Don’t be rude to idea fish

When you write a novel, there’s always a point in the story where your brilliant, golden story idea is now lying there on the page looking like a sorry piece of dross.

Arthur Rackham 1909 Undine (4 of 15)At this point, Bright Shiny Ideas invariably come swimming into your mind like a school of idea fish, all calling to you to go write them instead.

Common wisdom says ignore those ideas and finish what you’re working on.

I feel this is rude and will offend those ideas. They might swim away and find someone more sympathetic. So I do not ignore stray ideas. I welcome them in, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen while they tell me how wonderful they are. I scribble down notes as quickly as I can, then thank them for their time, and show them to the door promising to call as soon as I can.
Then I go back to the current story.

Thankful

Things to be thankful for right now:

  1. I have my family
  2. I have my health.
  3. I have a whole day off from work, so I can fit in some writing in somewhere.

You — yes you, I saw you hiding back there. What are three things that you can be thankful for?

The television and social media have been so dark lately. This website is my new happy place where I go when I want to remember that It’s Not All Dark.

Not Always Hopeless

Not a 19th century RV

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Replica of a covered wagon

When movies and novels show pioneers traveling west across the country in a covered wagon, the people are always sitting on the wagon as the oxen pull them along.

I strongly suspect that the people who wrote those books and movies had never seen a covered wagon. A covered wagon was not the 19th century equivalent of an RV.

The first travellers to cross the country learned early that the larger the wagon and the more you carried, the less likely you were to get your wagon over the mountains.

“In procuring supplies for this journey, the emigrant should provide himself with, at least, 200 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of bacon; ten pounds of coffee; twenty pounds of sugar; and ten pounds of salt.”

– Lansford Hastings’ Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California,
published in 1845

People not only packed their wagons with food for the journey, they also packed seeds for planting in the new territory, pans to cook with, quilts and blankets to sleep in, rifles and ammunition for hunting and protection, and any mementoes they couldn’t bear to part with. But they also had to keep the wagons small enough to be hauled for thousands of miles.

In other words, there wasn’t all that much room to sit around inside a covered wagon. Only the very young or the feeble spent much time in the wagon while it was traveling. Women used to prepare dough and set it aside to rise, timing the rising of the bread so that it would be ready to bake when they made camp that evening. At night, some families would spread a mattress on top of the stores and sleep there. But most of the time, the pioneers did not sit inside the wagon all day long just being carried passively along. They walked.

Something to be thankful for, if you’re planning a long car ride to visit friends and family. You don’t have to walk.

Twitter: One Newbie’s Quickstart Guide

These days, I’m filtering what I read on Twitter more than ever. It’s important to control the flood of information, and Twitter can drown you in information if you’re not careful.

There are two main ways to use Twitter, as far as I can see.

One is to keep up to date with the latest news, and by the term “news” I also refer to rumor, gossip, complete fabrications on a topic. Twitter can spread information faster than any other medium (for now, at least) but not all of it is even remotely valid.

The other is to keep up with people you are interested in. You can follow celebrities or people in a field that you want to learn more about. If you find one person who intrigues you, Twitter suggests other people that you might want to follow who are similar. Or you can see who this person is interacting with and follow them as well.

Either way, you’re going to want to find a way to sieve this information or you’ll drown in a  deluge of data. Here’s how I would suggest you handle Twitter.

  1. When you sign in to Twitter, look at the hashtags listed. Hashtags are subjects on Twitter. They have a hash symbol (#) in front of them. When you sign in to Twitter, it presents hashtags that might interest you. Click on them to see what other people are tweeting. That gives you an idea of what’s trending at the moment on Twitter.screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-34-29-am
  2. Search for people you are interested in and follow them. Or follow people you’ve found from hashtags that you like.
  3. Create lists of people or hashtags you like.
  4. Get the heck out of Twitter and get thee to TweetDeck or HootSuite or some other application that will handle lists for you.

Lists are important. Making lists lets you sort through and hopefully make sense of the flood of tweets that are blasting through the twittersphere every second.

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Each of these columns is a list that I created in Tweetdeck.

For example, I have a list of people who are in my local RWA chapter. I check quickly check through that list to see their latest tweets. I have another list for editors that I follow, agents that I follow, different genres of authors that I like to read. Lists let me manage the flood of information and focus on a particular area that interests me at the moment.

This is what works for me. Might not work for you, take all advice with a grain of salt, yada yada.

Novel elements: characters you want to spend a whole book with

One flaw in many books is that even though the writing is good, the hero or heroine is a person that I would not want to spend five minutes with in real life. It’s rare for me to start a book and not finish it (DNF), but when I do that’s generally the reason.

I’m not expecting a character to be a friend, necessarily. Lindsay Buroker’s assassin Sicarius or Rachel Neumeier’s executioner Ezekiel Korte are not comfortable characters, but when they’re on the page I pay attention. There has to be something about a POV character that I either like or respect.

Michael Hauge has some good suggestions to make about how to get the reader interested in a character.

  1. Make your character sympathetic
  2. Make your character funny
  3. Make your character likeable
  4. Put your character in jeopardy
  5. Make your character powerful

You can use one of any of these to get the reader to identify with your character, but it’s more effective if you can use a couple.

This is one of the elements of writing that I need to focus on. I become intrigued by an interesting idea and end up with a story that’s focused on an issue — when it should be about the character’s reactions to the issue. I’ve gotten feedback that my writing is not emotional enough. This is especially a problem if you’re writing romance.

Romance readers are notoriously harder on the heroine than they are on the hero. A hero can be a complete jerk for 90% of the story, then grovel at the end and confess his True Love for the heroine — and he’ll get away with it. But the heroine has to be likable, or readers will complain. She can’t be a Mary Sue, a perfect character without flaws, but her flaws can’t make her unlikeable. Apparently this is because most romance readers are women who use the heroine as a placeholder for themselves.

Personally, if either character is too much of a jerk  I start to wonder why I am spending time with them. I just tried reading a contemporary romance novel that had an Alpha hero of the classic mode: rich, arrogant, and controlling. I didn’t make it past the first paragraph before starting to fantasize about the hero meeting with a terrible car accident. I’m only on the third page and I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it past the first chapter, simply because I loathe this guy so much.

What about you? Are there qualities in a character that will make a book a DNF for you?

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Writing and Gratitude

… in this business the finish line is constantly moving.  One day you really just want an agent.  Then it’s a book deal.  Then it’s a bestseller.  Then it’s a movie.  Then it’s a castle next to JK Rowling’s.

In short, appreciate things as they’re happening, remember that once upon a time that thing was a dream of yours and that it’s still a dream for someone.  So be grateful every day.
– Ally Carter, A Letter to Baby Author Me

That’s all I wanted to say, really. She said it much better than I could.

It doesn’t matter if someone else’s book gets published sooner than yours, or gets better reviews, or wins more awards. None of these things are within your control.

Most of these things are due to a mixture of timing (good and bad) and hard work. Celebrate their success. Do not compare it to your success. They did not fight the battles you did to get to this point. Each battle scar is unique.