Thursday, March 31, 2011

Choosing Your Own Adventure—Plotting Solutions When You’re Stuck

Layout 1When I was a kid, I loved the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.

Do you remember those books? Basically, each book would tell a riveting story—you’re in a time machine, you’re back in the days of dinosaurs, you’re blasting off into space—and at the bottom of (most) pages, you got to choose how you were going to handle the situation you were in. “If you run from the T-Rex, turn to page 88. If you hide from the T-Rex, turn to page 40.”

Maybe it’s my experience with those books that makes me so open when I’m revising with my editor. For the last of the Memphis books, my editor asked me if I could tie a particular character back into the end of the book.

I emailed her back. “Sure,” I said. “Here are three alternate endings. Which one do you like best?” Yes, it was “Choose Your Own Adventure” for adults. :)

Being open to different plot paths for your story can be great when editing. But it’s also good for moving your story forward when you get stuck.

In my experience, it’s good to think big when you’re not really sure where your next scene is going. Instead of thinking up one alternate path for your storyline, try thinking up five storylines.

Or try thinking up 10 possible plot directions. Try thinking up 15. They can be random and ridiculous and don’t have to be the ones that you’re going to end up choosing. But it’s a great way to get your imagination going, brainstorming solutions to move the story forward.

Kill a character. Introduce a new character. The character quits his job. The character’s mother moves in with him and murders his roommate. There is a hurricane. The character’s spouse becomes seriously ill and can no longer work. The character falls in and out of love. The character has a DUI. You get the idea. You’re just trying to get your creative juices flowing. The funny thing is that in with the wacky ideas, there are usually at least one or two things that could work. There are usually more that could work with some plot tweaking.

Sometimes it’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to our plots. Even if we know the direction we’re heading in isn’t working, it can be difficult to see other directions to take. Brainstorming a list is just one way to approach the problem.

The “Choose Your Own Adventure” book in the picture above has 42 possible endings. How many can you come up with for your book? What other exercises do you use when you get stuck?


Interested in a monthly newsletter with the top writing articles, blogger spotlights, and interviews with industry insiders? Sign up for the free WKB newsletter here: (You can unsubscribe at any time, and your email information is never shared.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Standing Up for Libraries

matthewsFrontThis is a little bit of a departure from what I usually blog about, but I think it’s a subject that’s important to most writers.

I was out late Tuesday night (past my admittedly-early bedtime) at a town hall meeting in Matthews, North Carolina, arguing against my library branch being closed.

Libraries were listed in with our county’s discretionary spending. Somehow, business incentives/development had inched ahead of libraries in the list of priorities.

I don’t like meetings. I don’t enjoy public speaking—or being filmed while doing it. But I was happy to speak out in the hopes of keeping my library branch open.

I’m going to again run, below, a post I wrote on the usefulness of libraries for writers. They’re not only useful for writers—they’re essential to the entire community.

14 Reasons Why Libraries are Writers’ Best Friends

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to become a better writer. That’s a good thing because most writers don’t have a ton of money to throw around.

The library has all the resources a writer needs. It’s always been one of my favorite places on Earth. Here are the reasons why libraries are writers’ best friends:


*Researching your book: Libraries have computers with internet capabilities. They have books and periodicals on a multitude of different subjects. They also have research librarians/information specialists who can help you with research and find reference materials to help you in your search.

*Researching your genre: You can easily check out a dozen recently-published books in your genre. It’s a quick way to see what publishers are looking for.

*Need help with grammar and writing style? The library will have reference books to help you. My favorite style book is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s been around for ages.

*Books on the writing craft? Different libraries have different books, but there are some that will be in nearly every branch: like On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

*Some libraries will have subscriptions to helpful periodicals like Writer’s Digest.

A Place to Write

*Has your house gotten crazy? Kids/spouse driving you nuts? Is a coffeehouse too expensive? The public library is a great place to write.

Help With the Submission Process

*Looking for an agent? Look at the acknowledgements page in one of the recent releases in your genre. Agents are nearly always thanked.

*Another great way to find agent and editor names is by using Writer's Market and Literary Market Place. Using these books at the library means saving lots of money—these books are expensive.

*Need help quickly summing up your book in a query letter? Look at back cover copy of novels in your genre.

*Don’t have email and you need to email some queries? You can set up a Gmail or Hotmail account that can be accessed from a computer at your local library.


*Libraries are major book purchasers. Find out which libraries have your book. Go to, which searches libraries for content worldwide. You just plug in your book’s name, hit the search button, and find the results. For a listing of public libraries, go to Public You’ll get physical addresses, phone numbers, and websites (from which you can get the library’s email address).Send the acquisitions librarian an email or postcard with your cover photo, ISBN number, title of the book, publisher’s name, your name, release date, short summary, and any good review snippets.

*The librarians at my local branch are my friends, too. They’ve been incredibly supportive—my book is nearly always checked out of the library or on request because of their generous recommendations of my book to patrons. They’ve also put my book on a display with other regional authors.

*If you’re looking for a place to give a writing workshop or talk, your library usually has a meeting room that’s perfect for your event. Many of them will allow you to sell your book as well (it’s nice to give a donation to their Friends of the Library program if your signing is for-profit.)

*Libraries also provide locations for writing groups and book clubs to gather. For some writers, meeting with other writers and readers is a great way to network and find support and encouragement.

There are many expensive paths a writer can take toward professional development. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Writing shouldn’t have to cost more than the pen and paper you’re writing on.


Have you checked the pulse of your local library? Could it potentially be facing a budget cut or closure? Please consider a donation of time or money to your branch, if it’s struggling, or speaking out in a public forum to state the importance of the library to you and your community.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Visuals of Our Characters

imageYesterday it was time for me to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver’s license (fun-fun!)

For anyone not living in the States, just imagine your most-un-favorite bland, government-related building. Someplace sort of like the one in the picture above.

With lines like this: image That would be what a Department of Motor Vehicle office in the US is like. It was pouring a cold rain yesterday. The DMV office had moved in the last couple of months, and they’d accidentally (I think) provided me with the wrong directions. I took a left instead of a right and ended up in a very bizarre location. Since I figured the DMV would be at a bizarre location, I spent some time looking for it.

I finally figured out they’d given me wrong directions and found the office (you had to make a U-turn to even get in there.) Very tricky!

Sometimes you get warm, funny, helpful people at the DMV—I’ve seen them there in years past. Most unfortunately, however, those particular people were not staffing this particular DMV. My umbrella broke on the way in and I was sopping. Most of the people in the waiting room were sopping wet, too. The wait escalated. I pulled out my Kindle. No one in the room looked very amused.

Suddenly, there was a primal howling that broke up the nearly complete silence in the soulless, bureaucratic room. It was a blowsy woman who was pitching a hissy fit. “The computers is down (sic)!!!” she stormed up to inform our waiting room, face red, arms waving. She looked a little like she should have been on the cast of a Southern version of Les Misérables.

Apparently she was trying to summon an insurrection of some kind. It was cold and wet, we were in a dreary place, the wait was long, the staff was surly—and the computers were down, meaning that our unpleasant experience was all for nothing. It wasn’t a terrible idea.

However, considering the fact that there were armed highway patrolmen right there in the building, no one seemed inclined to take her up on it.

But this was when things got interesting at the DMV for me. Because she was one of my characters. Just a secondary one, but she fit the character to a T. Especially when she was all riled up like that. If I’d dared, I’d have taken her picture with my cell phone. But—I didn’t. Otherwise, there might have to be a new mystery written—Murder at the DMV. With me as the victim. :)

The nice thing was, though, is that now I had a picture of her in my head and I could describe her more easily. Seeing someone or something makes it a ton easier for me to describe. It made the whole trip to the DMV worth it. Oh…and the computers finally came back up. I decided to sit there and wait it out. So now I’m good until 2019 (except when I take my son there for his license in the next couple of years.)

Of course, I don’t always come across my characters in such a serendipitous way. Sometimes I go actively looking for them.

Places, besides the DMV, where I’ve found characters:

Swanky characters—upscale coffee shops in nice areas Suspicious types—the evening news (local, not national) Unusual characters—amusement parks, circuses, and fairs (I take my kids and a notebook) Another useful tool for finding images of your characters is Google Images (I like to put the safe search option on to keep from stumbling into areas of the internet where I’d rather not venture.)

With Google Images, you can search for a specific type of image (cowboys, ballerinas, football players) or just sort of wander around until specific images catch your eye. Do you need images of your characters to better describe them? How do you find them?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tips for Restless Writers

Heinrich Davringhausen -1894 - 1970 -Der SchieberAre we getting wired differently because of modern distractions? I’m not sure, but I know that it’s hard for me to sit still for very long. I just get very restless.

There are plenty of writers out there that have amazing discipline and can sit for hours at their computer each day, knocking out their word goals. I’m not one of them. I always make my goals, but I’ve had to meet them on my terms. In case you’re a restless writer too, this post is for you. :)

Here are some tips for handling restless writer syndrome:

Make a list of all the other non-writing-related things that need to be done before starting a writing session. For me, the more exhaustive this list is, the more emptied-out my head is and the better I can focus on my writing. On this list, I’ll include everything from household chores, to my children’s activities, to emails I need to send, groceries I need to buy, phone calls I should make, etc. The list includes whatever I can think of that might pop up and distract me while I’m writing.

I came across a post last week on the WorkAwesome blog: The Path to Productivity: Short Hours, More Breaks. The post quoted a recent study that found:

Rather than diminishing productivity, short breaks allow people to maintain their focus on a task without the loss of quality that normally occurs over time.

So taking short breaks sounds like a good way of approaching tasks (at least for some of us). But the article warns against checking Facebook, etc., during your break. They recommend choosing an activity that’s something you can easily break away from (and maybe setting yourself a timer as a reminder that your break is over.)

Do other writing-related tasks if you’re in a time crunch or under deadline. I’ll switch from the manuscript I’m writing to one that I’m editing. Or I’ll switch to a brainstorming activity for a new project. That way I’m still being creative, still getting all the writing done that I need to do—but I’m shaking it up a little. It’s good to also have a short to-do list of writing related tasks. Right now, mine has on it: edit chapter on next Myrtle Clover, brainstorm 5 minutes for outline, and add character descriptions to quilting WIP.

Open up to the possibilities of writing on the go during the day. If I told myself that my writing was only going to happen at a specific time of the day, on my laptop, then I wouldn’t get nearly as much done. I remind myself at the beginning of the day that I’m collecting sights, sounds, words, and characters for my story. It helps me be more observant.

Move around. Some of my better ideas happen when I’m moving around. I write in my head as I clean the house, run errands, garden, and walk. If I’m feeling particularly restless, I’ll try an activity that doesn’t require a lot of thought (weeding, vacuuming, cooking familiar recipe) and I’ll write my book in my head as I do it.

Reduce up front the amount of time you’re writing before taking your breaks. Consider writing in 15 minute segments. Will you lose your train of thought this way? In my experience, no. If I worry I will, I just jot down in the margin in Track Changes where I want the next scene to go. Then I run off and put the laundry in the dryer, start the dishwasher, and come back to the manuscript.

Are you a restless writer too? How do you stay productive?

Sunday, March 27, 2011



Here are writing links that I’ve posted to Twitter in the last week.

I’m delighted that now we have an efficient method of locating resources on writing topics when you need them—via the Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine and software engineer and writer Mike Fleming’s ingenuity. The links I tweet (which are writers’ blogs, agents’ and editors’ blogs) all are added to the engine to make it easier for you to access the information you’re looking for.

Interested in a monthly newsletter with the top writing articles, blogger spotlights, and interviews with industry insiders? Sign up for the free WKB newsletter here: (You can unsubscribe at any time, and your email information is never shared.)

Last month's WKB newsletter featuring an interview with @p2p_editor editor Jason Black:

How one author was able to get objective about her work and get published:

10 tips for an effective blog sidebar:

Expanded Story Elements Checklist:

The Future of Self-Publishing Services:

The Path to Productivity: Short Hours, More Breaks:

The magic of the 1st draft: @storiestorm

Why Pen Names Suck & Can Make Us Crazy:

When Good Characters Do Thoughtless Things:

5 Tips for Being Found by Your Readers:

10 Reasons Someone Else’s Novel Shouldn’t Have Been Published:

Writing past our weaknesses and why we should do it:

Go-to writing books:

Changing the world one word at a time:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Frugal and Healthy II: Black Bean Chilaquiles @CleoCoyle

Self-Publishing Bang for the Buck:

The End of the Affair--Your Novel Doesn't Love You Anymore:

An exercise for writing vivid characters:

5 Ways To Threaten Your Protagonist: @ajackwriting

Tips for slicing and dicing your manuscript: @juliemusil

Creativity Tweets of the Week — 3/25/11:

5 Principles for Generating Ideas:

Style Sheets: An Editorial Tool:

Writing Theory -- The Monomyth Part 6:

6 Core Analogies for the 6 Core Competencies:

Best Articles This Week for Writers 3/25/11:

How to Write a Press Release—A Mini-Tutorial:

Should authors revise for agents without an offer of representation?

It's never too late--2011 Writing Progress Spreadsheet: @storiestorm

How Writers Can Use Amazon to Sell Books:

The discovery of the victim in crime fiction (cases where the body isn't reported): @mkinberg

Creating non-violent conflict in your story:

What to do when the words won't flow:

Proper Dialog Placement:

Editorial | It’s Not About HarperCollins (Library Journal):

Identifying Your Themes:

Place in the Novel: Setting or Character:

You're so nauseously nice: Getting Insulted by Authors (LA Times):

Let Your Senses Do The Walking And Talking:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Eat Healthy and frugally! Chicken Tortilla Roll-Ups @CleoCoyle

Good and Bad in Google Book Search Settlement Decision:

What Writing Teaches Us About Parenting:

Noted Self-Publisher (Amanda Hocking) May Be Close to a Book Deal (NY Times):

5 Ways to Shorten Your Twitter Bio:

The Anatomy of a Successful Ebook Giveaway:

Dealing with Agents and Publishers:

10 Reasons Why Authors Love Ebooks: @thecreativepenn

Tips for Tackling the Final Proof:

Written in stone? Editing your backlist books for reissue as ebooks:

The most popular links on synopsis writing that I've tweeted:

Creating and Writing Compelling Villains:

Different paths to the same goal:

Why (Most) Publishers Are Still In New York:

8 Fiddly Things You Can Do To Your Manuscript To Make Your Editor's Day:

109 Ways to Make Your Business/Book Irresistible to the Media:

TV Shows: A Writer’s Teaching Tool: @storiestorm

Good Grief: The Painful yet Productive Process of Revising after a Critique:

Go Hard or Go Home–Blogging & Branding:

Barnes & Noble Struggles To Find a Buyer:

Authors Find Marketing and Publicity Strength in Numbers:

10 Steps to Making Your Author Blog a Rockin’ Success: @victoriamixon

Titles. Or Not.

The Simple 5-Step Formula for Effective Online Content:

Embracing inconsistency as a writer:

Battling the Romance Novel Stigma:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Fruit au gratin - delish! @CleoCoyle

Characters and emotional baggage - your characters' motivations:

Some writing humor from @inkyelbows: and

A 21st c Writer’s Helper: The Virtual Assistant:

What’s your story’s agenda?

How to know if you're ready for critique--3 questions:

Strategies for juggling multiple Twitter accounts:

Self-editing checklist--scene analysis:

How to Balance Blogging and Your Day Job (while still growing your blog):

Secret Recipe for a Novel: @4kidlit

Making Dialogue Dynamic:

Deep-Tissue Critique: 4 Ways to Make It Hurt So Good: @mesummerbooks

2 debut novelists talk about the necessity of thick skin: @4kidlit

Backstory Problems & How to Overcome Them:

Finally finished your book? Now it's time to get writing...again! @hartjohnson

How to build an Amazon author page:

Don't be a Fail Whale--the Cutesy Moniker Tweeter:

The importance of muscular verbs: & lists of strong action verbs: &

Writing Can Be Learned—But It Can't Be Taught:

The Real Story Behind Pacing: @joanswan

Punctuation in dialogue:

How to fight spring fever and get some writing done:

10 Reasons Why You Should Be Blogging:

Writers should focus on the positive: @thecreativepenn

7 things one author has learned so far:

The Return of the Live Event for Book Promotion:

4 Organizational Tools for Writing:

Why Blogging Might Be Killing You, And How to Fight Back:

58 Habits That Will Help You Succeed:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Chicken Crescent Rolls @CleoCoyle

Brewing up Inspiration:

Repurpose: Get More Mileage from Your Blog Posts:

Twitter Quitter:

Creating the main character for a fantasy series:

Mystery Writer's Guide To Forensic Science - Collecting Evidence VI:

How The World of Star Trek Taught One Author How to Write:

Living Your Myth: Mishima And Dying For Your Convictions: @agent139

Polishing vs. Fixing:

10 ways to reach "the end": @elspethwrites

5 Pickles to Write Yourself Into:

Top 10 reasons freelancers need to take a vacation:

9 tips for conferences: @authorterryo

Can Editing Be Fun? Maybe.

Avoiding passive prose:

Bestselling Author Turns Down $500K Deal to Self-Publish:

7 Uneasy Coercion Tactics That Will Force You to Write:

The Care And Feeding Of Your Favorite Authors:

Combating Writer's Envy:

How to Make Your Free eBook a Magnet for New Readers: 5 Crucial Tips:

Description: scents and seasons:

Writing Tools: Scrivener:

Back to Basics, part III: Maintaining Self-Confidence:

The Solace of Dark Novels and Memoirs:

One Art, Please. I Have 99 cents:

How to speak publisher - B is for bind-up :

Young Adult Books and Their Readers:

A Side Order of Stupid:

Formatting Your Documents for the Kindle in 8 Steps:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: A Writer's Snack: Crust-Free Pizza from Cleo Coyle @CleoCoyle

Writing exercise--write a letter:

Should you argue with your publisher over your cover?

5 ways to be a crap literary agent: @jammer0501

Where to find your interestingness as a writer + blogger + ruler of your domain:

A Character-driven Approach to Kissing Scenes and Sex Scenes:

The best way to get a literary agent’s attention on Twitter:

To Conference or Not To Conference? @authorterryo

Forget the Writing Rules:

Hardworking vs. talented:

Authors, be careful not to overpay for POD services:

Best Tweets for Writers (week ending 3/18/11):

When Your Agent Isn't Feeling the Love:

Strategic tweeting for authors:

Bios: Stumbling on self-intros:

Best and Worst Agent & Editor Advice: Part 2:

Using Text to “Enhance” E-books and Other Insights from the 2011 Leipzig Book Fair:

When Your Can't Write What You Love to Read:

Why Vague Writing Is Weak Writing:

Fiction within fiction – made-up worlds and stories inside stories:

The Five Stages of Editing:

What to do when you get an agent call:

Plotting Through Goals:

Style sheets:

A synopsis checklist:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Gone to the Dogs -- Crock Pot Barbecue @CleoCoyle

How to format a query letter:

Tell, Don’t Show:

An agency with a publishing dictionary:

Dos and Don'ts of Combining Genres:

Where the editors are in 2011:

Revising by color:

Want the most popular writing articles of the month? Sign up for the monthly WKB newsletter for links & interviews:

4 Ways To Make Yourself Complete a Book:

An author shares platform-building insights:

"I Did Everything Wrong...and Still Got a Contract":

Regaining Perspective on Your WIP:

Equip Your Characters:

Cues from the Coach: Taming Your Characters:

The Looks of Writers, Or How To At Least Look Like A Writer:

Multiple POVs--how many is too many?

On Languages, Linguistics, the Future, and the Fantasy:

What makes a book great?

Are You a Wimpy Blogger?

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Welcome, Guest Author Ellery Adams @CleoCoyle

A Novel is Not a Story:

When an Author Meets His Critics:

WordPress Plugins To Rock Your World:

The Charlie Sheen Guide to Winning! at Online Marketing:

A Writer Blogs About Process:

Six Limitations of the First Person POV:

What's popular on the WKB search engine today?

9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better (a little zen for writers):

Self-Editing: Character Development:

Writing is about growing up:

Developing Voices for Different POVs:

8 iPhone Apps to Grow & Connect With Audience:

How To Tell If Your Writing Is Any Good - Part 1:

6 Ways to Promote Your Book for Free:

Social Media: There's No Such Thing as Too Early:

A Writer’s Antidotes for Envy:

Top 12 iPhone Apps That'll Increase Your Productivity:

The Preposition Gnome:

The art of hitting send:

Connections between some well-known crime writers' lives and their stories: @mkinberg

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Is it time for a party? @CleoCoyle

Resources for Christian Fiction Writers:

How Captain Kirk Led An Author to Write Historical Fiction:

Immersed in our stories:

Desperate writers:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

When Good Characters Do Thoughtless Things

pretty is as pretty diesI always enjoy hearing from my readers. In fact, my readers’ comments can really influence my writing.

I’ve heard from a couple of readers since Pretty is as Pretty Dies was released in 2009 that they disagreed with a character’s actions in one scene. I’ll try to be a little vague here, since I don’t want to write in any spoilers.

My protagonist, octogenarian Myrtle Clover, was attacked and was rescued by a new neighbor who was, basically, a stranger to her because he’d recently moved in.

Myrtle and her police officer son, Red, have a little bit of a prickly relationship. They love each other, but they get on each others’ nerves. Badly. Myrtle is irritated by her son’s meddling. She insists on her independence and some respect. Red is irritated that Myrtle puts herself in bad situations and interferes in things he’d rather see her leave alone.

The new neighbor, after rescuing Myrtle, calls her son. It’s very late at night and Red is awakened by the call. He comes over, hears her story, fusses over her. They nettle each other a little. Myrtle stubbornly decides to stay with her neighbor who has fixed them coffees. Red goes back home and goes back to bed.

He shouldn’t have left her, say these readers.

It wasn’t a case of character motivation—if it was, then I’d definitely be paying attention. These two have something of a contentious relationship. The main reason for the tension is Myrtle’s desire to be taken seriously. She wants respect and independence. She wouldn’t have appreciated being carted back to her home by Red unless she wanted to go there.

But the readers disagreed with Red’s actions. They thought he was being thoughtless. That he wasn’t being a good son by not protecting her…regardless of whether she wanted that protection or not.

Both times the readers asked me about this, it was in person. Which is unfortunate because both times my automatic response was, “Oh, I totally understand what you’re saying. But that was the character’s choice. That’s what he chose to do. He was being thoughtless.”

Acting like our characters are alive is probably one of those things that gives writers a reputation for being a little crazy.

But I knew that this was a thoughtless, inattentive thing that this particular character would do in that circumstance.

I’ve thought about this a little lately, mainly because I’m about to address a book club in South Carolina in a couple of weeks for this book, and want to be prepared with something a little better to say than, “But that’s what the character did.”

I still really believe this nice guy would be thoughtless in this circumstance. Here it is, the middle of the night and he’s been pulled out of bed. He’s irritated, scared for his mother’s safety, and she’s still harping at him about how she’s completely fine and he needs to stop his fussing. I think I laid the groundwork in the early part of the book for him to behave that way. It doesn’t seem to be to be out of character, but it seems like something he’d do when tired, grouchy, and generally out of sorts.

When he was having a bad day.

What I think I would do if I wrote the book over again, is that even though I set up the motivation and the groundwork, I needed to have some sort of repercussion or consequence for that behavior.

My readers were outraged for Myrtle. I’m glad they liked her enough to want to protect her. They were quite fierce, both times, when they brought it up. I appreciated it.

I listen carefully to my editors' ideas. I listen really carefully to my readers'.

I think there’s sometimes an urge when we’re reading books, or maybe in life too, to see someone pay for a mistake. Even just a mild one. Or at least to get told off for it.

If I had to write it again, I’d have Red’s wife take him down a notch, when he got back home: “You did what? Left her over with some new neighbor she’s never met? After she’s been attacked? What?

Because vengeance can be sweet.

So, summing up, I think the better approach for having a nice guy (not, in this case, the protagonist, but an important character) behave thoughtlessly is to not only lay the groundwork for this type of behavior, but to have some sort of repercussion/consequence for this behavior or some sort of dressing down for it later.

Have you ever had a good guy do something thoughtless or imprudent? How did you approach it?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Beta Readers

Interno-- Gigi Chessa -1895-1935I think I’ve mentioned before that my writing is a fairly solo process up until my deadline.

I really do look at my books as collaborative efforts between me, my agent, and the editorial staffs at my publishers. I’m open to suggestions, I’m happy to make changes or substitutions. Want to send the plot off in another direction? I’m game. Want me to write in a character or kill one off? I’m your writer. If you have an idea, I can write it and we can see what happens. Try me!

But I don’t really have the beta readers in on the drafting process. I should. It would definitely help me out.

The reason I don’t, I think, is because I’m frequently working on more than one project at once and my drafts are disasters. Right now I’m editing two different manuscripts and writing a requested synopsis for the second book of the new series. I’m under several deadlines.

I know what’s going on in my draft. I make cryptic notes to myself with Track Changes in the margins. I know that there are huge sections that are out of place. I know that there are unintentional cliffhangers that lead off into nothingness. It all makes sense…to me. And I know in my head exactly how I’m going to fix it.

It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else though. My cryptic notes in the margins don’t even make sense unless you can get inside my head. And that’s why I’m really reluctant to share it out.

My next deadline is June 1. When I was in Anderson, SC, last weekend, I gave my mother the manuscript. She needs to edit on paper, so I carefully printed it out for her.

This time I actually thought ahead and tried to be considerate. Ordinarily, there are no page numbers on the document, and no chapter breaks. :) And this time, the manuscript was even sort of in order.

But… “Mama?” I said. “The only thing is that the ending won’t make sense.”

“Oh, it’s one of those endings where you have to think about it and figure it out?” she asked.

“No, I mean it’s really just an incomplete ending. Like—not finished. But no worries! It’s all under control!”

You can only do something like this to your mother. Here’s a book. Please read it very carefully from start to finish, the sooner the better. But you’ll have to make up your own ending because it’s not included.

If I gave that mess to my agent, I can only imagine what she’d say. She’s a little more worried about endings that don’t make sense or endings that are completely AWOL. Since our livelihoods are somewhat tied together, I can understand why she’d be concerned.

I've had some great offers from beta readers and I really do mean to take advantage of them…when my manuscripts are a little more orderly. The only problem is that by the time they’re orderly, I’m right up on the deadline. And it’s not very nice to ask someone to critique a book in three days time. :)

So…I’m dumping it all on my poor mother. Because mothers take on stuff like that! She’s a special kind of first reader.

So this is my question for you—if you use a beta/first reader, what kind of condition is your manuscript in when you hand it over? Do you have different kinds of beta readers—some who you could dump a messy manuscript on, some who get a more finished product? If you don’t have a beta reader, why not? Is it just a matter of not finding one, not having time to return critiques, or another reason altogether?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Different Paths to the Same Goal

A Peasant Woman and a Child on a Path Among Birch Trees--Arnold Marc Gorter--1866-1933My daughter missed a week of school last week because she had a mysterious fever virus that wouldn’t go away.

Most unfortunately, her 4th grade class learned how to simplify, compare, and order fractions during that time. Sans her.

Even more unfortunately, there is a new way to do this math.

Not that I was even great at doing it the old way.

On Monday, when she came home with her fractions homework, I attempted to show her how to simplify fractions…the only way I knew how.

It wasn’t the way the teacher wanted the class to simplify fractions. She was supposed to do something to do with fact families maybe? And finding multipliers? Something like that? Or factors? Something?

At any rate, it boiled down to the fact that I was approaching the task in a completely different way from her teacher. This made her feel both frustrated (with the assignment, her teacher, and me) and worried about solving the problems.

I could get the right answer (amazingly) when I simplified 24/108. But she needed to arrive at the answer differently.

When writing a book, you can choose to outline…or not. You can edit as you go…or not. You can research at the beginning of your project, at the end, or not at all. You can favor writing plot-focused books or character-focused ones.

The different approaches don’t stop there. Let’s say that you finally chose the methods that worked for you and now you’ve got a finished manuscript. Do you query it? Do you consider self-publishing it? Do you put it out as an e-book?

It’s enough to make your head spin.

I read an article a couple of days ago on Jane Friedman’s Writer’s Digest blog , There Are No Rules, about NYT Bestselling author Barry Eisler’s decision to turn down a $500k deal from St. Martin’s to self-publish his book.

Now that’s a different approach. But it’s the kind of thing I’m hearing more and more about.

Sometimes I’m tempted to feel like my daughter with the different approaches for simplifying fractions—bewildered and frustrated and uncertain of the right way to continue.

But then I remind myself that our books all end up at the same place—in the hands of our readers. What’s important, ultimately, isn’t how we got there but the quality of the books that we’re giving them.

What matters is the end-product: whether it’s a correct math problem or a page-turning novel.

Do you find the different choices and approaches in writing and publishing confusing? How do you find the right path?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Fight Spring Fever and Get Some Writing Done


Today I’m over at “A Good Blog is Hard to Find,” blogging on some ways to keep motivated when you’d rather be looking out the window.

Hope you’ll join me (and that you’re having some nice weather where you are.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Improvisation in Life and Writing

Improv WisdomLast weekend I was heading to Anderson, SC, to visit my parents and have a radio interview with a local radio personality there. He’d told me just to contact him whenever I planned a trip to see my folks and he’d tape an interview.

My daughter was sick all last week with a fever, so I emailed him at the last minute, “Sorry for the last-minute email, but I’m going to be in Anderson this weekend. Would you like to schedule an interview?”

He emailed me back, and asked me to call him at a particular number—different from the one I had on file for him.

“Could you come to the hospital for our interview?” he asked. “I’ve been here for a week now and I don’t have next week’s show booked—actually, your visit is working out perfectly.”

“Can you even do an interview at the hospital?” I asked. I was feeling a little uncertain about the whole thing.

“Sure I can. I’ve already done one this week for the show that’s running tomorrow. If you don’t mind, it would work out great for me.”

So we did. The interview went great—we just passed the microphone back and forth between each other. I’ve never actually done a face to face radio interview before and I was pleased at how well it went. Usually when I do a radio interview, I’m on the phone and not even in the same state as the interviewer.

In some ways, the in-person radio interview was easier than the phone interviews I’ve usually done. On the phone, I’m always listening hard for any clues that I need to shush up and move on to the next subject. When you’re face to face with your radio interviewer, you get visual clues to wrap up a particular train of thought. (Hurry up motions).

At one point in the interview, I was asked about how I’d ended up writing for both Midnight Ink and Penguin Berkley. I started talking about slush piles and the interviewer held up his hands and mouthed, “Tell them what a slush pile is!” That’s something that wouldn’t have happened in a phone-in radio interview—it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I was using jargon. So I quickly interjected an explanation.

The interview wrapped up well and afterward the interviewer told me to let him know when I was back in town for a signing and he’d get some local TV coverage for it. I might have gulped a little, but told him that sounded great.

I’m not really a great spur-of-the-moment, go-with-the-flow type of person. I like to organize and plan and apply my Type A self to the process. I like everything to be very orderly.

But I’m learning to go with the flow. One thing that’s helping me is a book I downloaded on my Kindle last week. In fact, it was the book that helped me tell the interviewer we’d go ahead with the interview instead of rescheduling it for another time.

While I was reading blogs last week, I came across a post on Tribal Writer that mentioned the book Improv Wisdom by Stanford professor Patricia Ryan Madson.

The Tribal Writer post mentioned the book as a way to combat procrastination. I don’t need help with that, but I do think I need help with being a little more flexible. Madson recommends that we say “yes” more often in life and see what happens.

From the Publishers Weekly review:

If you improvise, she says, you "will make more mistakes" but you'll also "laugh more often, and have some adventures." Here she offers 13 maxims to guide the fledgling improviser. "Say yes" … it will open up new worlds. "Don't prepare": in focusing on the future, you might miss the present. "Start anywhere": take any entry into a problem, and once you get inside you'll have a better perspective.

I think that I’ve got a very cautious voice inside me that wants to say “no” until I have a chance to absorb what I’m facing. I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more flexible when it comes to my writing—and it always works out really well. When I let characters propel my story in surprising ways, I’m usually pleased with the results.

And I’m discovering that I’m also making new discoveries whenever I step outside my comfort zone with life, too. That might be stretching myself with promo (book tour, interviews, etc.) but it might be just growing as a writer by saying yes to a variety of new experiences and people.

I liked this approach for a variety of stumbling blocks—whether it’s procrastination or uncertainty about how to approach a difficult scene…or being more outgoing with marketing. Saying yes, focusing on the present, and jumping in to tackle our obstacles sounds like a good way to move forward. And we might end up with more opportunities along the way—opportunities to network and find inspiration with people and situations that we come across.

How often do you step outside your comfort zone? Are you more flexible in your life and writing, or a little more cautious?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hardworking vs. Talented

L'éducation de la Vierge - after Georges de La Tour (1593 - 1652)]Recently, I spoke to an acquaintance of mine. She asked about my upcoming books, and I told her about the upcoming releases in June and November.

“I’m both pleased for you and jealous of you,” she said to me. “You’re doing exactly what I’d have liked to have done, but didn’t do.”

I’ve heard that kind of statement before, and I’m always taken aback by it. If we’re alive and kicking, it’s never too late. It’s not. I always remember everyone reading And Ladies of the Club in the 1980s. It became a best-selling novel—50 years in the making. The book’s author, Helen Hoover Santmyer, was 88 years old at the time of the release.

I did mention that it was never too late, but she told me that, for her, it was. I told the lady I was speaking with what I usually say in this situation: “Getting published is a combination of persistence, hard work, talent, and luck. The most important things are hard work and persistence.”

It made me wonder what made her stop writing. Why had she given up on her dream of publishing a book?

There was an interesting study that I recently read about, involving children and their success with different tasks. The title for the study findings, released by two authors from Columbia University, is: Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Motivation and Performance.”

The study found that a group of children that had excelled at an activity and then been told they’d done well because they were smart had frequently done poorly the next time they’d been tested. They had no control over being smart—and being told they were smart, the children were concerned that the next test would show they were less-competent than they’d been told. The study stated:

They are also afraid of effort because effort makes them feel dumb. They believe that if you have the ability, you shouldn't need effort (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007), that ability should bring success all by itself.

The children who'd been praised for being hardworking, performed even better on the next test, determined to show again how industrious they were.

It makes me wonder if some writers give up on writing, thinking it’s necessary to have a tremendous writing gift. And, if they run into a wall with their writing, they’re quick to assume they don’t have the gift and shouldn’t waste their time.

I think, clearly, there’s got to be some talent there to write a publishable book. But I also feel that you can learn writing —and vastly improve your ability and potential for being published by reading novels in your area of interest and by learning writing skills via writing blogs or classes.

This is where I think the hard work and persistence comes in. Yes, there needs to be some talent there. Not everyone is going to be picked up by a traditional publisher. But I do feel like everyone can improve, and that many writers can improve enough to be publishable.

Adding an element of determination and hard work (and, in this business, patience) and I feel like it’s a combination that can serve to get a writer published.

Being told it’s talent only (the equivalent of the children being told they were successful because they were smart)? I don’t think that’s true.

Clearly there are many different reasons why some writers give up writing. Sometimes they might be overwhelmed with other things in their life, sometimes they just don’t prioritize writing high enough on the list to finish a book. But I hate to think that there might be writers out there who think that they just haven’t ‘got it.’ Because I really believe it’s possible to vastly improve, whether you’ve ‘got it’ or not.

What do you think? For the majority of writers on the shelves today—was it pure talent? Was it mainly hard work and persistence? It was probably both—but was it 50-50 talent/hard work? Or did it weigh more on one side than the other?

Sunday, March 20, 2011



Here are writing links that I’ve posted to Twitter in the last week.

I’m delighted that now we have an efficient method of locating resources on writing topics when you need them—via the Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine and software engineer and writer Mike Fleming’s ingenuity. The links I tweet (which are writers’ blogs, agents’ and editors’ blogs) all are added to the engine to make it easier for you to access the information you’re looking for.

Interested in a monthly newsletter with the top writing articles, blogger spotlights, and interviews with industry insiders? Sign up for the free WKB newsletter here: (You can unsubscribe at any time, and your email information is never shared.)

Creativity Tweets of the Week – 03/18/11:

A Million Ways Not to Write a Book:

Creating Active Characters in YA Novels:

Over 6000 links to help #writers find resources:

9 Writer Woes and the Books to Cure Them:

Self-Editing at the Story Level:

Description--Fictional Characters and Setting:

On embracing our strengths:

Forget PowerPoint! How to Deliver Awesome Presentations:

Best articles this week for writers 3/18/11: @4kidlit

Getting the Most Out of Your Main Character:

Be a writing rebel--break some rules: @4kidlit

15 Exercises You Can Do Sitting In Front Of Your Computer:

Author Voice vs. Character Voice - Finding Both:

Writing prologues that work:

How non-conformist characters have spiced up crime fiction: @mkinberg

Avoiding self-evident statements:

How one set of co-authors got their agent:

Crits for Water Campaign: @janicehardy

Writing through it:

Do writers have to be closers?

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Julie's EAT HEALTHY French fries @CleoCoyle

The Power of Peer Recommendations & Reviews:

How to Use Dialogue to Avoid Lengthy Info Dumps:

5 Writing Excuses You Should Eliminate Now:

Blogging-The New Fast Food of Writing:

Use the delete key--9 places to start whacking at your words:

Newspaper Guild Calls for Unpaid Huffington Post Writers To Strike:

Screenwriting tips for novelists: @writerWyoming

Writers’ Tools: The Whiteboard: @LyndaRYoung

Search my tweets--

Indie Bookstores, eBooks and Google Books: @danielaudet

‘What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text’ (NY Times Magazine):

10 Reasons to Practice Freewriting: @CherylRWrites

The indie movement in media and how it may have changed us for the better: @thinkstory

Where Should You List Your Manuscript's Word Count?

For Your Non-Tweeting Friends: Reflections from a Confirmed Twitter Freak: @jennyhansen

5 Ways To Forget About Writers Block (And Actually Start Writing):

Choosing one story idea over another:

Tough lessons from a debut novelist:

Determining Your Blog's Weak Spots And How To Correct Them:

20 tips for a bestselling interview:

Tips for breaking the rules in mystery writing:

How to Record a Video Interview in 8 Steps:

Plotting is easy:

An author's personal writing checklist:

10 decisions you can make about your writing right now:

A site to help get your creative juices flowing (microwriting with prompts): @CarlosNZ

Spring cleaning for writers--clearing out that email inbox:

14 ways to enjoy doing something you've procrastinated (writing?):

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Happy St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes! @CleoCoyle

Journalists debate: Should ebook titles be in quotes or italics?

World creation:

Subconscious Storytelling: @storiestorm

5 things that turned one person into a writer:

Tips on finding an agent:

Turn Your Book Into an App: 5 Questions to Ask an App Developer:

If manuscripts were lovers:

5 free apps for writers:

The Art of Turning A Negative Comment Into A Positive:

Blood and Guts 101 for Screenwriters:

Literary vs. Genre Fiction:

Avoiding Melodrama by Writing Deeper: @4kidlit

How to Do a Structural Edit on Your Book, Part 2 of 4:

An Agent on Myths About Agents:

Dealing with the permanence of online reviews:

Fixing a Problem Scene—4 Approaches:

The Image of Canadian Authors:

Book Marketing: Understand Amazon Kindle "Before You Go": @thecreativepenn

Putting the sting in the story:

9 Ways to Give a Better Author Reading:

Is the face of publishing changing? An agent's thoughts:

SFF and the Classical Past, Part 7—Labyrinths:

100 Exquisite Adjectives:

The job of an author assistant:

St. Patrick's Day Mysteries: @janetrudolph

The Importance Of Not Being Earnest All The Time:

Writing Teaches Writing:

Improving Your Writing Through Research:

How to Run Two Blogs in the Midst of a Busy Life:

Mystery Writer's Guide To Forensic Science - Collecting Evidence: @clarissadraper

Get a Handle on Your Email:

Interview with an agent:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Breakfast in a Glass—Fruit Smoothie @CleoCoyle

Industry news and tips for those looking for an agent:

The path to writing enlightenment:

Can Great Characters Save a Bad Plot?

Finish what you start? The internal editor doesn't agree:

3 Ways Bloggers Can Attract Twitter Traffic:

6 fillers to avoid in dialogue:

Literary devices in the non-literary novel:

How *not* to Self-Publish:

The Power of Repetition:

10 questions to drive a writer wacky: @elspethwrites

Take a Second Look When Switching POV Styles:

5 Essential Blogs Every n00b Writer Must Devour: @ScottMcCumber

How Changing The Structure Of Your Novel Can Help Get Your Book Published: @bubblecow

6 Reasons Writing Is Coming Home: @victoriamixon

Back to Basics, part II: Organizing Your "Writing" Time:

3 strategies for writing endings:

Best and Worst Agent & Editor Advice:

Like With Like = Great Story Flow:

How to get out of your own way and quit procrastinating on your novel:

Leading into a scene vs. including backstory: @juliettewade

Story elements checklist:

Building Character Arc: Why a Motto Is Vital:

Creating Memoir That’s Bigger Than Me, Me, Me:

10 Hard Truths About Blogging:

Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll Results:

The New Facebook Page for Authors:

The complicated relationship of poetry, film and poetry-film:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Irish Oatmeal Cookie Muffins for St. Patrick's Day from Cleo Coyle @CleoCoyle

The 10 best modern European crime writers - in pictures (Guardian):

Omniscience (in fiction writing):

Slow blogging works:

Head-hopping as seen by publishing pros:

An agent posts "Hoping for a Movie Deal, Part 2":

4 Ways to Deal with Narrative Summaries:

How to Be Your Own Intern:

I post on my writing process--how I start a new project and my mindset throughout:

Where Should a Second Chapter Start?

100 things about a novel:

Using Conferences to Your Querying Advantage:

How long does it take to get published? An agent answers:

Open letter to anyone producing a sitcom pilot:

My book is Kryptonite: do I need a secret identity? @dirtywhitecandy

Gauging your writing ability and what you can do to reach the next level:

Are You Asking These Important Questions About Your Fantasy Setting?

A list of writing reference books directed toward learning specific skills:

Pen & Paper: Better Than All Things Digital:

The 5 Elements of Authoritative Content:

Writing Exercises to Get Your Pen Moving:

Is All publicity Good Publicity?

11 Savvy Social Media Strategies:

A writer on writer's block: @agent139

Writing Binges and Writing Blocks:

Twitter's effect on journalism:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: @CleoCoyle

Exclusives and multiple submissions:

Books and TV need to find a happy medium (Guardian):

'Nonfiction' Is Like Reality TV Shows, Right? And 'Creative Nonfiction' Is Like Fox News:

Engage with the public – or fade into the past (Guardian):

5 Critical Social Media Sharing Guidelines for Moms (& others who wonder about boundaries):

News for Authors with Facebook Fan Pages:

Key points in the digi vs traditional publishing debate:

Making change work for you: @joanswan

Convincing Readers Your Fiction is Real:

We Expect Far Too Much of a First Sentence: @AdviceToWriters

Why Do We Tell Stories?

Write Lots Of Books Or Build An Author Platform. Which Is More Effective? @thecreativepenn

Why Book Design & Editing Matter:

The not-so-glamorous life of a newly published author (Ntl. Post):

The birth of steampunk in the 19th Century:

An editor answers: Do I need an agent?

Writer envy:

The 10 best American poems (Guardian):

Writing vs. critiquing:

The 10 Most Awesomely Terrible Sci Fi/Fantasy Paperback Covers:

Myst. Lov. Kitchen: Killer Tofu From Guest Blogger Alan Orloff @CleoCoyle

The Perils of an Overactive Imagination:

Writers’ cul-de-sacs:

Five finalists for National Book Critics Circle award in poetry (Washington Post):

Implausible exchanges that pulls readers out of the story:

A somewhat controversial stance on ebook piracy:

Amazon Rankings: What they mean:

Why Overthinking Could Stifle Your Creativity:

Science fiction author begins war of the books worlds:

A Novel is Not a Story:

When an Author Meets His Critics: WordPress Plugins To Rock Your World: The Charlie Sheen Guide to Winning! at Online Marketing:

A Writer Blogs About Process:

Six Limitations of the First Person POV:

What's popular on the WKB search engine today?

9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better (a little zen for writers):

Self-Editing: Character Development:

Writing is about growing up:

Developing Voices for Different POVs:

8 iPhone Apps to Grow & Connect With Audience:

How To Tell If Your Writing Is Any Good - Part 1:

6 Ways to Promote Your Book for Free:

Social Media: There's No Such Thing as Too Early:

A Writer’s Antidotes for Envy:

Top 12 iPhone Aclip_image001pps That'll Increase Your Productivity:

The Preposition Gnome:

The art of hitting send:

Connections between some well-known crime writers' lives and their stories: @mkinberg

Resources for Christian Fiction Writers:

How Captain Kirk Led An Author to Write Historical Fiction:

Immersed in our stories:

Desperate writers:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An Ebook Advantage

Amazon-Kindle-3-300x488I was out running errands yesterday and was a little farther afield than usual. Our cats have a special cat food that we can only get at this one particular store (I know…it’s crazy), and so I was about 35 minutes away from my own brier patch.

I’m planning on seeing some friends soon and remembered that I wanted to pick up wine and beer. I dashed into a wine store.

I picked up what I was looking for quickly, although I wasn’t familiar with the store. A Chardonnay in one hand, some Sam Adams Porter in the other, I was tearing toward the cash register when I saw a man standing at a table, hoping to distribute samples and looking awkward. He smiled hopefully at me.

I was in a hurry…but gosh, I sure know how it feels to stand at tables at bookstores feeling awkward. I sighed, then stopped with a smile.

It was a local brewery. He could tell I was in a hurry and stumbled into a spiel, “We’re right here in Charlotte, on the way to uptown. And—we don’t have any preservatives in our beer.”

I could tell that this was his big selling point. Maybe that info would have meant something different to someone with a different slant, but for me it was interesting from a marketing perspective. “So,” I said, “you can’t ship it then. If it’s preservative-free.”

He looked more cheerful now since I apparently was picking up on an interesting point. “That’s right!”

“So your focus is probably local restaurants?”

“Yes ma’am. And local bars.”

“But you’re starting to sell it in retail outlets?” I asked.

“We're making inroads with a couple of local chains. Like this one. See, what you’d do,” he gestured to a keg-looking container on the table, “is to drink this by the best-by date, then return the container to us at a retail center and we’d fill it up.”

“The only problem is,” I said, “is that I live in Matthews. So it’s less convenient for me to drive over here to purchase more beer.”

He beamed. “It’s available at the Matthews location of this store!”

Ka-ching! It was a sale.

Only, actually, because it was convenient for me to buy the beer.

Convenience is, I think, one of the major selling points for an e-reader. And I think it should be a reason why publishers shouldn’t worry too much about the e-book revolution.

I’ve found, lately, that I’ve bought even more books than I usually do. And I buy a lot of books.

That’s because the Kindle has made it very, very easy for me to buy a book. Several times now, I’ve been out with a friend and they told me what they were reading and I’ve downloaded it.

I’ve also downloaded books that I hear about on book blogging sites—immediately, before I have an opportunity to forget the title or author.

I know publishers are worried about ebooks. I know they’re treading into uncertain territory.

But I really think that they’re going to get a higher volume of sales. It’s just so easy for us to buy books.

Do you have an e-reader? Do you have one on your wish list? If you do have one, have you seen your book buying habits change?

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Embracing Our Strengths

DSC01110Last year, I heard from my agent that there was an editor interested in working with me on a mystery they wanted written.

I was to come up with the characters and plot. They’d like the series set in the South and to incorporate quilting.

Of course I jumped on it. I’m no quilter, but quilting is a big part of Southern heritage. I’ve appreciated it as an art form and as a vehicle for telling stories. And the South is my chosen setting—what I know the best.

This was all I knew about what the editor wanted: the setting and the subplot.

I started reading as many novels as I could that used quilting as a subplot or hook.

After reading quite a few of these books, I came up with what I thought the editor wanted.

I wrote an outline for the first book. The characters were quieter than the characters I usually wrote. They minded their manners a little more. They were a bit more serious. There wasn't any of the loud laughter or slapstick humor that my characters are frequently fond of. I hushed them up and told them to behave.

But there was this one character, a ferocious old lady who demanded inclusion in the book.

I reluctantly included her, knowing she had a lot more in common with my Myrtles, Lulus, and Evelyns than the new characters in the new book. I killed her halfway through the book.

I submitted the outline to my agent and she sent it to the editor at Penguin/NAL.

I heard back from my agent after about a month. The editor liked it, but wanted livelier, more colorful, quirky characters. They waned more characters like the ferocious old lady…in fact, they wanted the ferocious old lady, herself.

So I raised her from the dead. :) And I knew what I should have known before I ever started sketching out the outline for that book—they wanted me to write the way I usually wrote. They wanted me to write my specialty—humorous Southern mysteries full of quirky Southerners.

Got it!

What gets me is why I'd think otherwise. If someone is contacting me, they’re looking for what I usually write. It makes sense. If I’m calling a plumber, I’m not asking him to fix my electrical problems. I won’t ask the appliance repair guy to do my interior painting. They probably do know how to do those other things—they’re handy people, in a general sense. But it’s not their specialty.

Can I write other styles and genres? Sure I can. Does it come as easily? No. I don’t know about y’all, but for me there are some things that just come naturally to me—that are second nature for me to write.

What’s your writing strength? Are you capitalizing on it by writing a story that plays to it?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Choosing Our Story

Jeune femme cousant à la lueur d'une lampe--Georg Friedrich Kersting --1783-1847I have a hard time making decisions.

Not big decisions—those are pretty easy for me to make.  But smaller decisions, like what restaurant to choose for supper. 

I used to have a hard time deciding which story idea I’d work on next.  When you have a lot of ideas, it’s tough to choose between them.

And characters.  Think of  all the potential characters we’ve got up in our heads!  I’ve got a whole cast of them and they’re all auditioning with gusto, hoping for their chance to get in a book.

If you think of it, every single bit of our story is a choice.  What will the characters do next?  How will they react to it?  And then what happens?  How does it all resolve?

We can choose so many different paths for our story to take.

Right now, I’m starting a requested outline for the second book in the Southern quilting mystery series (and working on the second draft of the first book in the series).  I’ve got several ideas for it that I could go with.  Which should I decide on?

There are several different things I think about before choosing a storyline.

The first is the reader.  I know my genre well and I think about which aspects of the genre readers love the most.  I work to incorporate those in the story.

After that, I think about which story I’d have the most fun writing.  Is it something I’d have fun with?  Is it something my readers could relate to and have fun with, too?

Is there a plot that I can easily see the different possibilities with?

Is there a story with more potential for conflict than another?

Is there a story that will give my protagonist more challenges, internal conflict,  and more opportunities for growth?

Is there a storyline with more of a marketable hook than another?

Is there a story idea that requires more research than another?  Do I have time to do that extra research in a thorough way, or should I choose a simpler idea?

Sometimes my plot ideas come with characters included. Is there one that has more interesting supporting characters than the others?  

Have you got lots of different story ideas?  How do you choose which to focus on?