to get in the know about stuff you didn't even know you cared about.
I have to admit, however, I already struggle with limiting the time I spend online drilling down on topics that catch my interest, or are necessary to move my writing along. But with iTunes U, the difference for me is that it offers organized extemporaneous information loading. I know that reads like an overwritten contradiction, but this is where that comes from: When I first opened the app and figured out what it offered, I was relieving myself from writing that wasn't going well. I needed some inspiration and motivation to chew on that would get me back to work sooner rather than later. I needed some fundamental reminders that would shoosh the editor and quell the critic.
So, the first course on my iTunes U bookshelf ends up being "Creative Writing: A Master Class." The suggested duration of the course is 8 weeks, but I get what I need in about 8 minutes when I plug into a video of award-winning playwright/screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks and her first rule of thumb is "entertain all your far out ideas." Those words (golden to a writer in the midst of an urban fantasy trilogy) and the anecdote she offers with them have me nodding and smiling and eager to get back to writing.