Nov 4, 2014

Synopsophobia -- Part II

Okay, so this is part of the synopsizing that gets a little trickier because it's not just about laying the foundation for the story. It's actually getting into the bits and pieces that facilitate the events and changes the characters go through in their personal character arcs as well as the romance., I'm going to give a recommendation and tip my hat to Cathy Yardley. She wrote a fantastic book called Rock Your Plot, which is like a compilation of all these different methods of structuring your novel, put together in a way that makes sense and allows broader understanding of structure. Best of all, explains what the job of each element of structure is in clear and easy to understand terms. It's a quick read, it's only $2.99, and I can honestly say that I understand structure now, during my sixth book, because of this book. Pick it up. Take a couple hours. It's fabulous.

I'm going to paste another chart below I made for myself after reading this book. I'm not going to really go into what the different bits are for(read the book for the big insights!), but listing them and the chart to better explain how I use these different structural elements to work through my 3-GMCs when outlining a book.

And here is where it gets a little harder to explain. For a bare-bones short category romance, you have six plot threads, three per character. Both Internal and External character arcs advance the Romance Plot, which should be the main thrust of your story. But the vehicle that starts the story is usually something to do with the External plot. So that's where I begin. 

The Inciting Incident generally comes to me with the story nugget, so that's not something I spend much time digging for. Good place for me to start. I whip up six of the above charts(I have blank ones that don't have the WHOA-BIG LETTERS in them). Six charts, one for each of the three plot threads per character. In that first box I sketch out how the inciting incident pertains to that specific plot thread. What it means for the heroine's External GMC, Internal GMC, Hero's too. How does it advance the romance plot. Some of these will be duplicated, but I keep the six cards going through this because not every event will read the same way, though there will be some overlap. And all of those insights can spawn ideas for scenes that could come next.

I go through that above charts and all the GMCs and explore turning points and where to up the stakes, etc. This all sounds very formulaic and obvious, but there is something about the act of actually writing out the story questions in keeping with the appropriate thread that solidifies the concept for me. Otherwise, my ideas have a tendency to remain nebulous and undefined. I think I know what it is, but until I put words to it, I really don't know anything.

And this epiphany is where I differ significantly for this book from books-past. I had been trying to blanket make every pinch or plot point work for both characters, but that's not really how things work. You're moving two characters through an external plot, and they react internally to the things that happen. But maybe one of them has a growth-making reaction during the event... and the other only reacts to that event three scenes later... when something else happens to get them over the hurdle. Your turning points don't have to line up across both characters. And if they don't? Even better, you have more scene ideas to work with. 

Getting ahead of myself. Rewinding! I do this for every each of the eight points above for the six threads and that's when my scenes start to materialize. Not in order, either. I write each scene idea blurb on an index card, and then shuffle them around, adding and subtracting cards for scenes that link or facilitate the turning point scenes. I'll still probably only end up with about 70% of the scenes I need(if that) this way. I get something more detailed than an overview, but less detailed than gets dull for me :) 

When I'm actually in the trenches, writing the first draft, it is a different filter and I might find out that what I had planned won't work at all. This happens to me at least twice for every book. When that happens, I stop what I'm doing and figure out what should happen, and how that affects the rest of the plot, and then I go back to it.

I've also found that if I use more than the barest, fragmentary description for what a scene is(think: Scene Title), then I get bored with the idea before I write it. So only when I think it's important that I remember to include something specific in a particular scene do I go into any detail on it. Otherwise, the spot on my outline just says something like: 
    • Barfing at the fish market.
    • Changing Room Shenanigans (Where'd she get them scars?!)
        • Hero tries to make her talk, but she isn't up for it. Something something... angry red scars
Short. Blurby. I have a nebulous idea of these, and in this instance keeping it bare keeps me interested rather than keeping me from knowing what is going on. But this blurby manner also is why I go off track a couple times per book. It's a trade off: Either I plot it to the Nth and know everything and therefore no longer care enough to write the book, or I make sure that I can hit all the major turning points with a description that is a bit dodgy and leaves me plenty of room to run amok inside the story. I choose the second, the lesser of two evils.

This blurby outline is actually what ends my synopsis, and that's why I say it might not work for unsigned writers--you're still hoping to dazzle with your wordsmithery and in this format you only have that first page of Quick Backgrounds to dazzle(Which can be done, but ... I don't know if anyone else's editor but mine would like this format). But if you include an outline of scenes, at least the editor can see at a glance that you have a whole idea.

So I'm sharing this as a story planning tool, as it's nearly impossible to have a story that is not sufficiently driven by conflict or which creeps at a slow pace this way. I'll try to get an example synopsis together to post in the next few days. I'd use the current book, but talking too much about a book is also bad for my mojo...  Muses are persnickety things.

First part of this post is here.

Edited: Because I wrote this in the morning and I was a bit word-drunk, as in I'd been working most of the night and used up my brain juice! It's still rambly, but a little more coherent.

Nov 3, 2014

Conquering My Synopsophobia


I'm going to share this in the hopes that it can help someone else. I'm by no means a expert, but when I find something that works so well for me, I like to share.

Also, I need to preface this post with a few disclaimers:
  • I write short category romance which means a tight word count(~50K). Although I expect that every romance needs all three GMCs per character, it's imperative for my process that I know all three GMC before I start writing if I don't want to waste lots of time with revision.
  • On the Plotter/Pantser scale(At least today), I'm about 70/30, leaning toward plotter. If you're a pantser, I think it can be helpful if you can define these things before you start writing.
  • This might not be the thing you want to send to your editor if you're still uncontracted. But I personally am using this as part of my new-book-starter-kit... since it helps me envision the book enough that I have a good foundation before I start writing. Makes it easier for me. As with all writing advice, Your Mileage May Vary.
  • If you're unfamiliar with the concept of GMC(Goal/Motivation/Conflict), Deb Dixon's book is now available in e-format

Like almost every writer I've met, I have harbored an intense loathing of writing synopses. Before my current project, when I've started a new book, I've written (at best) a three page synopsis for my editor for proposal. And they were quite rambling things.

Old Synopsis Format

  • First two pages: Heroine and Hero's backgrounds, focusing on formative moments to explain Internal and External GMC. (Note: only 2 types of GMC focused on here)
  • Third page: How the story started. And usually I could give at least three chapters worth of stuff... how I saw the story beginning.
  • That synopsis format always ended with me flailing and an announcement to the effect of: THERE WILL BE A BLACK MOMENT AND HAPPILY EVER AFTER, BUT THAT'S ALL I KNOW RIGHT NOW. I'M SORRY. (I'm neurotic, I apologize for everything.)

New Synopsis Format

  • First Page: The Quick Backgrounds page. Where each character comes from, what kind of personalities they have, what they're doing at the start of the story. Not really a place for the GMC's. Quick means quick. Short. A couple single spaced paragraphs. If there is anything else of note(like pertaining to the External plot), I give it a quick background too.
  • Second and Third pages: A single chart that lists the GMC for Internal, External and Romantic threads for each character.
  • 3 GMC Chart
  • Fourth+ pages will be in tomorrow's post! And it will make pantsers want to scrub their brains, no doubt... but it's part of my own personal new synopsis glee.
That's it for today. Tomorrow I'll explain what's in the final section of the synopsis and how I manage to summon it before writing these days.

Oct 28, 2014

Psychology of a Writer's Mind

First, let me state that I'm not making any claims about writer instability or anything like that. I'm mostly indulging my own curiosity and looking for input into a question that has been eating me up since the Guardian article ran.

One more disclaimer, I am using the phrase 'negative review' to mean anything critical even though that's not really the way I look at them. It's shorthand, though I think we need a better term.

When we hear about author-on-reviewer misconduct of any kind, the first thing you think(after OMG, is the reviewer okay!?) is:

What in the world was that author THINKING?

So down that rabbit hole I went. I want to understand... well,everything, but especially things I could never see myself doing. (I also am fascinated by serial killer and true crime documentaries... But that's another post.)

Everyone tells authors not to read reviews, which I do understand. Baby writers(and probably writers who are all grown up too) have muses that are like turtles: They retreat into their shells when anything startles or scares them. A muse that's in full-on turtle mode makes it harder to write your next book well. Or in a timely manner. Or at all. So as a muse-prophylactic, not reading your reviews makes excellent sense. 

But personally, I do read my reviews. (At least for now, it doesn't take much time to read them, there aren't that many.) And sometimes while eating chocolate.

I don't do it because I want to hear that I'm awesome (When people say that? I never believe them anyway.).

I don't do this because I can't stand not knowing (Though I do have an epic case of InstantGratification-itis, and basically want to know/do/be everything right NOW.).

I do it because I want to improve my craft.

Not so much the way I write. Not structure, or really anything to do with the mechanics of writing. I do it because I want to know what story elements, plots, and characters resonate the most with people who read my genre(category romance, medical series).

I fully accept that my books are a product. And without writing another whole post on why I don't think it's selling out to say this: I want to give the customer what they want. Or at least understand so I can make that coincide with my own desires to give others that happy sigh at the end of a book.

But even though I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of reader expectations, I'm probably more like 80/20 than 100% on the understanding. Reviews, especially negative reviews, offer insight and help me become not just a better writer, but to build the career I want to have.

So that's my goal when I read my own reviews. And it probably matters that I go into reading them with that mindset(Years of art school taught me how to take a critique too, but that is yet another post).

But I'm still stuck on: What was that(or that, or THAT...) author thinking!?

And more specifically: What in that particular review started them down the yellow brick road to Crazytown?

Obviously, in the case of Kathleen Hale, one review stuck with her(that book has loads of 1star reviews, and only one reviewer was terrorized that we know of). So it must have triggered some kind of emotional response. That's not Miss Harris's fault or responsibility, but something about her words earwigged into Hale's brain, and I want to understand. Not to excuse--I'm still horrified by the situation--but just to comprehend the thought processes on that downward spiral.

As I only have myself to compare with(and I've never hunted down a reviewer... that I know of o.O) , the questions I asked myself when pursuing that elusive understanding:
  • What negative review stung the most?
  • What ones didn't bother me? 
  • When I was bothered, how exactly did the review bother?
  • What made the difference between this 2-star review and that 2-star review...
The conclusion I've come to?
Negative reviews that actually stung, were the reviews that 
said something I secretly agreed with/feared...

So that's my Q to other authors out there. With negative reviews you've gotten, have there been equally written/snarky negative reviews that didn't bother you, but the one that did said something true about your book/writing/whatever that you just really don't want to think about in order to keep your muse turtle-free?


Other theories are welcome too. This reasoning might just be particular to my own special neuroses.

Oct 25, 2014

Entitlement -- #BloggerBlackout #HaleNo

In the wake of author-stalker antics over a negative review, along with a staggering number of other author-on-reviewer crimes... I'm posting this before my head asplodes with the loud angry words.

For Authors

You’ve written a book and it has now become made available for public consumption through some manner of dissemination. Congratulations!

A Comprehensive List of What You’re Now Entitled to:

  • You May Tell People You’ve Written/Published a Book. Or not, depending on your preference. It's up to you, you can use a pseudonym and conceal your real name, use a pseudonym and freely share your real name, or use your real name. Up. To. You. And whatever your safety requirements are.
  • Claim the Occupation of Writer or Author. Although publication is not a necessary pre-req to claim those titles. 

What you are NOT ENTITLED to

  • Not Entitled to Reviews. There is no right to have your book reviewed by anyone. If you get reviews—good, bad, or ugly—Be Grateful Anyone Made the Effort.
  • Not Entitled to Have People Buy Your Book. Except family. Feel free to whine over holiday dinners and send passive aggressive birthday &/or Christmas cards to people who may share a surname, genetics, or whatever else makes them family... and who haven't bought your darned book(at least your debut. YMMV on later titles).
  • Not Entitled to the Right to Appear on Anyone Else’s Blog for publicity and praise because of your general awesomeness. Further: Bloggers are not your employees, if they have read and reviewed your book, they're doing you a FAVOR. The only acceptable response is: Thank You.
  • Not Entitled to Know the RL Identity of Your Reviewer. If you have more than one 1-star review, the correct and sane conclusion is that more than one person hated your book. This is not a case of ONE person with multiple accounts leaving 1star reviews designed specifically to ruin you.  

Helpful Sidenote: 

Hallmarks of an actual Troll Reviewer: Newly created account, generic name, only has one(or maybe a couple if they're high-achieving trolls) review. If there are many or hundreds or reviews? Not a troll. 

And what does it matter who they are, it's a person who has these specific thoughts. Not a robot. Not a maniacal monkey demon sent from the fiery pits to ruin you, or a rogue AI program who hates the name of your heroine. A person disliked your book for whatever reasons they listed, and it does not matter if they've a real-sounding name or go by GrignrTheManly. A PERSON WROTE THOSE WORDS. That's all you need to know.

The only reason someone would leave a negative review(that actually pertains to your book) under a fake ID is for the freedom to safely say what their current emotion is screaming at them to say in the way they need to say it. It isn't so they can lie about how they feel.

Permissible Reactions to a Bad Review

  • Cry. This is best done alone in your home. But the good news: It's Pants Optional!
  • Vent to your friends in private. Rant. Complain until they're sick of you. But for god's sake, keep it off the internet. No Public Displays of Immature Dickishness
  • Fantasize about your misunderstood genius and take comfort in the fact that one day, probably long after you're dead, you--trail blazer that you are--will be lauded for your mad, avant-garde storytelling skills.
  • Confide in your dog, who may bring you a stick to cheer you up and remind you of the long held doggie wisdom: Sticks and stones may break your bones...but they're also really good for chewing on when life's got you down.
  • Confide in your cat, who will magnanimously allow you to sit in her presence, possibly allow you to pet her, feed her, or run a red laser pointer dot around the room for her amusement.
  • Eat or Drink Your Feelings. Possibly not the healthiest reaction, but have some chocolate and some wine. Just don't use them as a facilitator to Public Displays of Dickiness. Or other dangerous/inappropriate actions.

Side-side Note: Book Bloggers are often the best promo available to 21stCen author. Negative reviews won't ruin your career or your book, but your response to negative reviews could. In summary: don't be a dick. 

Tips for Bloggers & Reviewers

You all know how to conduct yourselves with regard to your reviews, so instead...
  • Be aware that just because someone had the brain power to write and publish a book doesn't mean that they're stable individuals. I don't care who asks you for your address, if you don't feel comfortable giving it or your real name, then don't! Have them send the package to your local post office. In the US, we have an option for General Delivery, and I'm sure that there are comparable setups in other countries. In the US, it works like this:Mail addressed General Delivery is held at the post office and you go there to pick it up. You don't have to have a post office box to protect your home address, mail does not have to be delivered to your home. Addresses look something like this:
United States Post Office
General Delivery:
City, State Zipcode
  • If you feel threatened by someone--anyone--author or schmo on the street--Call The Police. Contact a lawyer. Tell your family and friends. Say something online even. Keeping quiet will not help you. Embarrassment is one of the stalker's biggest weapons, it keeps people quiet and conceals abuse. Quiet helps them, not You.
  • You have rights, and the biggest, most important one is that you should feel safe in your home, at work, when you go to your favorite restaurant, etc. 

Finally: To the authors who are crying out, 'But we're the ones being punished, we're innocent!' 

First, that kind of sentiment implies that those being harassed over reviews deserve it. They don't.

Writers should have some connection to their empathy skills, and now's the time to activate that connection. This isn't about you or your butthurt about not getting your book reviewed for a couple more weeks... It's people using what meager power they have to stand as a community for something important.

Keeping Quiet helps the Abuser, not the abused.

Jul 8, 2014

Self-Awareness and Writing Emotion

It's kind of funny to me that I'm a writer who actually gets paid to write now. If you'd asked me five years ago if I'd ever be able to do that, I would probably have said no--even though I wanted to. Ten years ago? I would have definitely said no, nothing anyone would read.

My negative outlook wasn't linked to my dyslexia. It wasn't because I didn't think I could write in an entertaining fashion--even ten years ago I was certain I could tell an entertaining story. At least from an external point of view. It was the internal stuff that threw me.

I know why this is now. I am an atypical girl.
  • I hate shoes. I've been known to wear sandals in the snow. Once I forgot to wear shoes to work...(which is another story...)
  • I only carry a handbag so I have somewhere safe to keep my ereader. 
  • I loathe Lifetime/Hallmark Channel Christmas movies(or well, just in general you can't make me watch those channels). 
  • In summer, I will walk in the rain without an umbrella even when I'm not feeling sad(people only walk in the rain in movies when they're sad.)

Also? I don't like examining my feelings about anything. And holy crap, if you make me talk about my feelings? Conversation will go down hill fast--I'm doing good if I can string ten words together. I prefer the most generic words possible to describe my emotional state(I know it's like social camouflage, and I don't care!).

I'm good.
I'm okay. 
I'm bleh... 

If anyone wants to explore these generic words with me, I can probably filter it down another level and give bare details to explain whatever upset me... But if the person I'm speaking with can't work out from this why I'm upset, any further digging will probably make me cry. It doesn't matter what the emotion is, if it's big and personal, I can't talk about it.

This is why therapy would be useless for me.(Which is not to say that I don't need it. I'm pretty sure I'm nuts, I just like to think it's a quirky, fun kind of crazy.)

This was also why I couldn't get deepDEEP inside the emotional state of my characters. I couldn't examine their feelings because I didn't even examine my own feelings. So I didn't have a clear point of comparison for anything. I didn't have better words than the generic ones.

I didn't start digging deeper until I wrote the book that actually sold. It isn't autobiographical by any stretch, but I used a lot of things from my life... Enough that everything felt familiar, I didn't have to stretch to understand the characters. But in the first couple drafts, I didn't stretch hard enough to describe/depict those emotions. Not until my editor made me do it. I resisted. Good lord, I resisted. I love reading romance(especially stories with THE ANGSTS!), but my unsold drafts were full of glancing blows at emotion. Riddled with jokes that kept the characters and ME from having to look too closely at what we were feeling.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I've been judging an unpublished RWA contest, and all my entries have so many good things to say about them: good writing, warm voices, interesting situations... But a couple of them have characters I wanted to love but could not connect with. The writer didn't dig deep enough.

In the past, I've been advised to think of a similar situation in my life to what the character is facing, and relive those emotions while writing a scene. But that never helped me. Invariably, my reliving the past involved me thinking about how at the time I didn't want to think about the bad thing that was happening!

Getting emotion on the page is more about your own Self-Awareness than anything related to writing. You have to understand yourself before you can ever try to understand other people.(Quick Note: Sympathy and Empathy are not interchangeable. They're different. Ask Uncle Google to explain. I know I've banged the Empathy Drum before, but writers need strong Empathy, and that starts with understanding yourself.)

The only way I know to do that is by examining your memories and all the messy bits attached to them.
And I don't mean just think about it, I mean wallow. Open that metaphorical vein and let that sucker bleed. Do NOT apply pressure or try to staunch the flow. If it doesn't hurt,  you haven't cut deeply enough.

The only way you'll ever understand other people(especially imaginary people who spring from your crazybrain) is to understand yourself(and your crazybrain). I know that sounds like New-Agey Woo-Woo talk, but...some professions lend themselves to the Woo-Woo talk.
Because I love craft books, and there are some truly excellent(and even mind-blowing) writing books about emotion out there, please let me recommend:

Jun 26, 2014

Goodreads Giveaway & Announcement

Sporatic girl strikes again! Yep, I've been quiet, or at least quiet HERE. Distracted might be a better word -- I've probably never actually been quiet in my life!

Two Quick Things

  • Goodreads Giveaway widget added above! For my August book -- formerly known as Circus Medicus, it has a proper title now: Return of Dr. Irresistible! 
  • Starting July 21 -- I'll be running a free workshop on the Harlequin forums--which is an ever-free and fantastic resource/support group if you want to write romance, especially category romance. Lots of info, and lots of fantastic opportunities there.
    • Title: Digging for Your Muse: Manufacturing Creativity
    • One Line: Using mindmaps to generate unique stories you(and your readers/editor) can get excited about.
    • Blurb: The workshop will also demonstrate techniques for using mindmaps as a problem-solving tool to get you through the obstacle course you run from Page One to The End.

May 30, 2014

Just Popping In...

I really don't have anything to talk about. I went into my usual blog-coma for the writing of book4, and now I'm doing last revisions on it(I hope) and planning my summer project(A 5/6-part serial that is currently half-written) -- and which I plan on dipping a toe into the world of self publishing with! Exciting, more on that later.

Stealing Rapunzel Cover
Also considering whether to start doing some book cover design on the side... I enjoyed doing the one for my summer project. If anyone is interested, ping me on my contact form or send me a message on Facebook :)

Otherwise, just working working working. Oh, and feeling guilty for neglecting my blog. I'm on Facebook a lot(frequently posting stupid stuff!), if anyone goes looking for me.