Chapter 5: Clutter and Craziness

Today I took a look at my “writing” folder.  In that folder, is another set of folders, each labelled as a different book title (or if I didn’t get that far, maybe “genie book” or “empire one”).  Each one of those folders has a number of different scenes or drafts of unfinished novels.  To call it clutter would be an understatement.

I have eleven folders dedicated to individual story plots, and have completed one novel.  What does that tell you?

Here’s the thing, though: I’ve lost inspiration for most of them.  It makes me sad, to say the least.  I have characters stuck in a waiting room that they’ll never be called out of.  Each is so beautiful and dear to me in his/her own way, but I just can’t find it in me to make their stories go anywhere.  Nothing comes to me past a scene or two.

So, what am I going to do?  First things first, if it’s the character that came to me crystal clear, I might try to put them in another story.  They’re not dependent on the original plot, so why not?  But, what if it’s just a scene?  One single scene that I can see clear as day, but nothing more.  It’s quite simple, really.

Write a short story.  They’re actually quite underrated.  I originally grew into the habit of short stories while waiting to hear back from agents last year – to pass the time without yet being ready to delve into another novel.  In short (haha), it was a past time.  However, they quickly became worth more to me.

My abilities when it comes to descriptions have greatly strengthened thanks to them.  I’ve also learned the beauty in simplicity – don’t put words on the page for the sake of count.  I don’t mean during the original draft where you’re jotting down your ideas.  I mean in the editing stages.  It becomes tempting to try to make your story sound eloquent by using too-large words and over-description.  The story becomes lost in it.

A lot of magazines that I submit to have a word count just under my story’s draft once I’m done with it.  That means I have to re-look at it, and decide what the story absolutely can’t live without.  Honestly, that should always be our point of view.  If it’s not relative to the story, and doesn’t propel the plot forward, why waste your readers’ time with it?  If I’m attached to a scene, the question becomes “how can I make this scene more relevant to the plot?” and then bam, my plot becomes just as complicated as I like it, but in a well compacted box.  Once carefully unwrapped, you have a beautifully woven story.

Here’s the off-putting fact about magazines, though: not only does your story have to be right for the brand of the magazine, but it has to fit in with the particular issue, as well.  It means you have to kill two birds with one stone, or none at all.

The rejection bites, but it helps your outlook on what that means.  Rejection doesn’t mean your book should be thrown out; it means there’s still room for improvement.  Take your book, mold it.  Listen to what people are saying, but stand by what you’re set on.  Sometimes stubbornness can be a good thing, but just know where to draw the line.

This post is going to end here, so I know it’s rather shorter than the others.  My final thought I want to leave you with is to take the time to get to know your characters as thoroughly as you would someone you care about in this tricked-up world we like to call reality.  It can make the difference between a forgotten story, and one that widens your reader’s scope for life.

Chapter 4: Wandering with No Destination

We’ve grown up hearing the idiom repeated in our ear “Don’t judge a book by its over.”  When it comes to people, I wholeheartedly agree with what it stands for.  With books, however, I’ve always been guilty of falling into its temptations.  A distinct memory in my head is at SuperCon this past year deciding between two books (of the same author) to buy and choosing the one I did simply because the cover reminded me of a magical journal.  I had literally nothing else to go off of because the sales pitch from the author for each appealed to me equally.

We’re all guilty of it.  You walk through a bookstore or library, your finger dragging against the spines of books, until you see something – a picture, a font – that catches your eye.  It’d be a lie to claim you go through every single plot summary to make your choice; there’s simply not enough time.

The exception of this is when you have a specific author or series in mind.  You make a beeline for their spot on the shelf, buy what you went for, and possibly let yourself dally around that section for anything else that catches your eye.  Personally, I’m a user of Goodreads and have found it immensely helpful.

What does this mean for writers?  After we put our heart and soul into our imagined (yet so incredibly real) world, potential readers could pass it by on a whim based on our cover.  As previously stated, I’ve never published a book, so I have little insight on the workings of how a cover gets chosen.

There’s still a different market to consider, though.  In my first post I mentioned how my sister, Kristen, is an Indie author.  That term might’ve been new to some of you, so let me take the time now to explain: When someone is called an “Indie author,” it means that they decided to publish their book without going through the conventional processes.  Instead of querying to agents and publishing agencies, the author instead self-publishes via a large distributer such as Amazon.

It’s given authors a chance to get their books out there without anyone believing in them, which I think is just fantastic.  The trick, though, is that sometimes when a book is rejected, it’s because it’s not fine-tuned to its greatest potential yet.  So, before I go any further, I’d like to encourage you to let a book rest for a while after a few rejections.  Work on a different story – or possibly several – and you’ll naturally become a better writer.  That in itself is a simple concept; practice makes perfect.  However, patience is a struggle (at least for me).

The perseverance to let a loved novel sit on your computer untouched is a feat that I’m struggling with currently.  I’m almost done with writing a completely different novel, with my first novel seemingly neglected in one of my laptop’s many folders.  Why?  Because, I want to look at it unbiasedly.  My heart has been given a six month break of getting to know those characters day after day.  I can only hope that when I look back at it, I’ll be able to truly tell if it’s ready for the world to see.

As startup authors, the idea of an eBook provides us with an advantage when it comes to the idea of becoming Indie authors.  We only have to pay a freelance editor and book cover artist (mind you, those are several hundred dollars, so this isn’t a pain-free road) and then we can put our books out in the world no matter how many times an agent told us it was a “hard sell.”

Book covers and whatnot suddenly become less important, as a lot of the major buying platforms have a “based on recent purchases” tab where it suggests other books that you’ll probably love.  The cover is still important in that moment, of course, but at the very least our stories have the potential to be suggested by a different convention from us begging our family members for an extra sale.

This might sound silly, but I would suggest reading the poorly written stories with low stars that are sold for free (usually they’ll be the first in a series) by Indie authors, and then compare those to ones that have done well in the eBook world.  Why?  It’s easy to read a stranger’s book and go “okay, well they’re doing this wrong.”

It’s nice to then go and write notes about what you don’t like.  Then, go through your own story, and be honest about yourself with possible instances where you’re guilty of the same.  There are two sides to every coin, though!  You should also take note of authors who do something really well that you struggle with.  For example, I’m working on scene description.  I’m not quite an expert yet at setting the scene and depicting it in such a way that makes my readers feel as if they’re standing there, but yet not going on and on for paragraphs without losing the pace I want.

Personally, I’m a large fan of Erin Morgenstern’s book, The Night Circus (click here or below to purchase!).  It’s been my favorite stand-alone book for a while, and upon one of my recent reads (I’ve probably read it more than five times in the last three years alone) realized one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to it – the very same thing that I personally have not yet mastered.  Morgenstern is an expert at slipping in details throughout scenes – not just giving you descriptions to paint the picture with the correct colors, but also stringing together words in a way that grasp at your emotions.  Now, I’m about to read through it again with a specific focus towards those details.  How does she describe her characters?  Scenery?  Action scenes?  Magic?  Romantic tension?  These are talents of hers that I wish to possess, and plan to gain with her unintended assistance.

One helpful hint I heard once was to focus on the five senses: the flickering of the light that has your character on edge; the first taste of chocolate on his starved tongue; the air suddenly becoming hot with tension, your character sweating as she refuses to break; the buzz of bees becoming louder, or possibly everything becomes quiet as your character’s focus is consumed by anger; how her love interest strangely always smells of peppermint.

So, what’s the point of all this rambling?  Honestly, I don’t entirely have one, but here’s my final random thought.  Utilize multiple drafts.  Dedicate one entire draft to fixing your biggest weakness.  I literally am going through my current in-the-works and just adding small details here and there where I think it’s lacking.  It’s provoking new scenes altogether, because forcing myself to be this attentive to detail apparently stimulates my imagination.  Really, I think it’s just giving me a clearer lens to this paranormal universe.  Either way, it’s worth it.

Those beta readers that you hopefully found after reading my first blog post?  Ask them what your biggest weakness is.  Don’t be sensitive.  Use what they say constructively.  Denial won’t better your book.

Brontë vs. Brand

I have this hyperactive imagination that likes to compare me and my sister Kristen to the Brontë sisters.  Due to this, I’ve looked into their lives past the average person.  So, today, I’d like to share a fun fact that I think can motivate everyone: Emily Brontë paid £50 to have Wuthering Heights published, as she couldn’t find anyone willing to publish the book.  She died one year later, believing the novel to be a flop.  Of course, we know it now to be one of the world’s most popular Victorian classics.  Can you imagine what E. Brontë’s reaction would be to hearing how well her “flop” took off?   If you’re craving the classics, press here or the link below!

Chapter 3: Me Vs. Them

We’ve all heard it.  “Oh, you’re an artist?  Draw me.”  “You’re a singer?  Sing something?”  “You’re an author?  Make me a character in your book.”  If I’m being honest, the closest I can offer is killing a character that reminds me of you.  (That sounds quite graphic, but if you’re an author, chances are you understand.)  Then, there’s the somehow even more popular one to hear: is the main character based on me?

Now, I think it’s safe that George R. R. Martin is not quite as murderous as his set of characters, and as far as I know he doesn’t have ambitions to claim any thrones.  Nor can J. K. Rowling relate to the “Chosen One,” and I sincerely doubt she has the stomach of Ron.  However, I would be rather big-headed if I compared myself to the king and queen of modern literature.

So, what do I do?  I take a part of myself and morph it into its own person.  For the book I finished last year, I had four main characters.  Their names will mean nothing to you now, but for the sake of clarity, their names are Logan, Abigail, Trevor, and Makenna.  I have Logan’s sense of always wanting to do what’s right, Abigail’s need to always be right and be the smartest in the room, Trevor’s dorky awkwardness, and Makenna’s inability to completely open up to anyone.  I started from there, and then worked towards creating them into their own three-dimensional characters.  However, that’s as close as it gets.

Otherwise, I have to take the time to get to know my characters like in any relationship.  They’re as real to me as anyone else.  There’re characters I naturally click with, and then there’s one who I have to put in effort to open up to me.  A good portion of the time, when I have writer’s block, it’s because one of my characters is being difficult.  I need the plot to go a certain way, but they’re not reacting how I want them to.  Some people might say, “You’re the author.  They’ll do whatever you tell them to do.”  But, they won’t.  That’s the start of a very poorly written novel.

Something I struggle with is the male perspective.  They’re like a whole different species to me.  I understand them as much as I understand quantum physics, or in other words not at all.  All I have is observations I’ve made throughout my lifetime.  I don’t really think my male characters are girlie or anything, but I always feel like I don’t make them as strong as they could be.  As a feminist, I believe in equality.  But, that means that I want all of my characters to be strong – not just the females.  (With that said, you will not find a single of my works without a strong female lead.)  Whenever I want to develop them more, I’m always hesitant.  Do their minds work anything like ours?  Hell if I know.

I’ve an entire world in my head – multiple actually, thanks to a long history of unpublished work.  They’re worlds that I want to share with this one.   However, anyone I share it with can never see it quite like I do.  It’s basically like they’re looking through a window that hasn’t been washed; they can see enough to connect some dots but everything’s still a little blurred.

So, no.  I’m not my characters, and they aren’t me. I’m merely the person in between, trying to make the window that much cleaner.  Maybe one day I’ll even be talented enough to open the door.

Steampunk Newbie

I don’t know if any of you decided to buy Ghost Machine by my sister (link in first post!) but it’s gotten me in the mood to read steampunk.  I’m completely new to this genre, so I was curious if anyone had any recommendations?