Short Internet Break…

Hey guys, I know I promised a second post for the “How to Write a Romance” series, but clearly that’s not happening. I’ll be honest: my wrists are shot. They’ve been getting worse and I’ve been ignoring the pain (these wrist support bands are just for style!), pretending I don’t notice the obvious side-effects of overuse (ganglion cysts? Naw. Those are just gross knuckle bumps brought on by…a frog…peeing on me…?), and continuing to type-type-type all day long.

Yesterday, though, I actually hit a breaking point. My wrists throbbed the whole day even though I had barely touched the keyboard that morning. So come 4:00 PM when I would usually hunker down to write the Monday blog, I just couldn’t do it. This hurts like hell, guys, and I need a break from the desk.

No internet. No blogs. No newsletter. No Twitter. No forum updates. For at least a week. I’m so sorry, y’all, but I just gotta give these wrists and tendons and muscles a break. They’re my livelihood. (I should also probably visit a doctor. Not probably, but definitely.)

If there’s an emergency, I will still be checking email (though probably not answering). And I’ll still be maintaining the #YARunsA5K Fundraiser, of course. 😉

Forgive me. I’ll be back soon. Promise.

(Also, do NOT emulate me. Take care of your wrists. Seriously. ♥)


How to Write Romance, Part 1: Do you actually need this?

Romance, part 1A month or so back, someone asked me (in the forums) about writing romance. This is no easy topic to tackle, and it’s something that every author approaches differently. But, I thought I could share a few general rules and also share how I approach romantic elements in my own stories.

Romance as a Genre

I want to preface this series by saying that romance as a genre is a totally different animal from romantic elements in a story.

The romance genre typically adheres to a certain structure and a certain outcome. In romance, the love story MUST be the primary plot, meaning all your other story threads are secondary. So for example, if a book is a paranormal romance following a werewolf as she tries to take charge of her pack while also dealing with that sexy alpha across the way, the pack conflict (of her taking charge) will be a subplot to the romance between the werewolf and the sexy alpha. The love story will take up more page time than the pack conflicts.

If the book were just a paranormal, however,then the primary conflict would be how the werewolf comes into her own and takes charge of her pack–and the majority of the page space would be devoted to her pack-leadership. The romance with the sexy alpha would be a subplot to that.

Additionally, the romance genre demands an “emotionally satisfying ending”–often times called a HEA, or Happily Ever After. The hero and the heroine must come together in the end, and it must be a “happy” ending.If you’re writing a book in the romance genre, be sure you stick to these genre requirements! I’ll link you to this excellent post in case you’re hoping to learn more.

A story with romantic elements, on the other hand, does not require any sort of happy resolution for our lovers. One character might die, they might already be together when the book opens, they might not end up together, or they might decide they hate each other after all.

What is Romance in Fiction?

In fiction, romance is always going to be linked to character arcs. Always. Whether your story be the primary plot or a subplot, the coming together of two characters must be linked to who they are now, who they are as the story progresses, and who they are when the story ends.

I’ll get into this more deeply next week, but for now remember this: Romance is all about characters growing. If the romance does not push a character to change (for good or worse), then the romance doesn’t need to be there.

And that leads me to my next point…

Does the Romance Add to the Story?

Have you ever seen a movie or TV show that opened with a sex scene that felt totally gratuitous? Like the poor actors were just having to show skin or touch lips because someone in some office somewhere said, “Sex sells.”

Well, we do NOT want that in our stories. When our romantic leads interact (this can be with or without touching), it needs to mean something. It needs to affect the plot, affect the characters, and affect everything that comes after.

If you can remove the love interest character or remove the love scenes without anything in the overall story being affected, then you do NOT need your romance.

I have totally been guilty of this. In the very first book I ever wrote, I spent ages honing the sexual tension between my MC and the love interest. Whenever the two characters were together, I thought sparks just had to be flying. Surely everyone who read would love Finn as much as I did!

Nope. Finn might’ve been sexy in my head, but on the page, his scenes added nothing. He didn’t connect to my MC’s primary plot, and he certainly didn’t push my MC to grow or change in anyway. I could have easily cut him and all of his scenes from the story without affecting the plot or my MC’s character arc at all.

So remember: If you can cut the romantic scenes without affecting the story, then you don’t need that romance.

Of course, let’s say you have a pair of lovers planned that you just KNOW will influence the trajectory of your story and force each other to change, now comes the most important question of all: are you actually excited about them?

You Gotta Love your Lovers

I am the MASTER of coming up with great plot solutions that seem so easy in a synopsis, but when I actually sit down to write said plot solution, I find myself bored. Or at a loss for how to translate a one-sentence solution into a full chapter. Or I’ll be faced with characters who wouldn’t actually do what I had brainstormed for them.

This same problem of “good in theory, not so good in action” happens often with my romances. I’ll be imagining this epic romance between a sexy pirate lord and a fiery duchess, but when I actually put the two characters on the page, they have totally different partners in mind. Or the love/hate relationship I thought they’d share just doesn’t interest me.

Well, that’sno good.If you’re not into the relationship, your readers sure as hell won’t be. You need to be as madly in love with your characters (or as passionately hateful) as they are with each other. The romantic scenes should make your gut flip exactly like theirs. If you’re not into love or not feeling the feels, then it’s time to find a new romance–maybe even rewrite your characters completely.

When these situations strike, I always head back to my notebook for some more brainstorming and some intense question/answer time (more on that later in this series).

For now, just remember: If you don’t love your romance and love interest, then you either 1) don’t need to write a romance at all, or 2) need to find the romance/love interest that does ignite a spark.

Next week, I’ll get into the basics of actually crafting a romance–from understanding character flaws to building characters that challenge each other to grow.

I’ll also be on the NaNoWriMo blog discussing the “hate-to-love” trope (or defending it, rather), so look for me there!


Announcing the YA Runs a 5K Fundraiser!

A month ago, Melody Simpson reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in setting up a 5K fundraiser. I think I terrified her with my response of “OMG YES LET’S DO THIS” (especially since I answered her, like, 5 seconds after she messaged me).

Neither of us really had any idea what we were doing, but after a bit of research and fumbling, we finally managed to put together something that we’re proud of–and SUPER excited for. So allow me to introduce the…

YA Runs a 5K

On July 19 Melody and I are running a 5K! (Though I might just be walking because I’m SO OUT OF SHAPE. Thus far my attempts at jogging have been…pitiful…at best. ;)) Our goal is to not only improve our fitness (and maybe yours too!) but—more importantly—to help children without access to books (more on that below or read more here).

The 5K we’re running is the Color Run in Philadelphia. Why the Color Run? Because it looks AWESOME. Why Philly? Because that’s where Eleanor Fitt is from (duh!)!! We’d love for you all to join us if you can, or if you can’t reach Philly on 7/19 (we totally understand!), then you can enter the Virtual Run instead! 🙂

That’s right–in addition to a physical 5K meet-up for the Color Run, we’re also hosting a Virtual Run! Virtual runners will get a virtual bib (that you can tweet, Facebook, Pin, whatever!) and can share their running progress with the #YARunsA5K hashtag! Learn more about the Virtual Run here.

Now, a little about what this donation/fundraiser thing is all about. Essentially, we’re trying to raise money for First Book. This organization provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.

To donate to our First Book fundraiserclick here. If you donate $39 or less, you can enter a giant raffle! See the raffle prizes here!

If you donate $40 or more, you automatically get a free book! (Yep, you read that right!) Once you’ve donated, scan the list of available titles and choose what you want. Then fill out this form or email us (yarunsa5k@gmail.com) to select your book. By donating financially to First Book, you can help us reach hundreds of children without access to books!

We’re also auctioning off books and critiques. Half of each auction will go into funding our team t-shirts (until we cover that cost, of course!), and all extra proceeds will go to First Book. 🙂

Additionally, if you can’t donate financially (we TOTALLY understand), you can donate books, ARCs, or critiques! By donating physical items to our fundraiser, you can help us increase our donations! We’re shooting for $2000 raised, and every item donated helps us get closer to that goal!

Finally, if you run with us and BRING books, you can help us expand the collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia. We’ll gather up all books brought to the Color Run on 7/19, and then we’ll donate them to the Free Library after the race.

So let’s do it, guys!! Let’s come together and RUN for healthiness, fun, and books! And help us spread the word using the #YARunsA5K hashtag and the link http://yarunsa5k.tumblr.com/about!! Thank you SOOOOO MUCH!

P.S. We have to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to all the agents, authors, and bloggers who have donated! We are beyond overwhelmed with the amount of support thus far! We can only imagine what’s ahead! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

P.P.S. Melody will be attending BEA as well as the Teen Author Carnival in NYC, so if you’re an author and would like to donate a book or if you’re a reader with too many ARCs lying around, feel free to reach out via twitter or email (yarunsa5k@gmail.com). Melody will gladly receive your donations. 🙂


6 Tips for a Successful Con

It’s CONVENTION TIME!! This month marks the beginning of what I consider “con season”. With RT starting tomorrow (see my schedule here) and then many more cons to follow (BEA, RWA, Comic Con, World Con, Dragon*Con, etc.), I have to get myself in The Convention Zone.

In other words, I have to make myself look less like a hobo who hasn’t groomed since last summer and more like a presentable human being.

As an experienced and enthusiastic con-goer–both as a fan and as an author–I’ve compiled a few broad tips for those of you who might be new to conventions.

Tip #1: Hydrate!!

Seriously, drink LOTS OF WATER. You’re going to endure a lot of walking, possibly a lot of standing, and definitely a lot of waiting. Keeping your body hydrated is critical.

Even if you have to pee constantly, there is nothing to ruin a convention like a dehydration headache–or worse, a hangover the next day. I know that tend to indulge in all sorts of dehydrating treats at cons (extra dessert! salty fries! beer! sugary coffees!), and I wind up bloating like a manatee and stumbling through the day with a raging headache.

BUT, if I keep a bottle of water with me at all times, I find I can get through the day with a much happier body. Yeah, it’s a pain to lug the water around all day, but it’s so worth it. Especially if you’re at a con somewhere hot or in the middle of summer.

I recommend bringing a reusable bottle with you or else buying a bottled water as soon as you arrive. You can then refill the bottle at water fountains as often as needed.

Tip #2: Nourish!!

Same with the tip for drinking water, don’t forget to EAT. It’s easy to get so caught up in panels and workshops and parties that you skip meals. That’s fine–skip a meal or two–so long as you have lots of nourishing snacks to tide over your poor body.

Personally, I’m a fan of trail mix and meal bars (which are never enough food for a full meal–those companies are crazy!). With all the waking/standing/waiting needed, I find I need way more calories than normal to get through the day.

Also, having snacks lets you make those awesome panels or events that are right when you would normally be craving lunch or dinner. Pop a granola bar, enjoy the show, and then snag a real meal once you have a spare moment.

I recommend loading up on meal/granola bars, trail mix, nut medleys, apples/bananas before you go to the con. I even buy all that stuff before I leave town, so it’s easy to pluck from my suitcase and dropp into my satchel for the day.

Tip #3: Plan your schedule ahead of time.

There will likely be LOTS of awesome panels you’ll want to attend. Perhaps there’ll be signing events or parties, special meals or afternoon teas. Whatever the occasion, figure it all out ahead of time, and make sure you’re planning in travel time. Some of these cons span multiple buildings and multiple street blocks, so getting from one event to the next is no short trip.

Also, plan for CROWDS and for possibly not being able to attend the events you want to attend. You might find that the panel on erotica you were dying to go to is all full, but hey! You’ve already picked out a back-up panel on historical research, and you know exactly where to go for that.

So be sure you pick the events you want to attend, compile them in a master list, and print the list out ahead of time. In the past few years, I’ve seen most cons move to a phone app schedule, and personally, those SUCK. They’re great in theory, but usually conventions get SO crowded that there’s no phone service! No one can even get on the dang internet to check what time X-panel starts or in what room X-workshop is.

I recommend printing your schedule before you go to the convention (or saving it in a file on your phone). You’ll be so glad you have that handy-dandy schedule all folded and easy-to-reach in your pocket. No waiting on 3G for you!

Tip #4: Keep a signing pen with you.

Whether you’re an author or a reader, having a nice permanent marker in your pocket might just “save the day.” Maybe you’ll spot an author you adore in the hall, but without a pen, how will the author sign something for you? Or, maybe you’ll get stopped by a kind fan on the street, and you gotta have a pen handy if you want to keep that reader happy! 🙂

I recommend having a silver permanent marker for signing bookmarks or glossy things + a simple black marker/pen for signing books. If you’re an author or aspiring author, always have some business cards and swag within easy reach!

Tip #5: Respect a person’s space.

This should probably go without saying, but I’m still surprised at how often I see people jump celebrities in the coffee line or popular agents who are clearly just waiting on a taxi. I once saw an agent washing her hands in the bathroom while an overly earnest writer gave an elevator pitch to the sound of hand-dryers. I’m sure that aspiring author made an impression on the agent, but I’m not sure it was a good one.

Heck, I’ll admit to having once mobbed an author I adore at a coffee shop, and in hindsight, I’m so ashamed I did that! I would HATE to have my coffee with friends interrupted by a blubbering, hysterically excited Sooz!!

I recommend keeping your fan freak-out moments or agent/editor pitches to appropriate settings like signings, events, or panels.

Tip #6: Back each other up in harassment situations.

There have been a lot–a LOT–of issues with con harassment in the past few years (the issues have always been there, but only in the past few years have they finally started to receive attention). I wish I could say this was only an issue at fan/cosplay conventions, but the fact is that it’s also a BIG issue at industry and reading conventions. As much as I adore cons, I am harassed EVERY year without fail. One time it got so bad that Sarah J. Maas practically threw down with a man who wouldn’t let go of my arm. She was screeching in his face while I tried to yank free and he continued to insist that I wanted him to take my picture. That wasn’t my first incident (or Sarah’s), and I doubt it will be the last.

Enter the Back Up Project whose goal is to empower women (and men) to step in and back each other up when we see signs of harassment. If Sarah hadn’t been with me when that guy pushed and pushed and pushed me for a picture before physically grabbing me and yanking me toward his friends, who knows what would have happened to me? Despite my protests and resistance, no one else was stepping in to stop this guy, who was not only way stronger and way bigger than I, but was also calling me a “bi***” over and over again for not being more compliant. Yes, picture-taking is a part of cosplaying conventions, but I wasn’t even in costume!

So yeah. That behavior happens all the time, and its our job as con-goers to help each other out. To step in when we see signs of harassment. To ask conventions to establish sexual harassment policies and to also ask cons to enforce those policies.

I recommend that if you see a girl (or a guy) in trouble, back her/him up. It IS okay for you to step in, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

So there you have it! Those are my top 6 tips for a successful convention this 2014!

You tell me: what tips do you have for convention newbies?


First Readers and Critique Partners

Today’s post is sort of a catch-all post on critique partners. Links, terms, and advice (hopefully good advice!) follow, but to start, I’ll share the question that prompted today’s post:

Okay, so I was wondering how you set up your critique partnerships and if you have any general rules for who first reads your manuscript, or parts of it… So, how to safely navigate the ‘finding your first readers’ stage? Are there stages within that stage? [Read the entire question here.]

I know I’ve touched on critique partners before, but it’s always worth refreshing and perhaps delving into more deeply. Plus, I know sharing one’s work is always hard and is probably on many of YOUR minds.

CPs

Sharing Your Writing Is a Must

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it until I die: having a critique partner is hands down the most effective way to become a better writer.

Period.

I ended up with a book deal in <1 year BECAUSE I worked with other writers. I am a better and faster writer with each new book BECAUSE I work with other writers. On top of that, one of the main ways I maintain passion for a story is by…*drum roll*…working with other writers. 😉

A Note on Terms

There are many ways to share your work and earn feedback, and I’ll explain a few more common terms below.

Disclaimer: I’ve heard people use those terms to mean all sorts of things, but below is how I differentiate.

An alpha reader is someone who reads your first drafts, perhaps AS you’re drafting. Sarah J. Maas and I alpha read for each other. We find this method keeps us from veering off-course with character arcs and it ALSO helps us maintain excitement for the story.

beta reader is someone who reads your whole manuscript once it’s finished and revised. He/she looks at the story as a whole. I have a few go-to beta readers for once my book is finished and I need high-level feedback. They are invaluable to me for when I want a final gut-check before turning in a book to my editor.

A critique group is a group of fellow writers with whom you meet/exchange work on a regular basis. Maybe you meet face-to-face or maybe you  share your writing online. The point here is that you’re critiquing multiple things at a time and you’re also receiving multiple critiques. I don’t do critique groups, but I know loads of authors who do (and who love them).

critique partner (abbreviated as CP) is someone with whom you exchange chapters, scenes, entire manuscripts, etc. You critique his/her work (be it a first draft or revised) and he/she returns the favor by critiquing your work. Sarah and I are critique partners. I’m also critique partners with Erin Bowman, and sometimes with other people (a lot of my partnerships depend on who has time/deadlines!).

I seriously cannot stress enough to you guys how important and incredibly life-changing a good critique partner/group/alpha/beta can be. THAT SAID, it’s not easy to find The One. I’ve likened finding a good CP to dating, and honestly, the process is VERY similar. You’ll go out with (a.k.a. exchange scenes with) a few duds–or maybe a lot of duds–before you’ll eventually meet someone with whom you click.

Now, rather than reinvent the wheel on WHERE to find a CP, I’ll just direct you to this fabulous overview from Erin Bowman. Once you’ve found your “date”, take a look at these guidelines to see how best to approach this possible partnership.

A Few Guidelines for “First Dates”

1. Always start off with just a few chapters. If you hate the person’s writing, you do NOT want to be committed to reading an entire novel. For that matter, if you hate the person’s style of critiquing, you don’t want to waste his/her time by making him/her critique the whole darn book. So only exchange 10-50 pages to begin with.

2. Agree on a turn-around time. Nothing sucks more than waiting and wondering and slowly freaking out because a reader is taking forever. We all have busy lives, so if you don’t have time to critique, then don’t agree to do it. If you do have time, agree on a reasonable return date–and stick to that date!

3. Make your critique sandwich DELICIOUS! A “critique sandwich” is a method I learned from Sarah in which you frame your critique (the issues) within positive points. In other words, you open your email/doc/critique letter with what you LOVED. Then you offer the issues you spotted. Then, you wrap up with more of what you loved. This way, you really emphasize that, despite problems, there’s still a lot of potential and wonderfulness in the manuscript, AND you leave the poor writer with a good taste in his/her mouth. Make sense? Good feedback + issues + good feedback = a delicious critique sandwich!

4. Know that your skin will get tougher. If you’re new to criticism, then I’m going to send you to this ooooold post from me for dealing with it. Just know that the more you receive criticism and the more comfortable you become with your CPs, the easier hearing negative stuff gets. After all, your CPs are just trying to help you! We’re all in this together. 🙂

5. If someone who IS NOT A WRITER offers to read your book, I urge you to SAY NO. Many people will offer to read your book for you, but as a rule, only fellow writers will have the proper knowledge to help you pinpoint issues. My husband and my mother mean well (and my mom is AWESOME at spotting grammar/punctuation problems), but they can’t verbalize what’s wrong on a larger scale. They might sense the setting is wonky, but they won’t be able to tell me there’s a confusing infodump in scene 2. For that matter, they can’t even spot issues that an experienced writer might see (like character inconsistencies, plot devices, wonky emotional dominoes, etc.), and they definitely can’t help me find solutions to my issues.

How I Get Feedback

Since the questioner specifically asked who reads my manuscripts, I thought I’d share a basic timeline for how I seek feedback and from whom.

First, as I write the book, I will usually send chunks to Sarah J. Maas (and she will send me chunks of what she’s writing in exchange). We tend to chat on the phone to discuss issues–it’s just easier than typing out thoughts. PLUS, since so much of our books are “collaboratively inspired”, chatting on the phone allows us to brainstorm/snowball/bounce ideas.

Sometimes, we might spend 1-2 hours a day on the phone. For a while, Sarah was drafting her fourth Throne of Glass book at the same time that I was drafting Truthwitch. We would exchange scenes and then chat the next day about what we liked/didn’t like in each other’s work. We have SO MUCH FUN doing this. I’m not gonna lie. It’s why we love coauthoring The Starkillers Cycle–exploring ideas and characters together is so, so, so exciting. Even if I don’t always agree with Sarah’s suggestions/ideas (and vice versa), her comments ALWAYS help me snowball into what does feel right.

As I draft this way, I will make notes of the issues Sarah points out, and then I will address those issues when I revise.

Second, once I have a finished manuscript, I will revise based on Sarah’s feedback. Once I have a revised book, I tend to break it up into 3 parts. I send part 1 to Erin Bowman (unless she’s busy, then I have a few other dear CPs I turn to). Once I have her feedback on part 1, I’ll revise part 2 based on that feedback. That way, I can send Erin a modified part 2 without making her read an entire manuscript with some gaping plot hole or broken character arc.

After I have Erin’s feedback on part 2, I revise part 3 according to that feedback and send that along to her. 🙂 Then, while she’s reading part 3, I go back and revise parts 1 and 2 to line up.

Third, I EITHER send my revised book to my editor now. Or, if I changed a lot based on Erin’s feedback, I’ll try to find 1-2 beta readers. I will give the WHOLE book to these people (*waves at Meredith McCardle and Vanessa DiGregorio*), and then await their feedback. 🙂 After receiving and revising according to their comments, the book is usually strong enough to give to my editor…So I do!

A Whole Bunch of Links on Critiquing and CPs

To wrap up this post, I have some links from my blog and Pub(lishing) Crawl about critiquing. Also, if you guys want, there’s still this forum for CP-matching from 2013’s NaNo. We can revamp it/restart it if any of YOU are in the market for The One. 😉

Now, you tell me: How do you meet readers for your writing? How do you like to critique/receive feedback?


Balancing Description and Avoiding Infodump

InfodumpAhhhhh, the dreaded infodump. It’s so easy for any writer to accidentally do, and it’s also so easy for any reader to lose patience with. 😉

But there are ways to weave in description and setting and backstory WITHOUT bogging down a scene. It all has to do with timing and what feels natural.

Now, I should mention that when it comes to first drafts, I am ALL FOR infodumps. Why? Because you’re figuring things out! Those infodumps are how you, the writer, get familiar with the world and the history and the characters. Infodump AWAY. I know my first drafts are riddled with that stuff.

Once you’re actually at a point where you want to make sure your infodumps are broken into something more palatable for the reader, then it’s time to break apart your book by scene. This is where timing comes into play.

Timing your Information Reveals

So step one: break apart your book by scene. If you’re not using Scrivener, start (every writer should be using Scrivener. Period.). It allows you to very easily look at your book scene by scene. Another option is to sketch out a quick outline or handwrite scene index cards.

Once you’ve got your book divided, what you need to next is figure out: what information in this scene is CRITICAL for the story? Like, a scene simply won’t make sense without X-information in it…so what is that X? Once you know your X, you weave in that information and only that information. The rest of the stuff? Cut it out for later inserting.

Now you move to the next scene and you ask the same question. If the info isn’t necessary to the plot, character arc, or setting, then don’t mention it here. Save it for when it is necessary.

Here’s an example: recently I had this MASSIVE chunk of backstory in my 3rd scene of Truthwitch. A savvy critique partner mentioned that the story felt slow when my heroine started thinking about her BFF’s nasty uncle. Since that uncle isn’t actually introduced for another 10 scenes, then knowing all about him wasn’t necessary yet.

So I cut out that backstory and saved it for a later scene in which the uncle’s history became critical to the plot.

Note: as I go through my book scene by scene, I’ll often find that I’m actually missing critical information. So then, I’ll not only weave in my chopped-up infodumps, but other necessary backstory or description.

Okay, so now you know WHERE information needs to go on a macro level, but what about on a smaller, more micro level?

Where Information Feels Natural

So let’s say you’ve cut your infodump and found the perfect scene to reveal it in…but where within that scene?

Well, now you ask the question: when would a character naturally think of this backstory or notice this setting description? Maybe there is a point in which the dialogue brushes against your X topic. Great! Plop that information in there!

Like, let’s say your character is discussing X, so it would be natural for them to also think of X (and thereby relay that backstory).

Or maybe your character is walking through a city (hopefully with a goal in mind and something happening that’s a bit more active than simply walking), and as he/she encounters X piece of setting, you can naturally drop in the description/history.

Now back to my personal example, I combed through my Truthwitch scene for an instance in which my character was talking about the uncle. Et voilá! I found such an instant, and inserted the backstory right there. It was natural for my character to think of the nasty uncle since she was talking about him in her conversation.

Of course, I still have to break the infodump into bite-sized pieces…

Make It NOT an Infodump

To avoid having your readers’ eyes glaze over or having them commit the dreaded “skim”, I am a big proponent of short paragraphs. I write that way and I read that way. Paragraphs longer than a few sentences get skimmed, and I know I’m not the only reader like that. It’s just human nature in this busy modern day. 🙂

To keep your readers engaged and to keep the information/backstory/description from slowing down a passage (and thereby becoming an infodump), you need to weave the information across several dialogue exchanges or several actions. Basically, you’re taking your giant block of text, cutting it into paragraph (or smaller) chunks, and then returning those smaller pieces  to the narrative.

Or, better yet, introduce information in dialogue! If you can make the information feel natural in dialogue, then you can weave your backstory into both dialogue and thought.

Warning about dialogue: do NOT commit the dreaded As you know, Bob. This is when you have a character say something he/she already knows to someone who also already knows. It’s clear that you are ONLY doing this for sake of sharing information, and it feels forced, unnatural, and all-around bad.

To show you what I mean about “weaving”, here’s my passage from Truthwitch. It’s HIDEOUSLY unpolished and will no doubt change before this book actually releases in 2015, BUT I want you guys to see what I’ve done. In this scene, my heroines are trying to come up with a plan for their immediate future–and if they don’t scrabble a plan together, they could wind up dead. (All the critical info/backstory is in red.)

Noelle gnawed her lip. Scratched her collarbone. Then a new idea hit. “Didn’t we hear last week that Emperor Henrick is gathering Aetherwitches in Praga? He said it was for diplomatic training…”

But my witchery said that was a lie,” Safi finished, drumming her fingers on the counter. Safi’s magic was aligned with the Aether element—as was Noelle’s—so her power was linked to the spirit and the mind.

“Maybe,” Noelle mused aloud, “Henrick is actually gathering witches for the resuming Great War. Maybe Henrick actually wants military officers and your uncle wants you to join. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s threatened you with the Officer’s Academy.”

Again, I’m not saying I’ve done a great job here (rough draft!), but because the characters are trying to come up with a plan (that’s the scene’s goal), then it works for them to relay certain kinds of information through dialogue. This is what they’d naturally be thinking of!

Here’s another spot in that same scene where I share info through thought (in red) as well as character motivations/insight (in blue):

Her fingers worked fast to untie her scarf…and her sweat-soaked hair toppled down.

Air washed over her forehead, her scalp—cool and wonderful. When she and Safi reached the Hundred Isles, Noelle would never need a scarf again. There were no laws against Nomatsis in Nubrevna. She could wake up each morning and let her hair simply be.

She could let herself simply be too, though that feeling was harder to imagine. Still, her heart beat hungrily every time she thought of it, and when she crossed to the wall of Mustef’s copper pots, that same excited thump took hold.

Last example. This excerpt (same scene again!) shows how to weave in setting (the characters are interacting with it–and it’s in green) while also weaving in more information through dialogue (they’re still planning!):

Noelle felt her face sink into an un-Threadwitch-like frown. “I wasn’t expecting there to be so many guards at the wharf.” Her hand jerked through empty space—the entrance to the shop. If she kept going straight through the hall, she’d hit the stairs to Habim’s and Mustef’s bedroom overhead. Instead, she swerved left and whispered the spell-triggering word, “Alight,” as she walked in.

At once, twenty-six bewitched wicks guttered to life, revealing bright, curly Marstoki designs on the walls, the ceiling, the floor. It was overdone—too many rugs of clashing patterns leapt at Noelle—but like the coffee, westerners had a certain idea about how a Marstoki shop ought to look.

With a sigh, Safi staggered past Noelle to the nearest pile of pillows and sank down. “There are a lot more guards than usual. Do you think they’re expanding their ranks for the end of the Truce?” Safi’s head cocked. Then she gave a decisive nod. “They are. My witchery says it’s true.”

Again, please don’t judge the first-drafy-ness of those excerpts. 😛 The point is to show you how you can weave things in for a natural conveyance of information. As long as your characters interact with the setting you describe and discuss/ponder things that feel natural to the plot’s progression, then you should be good to go!

So there you have it! (I hope that helps some, Emmy. 😉 Thanks for asking the question!) You guys tell me: how do you deal with the dreaded infodump?


Pub(lishing) Crawl: Planning a Series

A few weeks ago, I got this question in my inbox:

How would you go about outlining [a trilogy]? Would you outline it as a whole or each book individually?

Awesome question! And obviously, everyone outlines/plans series differently, so I can only tell you how I plan a series. Hopefully that information is still helpful, though.

Step 1: Plan the first book.

If you want to see how I do that, you can read my series on it here. As your planning this book, decide if you can tell the whole story in a single book or if the story will need multiple books.

If you’re starting to realize that you’re definitely going to need multiple books, then it’s time for…

Step 2: How many books will you need?

To answer this question, we first need to figure out why  you even think you’ll need multiple books. What is it about the story that makes you think you can’t contain it in a single volume? Write these reasons down.

So for example, I knew as soon as my WIP Screechers morphed into an epic fantasy series that I would need >1 book to tell the story. These were my reasons why:

  • Lots of POVs (like 8 in the first book alone), each with their own goals/motivations/growth.
  • Lots of places to visit. 2 continents + tons of cities/landscapes in each.
  • At least 3 romances, and romance always takes time to develop (I like slow burns!).
  • Lots of plots/subplots. There’s a missing sister, the screechers threat + origin mystery, an occupying army, a rebellion, a corrupt church, an ancient evil villain, and more. It all intertwines and will clearly take a lot of page space to wrap up…

Clearly I was going to need a ton of pages to cover all that! Now I just needed to decide how many books it might all add up to. To estimate HOW MANY books you’ll need, write down any sort of big events you have in mind. Where do those events naturally feel like happening? Or, where do certain character arcs or romances naturally feel like wrapping up?

While you’re doing that, take a look at other series in your genre. Do they tend to be trilogies? Do they tend to be long, interconnected series (e.g. Game of Thrones) or maybe long, standalone series (e.g. Hercule Poirot)? You can use the comparison titles as a guide for your own story.

Another important reason for looking at comp titles is because you want to make sure your series has structure. Consider how a trilogy follows a 3-act structure on a series-scale (e.g. Star Wars) while longer series tend to have less strict structure (though each book would have a strict structure, of course!). The key, of course, is to follow the well-known rising action scale, but to do it over the course of the whole series as well as in each book.

I ended up estimating 5 books for Screechers, and even though I only have a VERY hazy idea of what happens in those last 2 books (erm, war?), I’ve also read enough fantasy series to naturally know that 5 books feels like the right number to cover the scale of the story.

Step 3: Start a special/file notebook for ideas.

I personally plan my series in the same way I plan an individual book: I write down ideas and snowball from there.

For a series, though, I tend to snowball WHILE I’m drafting the first book. Ideas will thunderbolt in the middle of a sentence, so I’ll scrolls down to my special Scrivener page and write down the idea while I have it. Those ideas might then grow into something more or just get cut as new ideas unfurl, but the point is that I take note of EVERYTHING.

So here’s an example of the ideas that I’ve been snowballing for book 2 in the Screecher series. This is a screencap of my Scrivener file:

Planning a series, 1

Question marks denote I’m not feeling SUPER good about an idea…

This is just the beginning of the ideas for book 2–this list continues on for 6 pages. 🙂 I have a TON of pretty specific ideas and snippets of dialogue since book 2 is in the nearby future in terms of plot, and it’s often on my mind while drafting.

Book 3, on the other hand…

Planning a series, 2

Notice: shorter ideas that are also more vague.

My ideas for book 3 only continue for 2 pages, and they’re definitely skimpier than my book 2 ideas. BUT, they’re still more flushed-out than my books 4 & 5 ideas:

Planning a Series, 3

Notice these are SUPER vague and mostly questions.

As you can see, I don’t really know how everything will connect in book 4, but I DO have a general idea of some big plot points. As I write books 2 and 3, then my  list for books  4 and 5 will get meatier.

And, by the time I finish book 1, I’ll have a very detailed/solid idea of what needs to happen in book 2. In fact, I’ll likely have a full outline all ready to go that will allow me to dive write in to drafting.

So there you have it: that’s how I plan a series! It’s very much like how I plan a book, just on a much larger, more general scale. 🙂

You tell me: how do YOU plan series?

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers.

 


Researching Your Novel

Research

Recently, I received a question in the Daydreamers forum about research–where I do it, how I do it. I actually did a series on this forever ago (like, 4 years!! Can you believe I’ve been blogging so long?!), so now seems like a good time to re-address this subject.

Now, I’ve met writers who think that since they’re writing fiction, they can get away with making up whatever they want and don’t have to research. Erm…no.

Yes, your readers will suspend disbelief, but only so far.

Like, you can  get away with fudging a few details-TV shows get away with it all the time (e.g. the female cop who prances around in 3-inch heels)–but you’ll tick off some of some readers doing it (the 3-inch heels irk me EVERY DANG TIME).  What happens when you tick off readers?  That’s right: you lose them for good.

Ultimately, when the suspension of disbelief goes against our common sense or when that suspension doesn’t fit with what we know about the universe, then it’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fantasy, sci-fi, historical, or contemporary, if anything feels implausible, the reader will dismiss the book and dismiss you as an author too.

So do your research, build your setting well (which will be a topic for another day), and keep your readers happy.

But where do I even start my research? you ask. Well, I’ll help you with that.

Quick Note on Primary vs. Secondary Sources

No matter the subject/genre you’re researching, you’ll need to know the difference between primary and secondary sources. You probably learned those terms back in high school, but here’s refresher: a primary source was written at the time of the event (e.g. a newspaper article written in 1876 Philly about the Centennial Exhibition), a secondary source is something written after-the-fact about the event (e.g. a Wikipedia article about the Centennial Exhibition).

I imagine most of you will be relying on secondary sources, but if you’re writing historical or contemporary fiction, then you might find yourself perusing more primary sources. I used a ton of primary documents when I was researching for Something Strange & Deadly, but my research for Truthwitch has been almost exclusively from secondary sources.

But no matter what you’re trying to research, it’s highly probable someone has studied your topic and studied it in depth. You just have to find where that person compiled his/her research.

Start Online

Seriously, always start with the internet. There is a WEALTH of information online these days, and you can get a good feel for how many sources exist on your topic with a simple google search. The fewer the helpful sources that immediately pop up, the more likely you’re going to have to take your research to the next level (see below).

Alongside google, search your topic on Wikipedia (that’s where I always start). Click through links and take notes (I start a specific “research” page in my Scrivener file, in which I paste links or important chunks of text). One especially helpful thing on Wikipedia is the “references” section at the end of each article–it’ll point you in the direction of other helpful sources.

So for example, I was researching tarot last week for Truthwitch, and I found a few books on the subject in the references section.

For historical resources (especially primary documents), be ABSOLUTELY SURE to check out archive.org. If you search within “texts”, you will find an insane plethora of resources (many of them from the era in which you’re studying). For the Something Strange & Deadly, I found guidebooks to Philadelphia, Paris, or Cairo written in 1876. I read diaries or scrutinized maps, and all of those sources came from archive.org. It’s an invaluable tool.

But let’s say you’ve exhausted the internet or perhaps you’re just finding that no one has put their research online (this definitely happens–especially with older topics). That means it’s time to…

Look for Books on the Subject

I always start on Amazon to discover what books are out there and what other readers think of certain sources. Textbooks, nonfiction, memoirs, biographies–all of these can be incredibly helpful for your research. If you’re researching historical, the Writer’s Guide to Everyday life series from Writer’s Digest are incredibly helpful. The key is to start specific with what you want (e.g. “everyday life in 1876”) and then get more general based on the results you find (e.g. “everyday life in 1870s”, “everyday life in Victorian America”).

Another tool I’m a huge fan of (specifically with regards to historical research) is to read fiction written in my story’s time period. So for Something Strange & Deadly, I read Henry James, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Louisa May Alcott. Those books gave me a good feel for the 1870s–how people viewed themselves, what they took for granted, what the common prejudices and paradigms were, etc. Those books also helped bring all my other research to life (like: Oh! So that’s how they use the expression “by the shadow of death!”).

Okay, so you’ve got your list of books from Amazon. If you’re like me and don’t want to spend more money than you have to, head to your local library and borrow what you can. Or, if you don’t want to prepare a list beforehand, you can with the librarians. I promise: helping you find sources is what they’re trained to do, and if there are any resources not available at your local branch, the librarians can set you up with some interlibrary loaning.

Do you live near a university? Even better! They tend to have super well-stocked libraries for the more scholarly subjects. Or, best of all (and if you’re not to shy)…

Ask an Expert

I know, it sounds scary (aah! Communication!), but you’re best bet is always to ASK someone who knows. Trust me: it’s better to be uncomfortable (I hate asking people for help; it’s way outside of my comfort zone) than to have a mistake in your story.

So back to that nearby university, reach out to a faculty member who’s an expert on your subject. Or, if you’re not near a university, contact the experts online. Most people are willing to share their knowledge (heck, I LOVE to talk about marine biology or data analysis or karate or anything that makes me feel useful and needed ;)). If you want to know about police procedures, then ask a cop for help. If you want to know how to fight an attacker, ask a self-defense teacher (or ask me–Sarah J. Mass does it all the time). Or if you’re wanting to know what the opposite sex really thinks in certain situations, then ask some guys/girls (I’ve asked my husband some VERY awkward questions for the sake of a story). Just be sure to thank the people you talk to in your book’s acknowledgements!

Actually, last week, I emailed a reader of this blog (hey, Lori! You’ll totally be in the Truthwitch acknowledgements!!) because I needed help with some horse stuff. I knew Lori had horses, and sure enough, she was able to help me figure out a few key sentences in one of my scenes.

Another option, if the timing is right, is to take a workshop taught by an expert. This can give you great all-around exposure to a certain subject. Like, since so much of Truthwitch and its sequel Windwitch happen on ships in an alternate Adriatic Sea, I knew I needed to beef up my knowledge on all things seafaring. So I signed up for a fabulous online workshop through the RWA’s Hearts through History branch.

And hey! Look at that: they have an upcoming workshop on How to Make the Most of Online Research. That’s what I call great timing! There are a ton of other branches in the RWA too, so be sure to check them all out and see what classes they offer. Or, Savvy Authors often offers a similar array of online workshops.

 Bringing It All Together

So, if I remember correctly, the lovely lady who asked me about research mentioned needing to know more about archaeology. I though I would quickly show y’all how I’d research that. I’m going to pretend I have an archaeologist character in present day and that I need to flesh out her day-to-day life/concerns/experiences.

First, I’d google “life as an archaeologist.” That search leads me to this list of awesome resources on about.com. From here, if I don’t get all the details I wanted, I’d keep perusing my google search (oooh, this is a cool and helpful breakdown of an archaeologist’s day). From there, I’d do a similar search on Amazon–“archaeologist memoir“. This yields a ton of intriguing books, and I can easily check if any are available in my local library (thank you, internet card catalogue!). If, after checking out and/or buying books on the subject, I still have questions, my next step would be to ask an actual archaeologist my questions. I happen to know one (friend of a friend sort of thing), so I’d get her contact information and email. Easy as that. 🙂

Now you tell me: how do YOU research subjects for your fiction (or nonfiction)?


Win a signed advanced copy of FROZEN by Erin Bowman!

Frozen by Erin Bowman

I’m back from Seattle, and I’ve got an awesome giveaway for you. Why? Because Frozen by Erin Bowman releases in 1 WEEK!!! 4/15 to be exact. I can’t believe a whole year has passed since Taken launched, but I’m also glad because now YOU can read the sequel too!!

So, to celebrate the forthcoming release, I have a signed ADVANCED READER COPY (a.k.a. ARC or galley) of Frozen for you all to win!

 The Heists were only the beginning.

Gray Weathersby escaped from the primitive town of Claysoot expecting to find answers, but what he discovered shook him to the core: A ruthless dictator with absolute power. An army of young soldiers blinded by lies. And a growing rebellion determined to fight back.

Now Gray has joined a team of rebels on a harsh, icy journey in search of allies who can help them set things right. But in a world built on lies, Gray must constantly question whether any ally—or enemy—is truly what they seem…

Stolen by Erin BowmanPlus, I’m giving away a copy of the beautiful prequel e-novella Stolen, which is told from Bree’s point of view. Seriously, guys, this story is so lyrical and moving.

 Before Gray Weathersby uncovered the truth about Claysoot and the Laicos Project, a girl named Bree came of age in the coastal settlement of Saltwater—and made her own surprising journey to the world beyond its borders. In Stolen, discover the story of Bree’s life before she was Snatched from her home, before she joined the rebellion, and before she met a boy named Gray…

Finally, I have SIGNED SWAG from Ms. Bowman (which you can actually learn about today on Pub(lishing) Crawl)! Woohoo! All you have to do to enter the giveaway is fill out the Rafflecopter form and help spread the word about Frozen! I’ll pick a winner next week.

Aaaaannnnd, THIS GIVEAWAY IS INTERNATIONAL!! ♥

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Pub(lishing) Crawl: Reconnecting With Your Characters

Characters

Last week, I got another great question in the Misfits & Daydreamers forum (ask your own questions if you have any!):

See, I move around / travel quite a bit…[and] something happens while I’m traveling that breaks / weakens my connection with the characters… I end up writing absolute rubbish, just forcing my characters — these strangers — down plots and crossroads.

SO, my question is: How did you reconnect with your characters?

Okay. Awesome question because losing touch with characters happens to me–and other authors–all the time. Any instance in which you step away from a project for a while, you run this risk. Or, if you’re starting up a sequel after being away from the previous book for a long bit, you might find reconnecting to your cast a bit tricky. (Uh, this was me every time I started a new SS&D book).

I’ll be honest, it will often happen that I don’t even realize I’ve lost touch. I’ll hand off a chunk of pages to a CP, and the CP will be like, “Erm…who is this character? What happened to the character I was reading about ?”

Or, I’ll be in a situation where I’m all, “I’ve been away so long, who are these people and what are they doing with their lives?!?!”

When I come against this wall (or once I realize I’m against this wall), I  do 2 things:

1. Recreate the Original Mood

First, I listen to the music that I associate with that character/story. So, for example, I’ve been (as mentioned in my Monday blog post) having one heck of a time rewriting my ending for Truthwitch. Even once I’d found my characters, I STILL wasn’t totally sure what they’d do in certain situations.

When faced with the “how the heck will Safi react here?” question, I put on the music that I associate with her character.

I literally listened to that song 6 times in a row and became Safi. I saw the situation through her eyes and tried to feel my way through it as if I were her. By the sixth round of the song, I had my scene figured out (roughly, at least). I was back in her head and I knew who she was.

A friend of mine takes a similar approach before she writes a scene–she’ll silence the world, close her eyes, and spend a few minutes settling into her character. She refers to it as a sort of meditation, and once she opens her eyes she’s ready to write.

But even still, sinking into our characters doesn’t always work. We might still write something out-of-whack, or we not even be able to sink into the character! He/she might be so foreign to us, we don’t know who he/she is anymore.

When that happens, I…

2. Ask for Help (or line up your dominoes!)

If you’ve followed me for very long, then you know how close I am with Sarah J. Maas. In addition to being best friends, we do most of our writing in a very collaborative way. In fact, last week, we talked every single day for several hours (each day). Not about life or gossip or anything like that but about our characters.

We’re both struggling with this problem right now–we’ve lost touch with our characters and how they act. This problem happens; we both know it happens; and we both know that there’s no reason to pretend we don’t need help.

So when Sarah writes a scene, I read it and tell her if it rings true. If it doesn’t ring true, I tell her how I think the character would react. Sometimes my ideas are exactly what she needs, and other times my ideas will help spark the right ideas for her.

When I write a scene, Sarah reads it and tells me if it rings true. If it doesn’t, she tells me what she thinks the character would react. Sometimes her ideas are exactly what I need, and other times her ideas will help spark the right ideas for me.

I realize not everyone is blessed with a soul-twin/critique partner who can intuitively see what you were trying to do. (We’re lucky; trust us: we know.) But I think you can recreate what a critique partner does in this situation. First, though, let me explain WHY a CP can spot what we, the authors, cannot…

Critique partners are able to intuitively see things we can’t because they aren’t as deeply mired in the story. They are outsiders to our stories, so they have a much clearer vision of how what’s written on this page connects connects to what they read before.  That’s all the CP (or reader) has to keep track of. A single linear progression of stuff.

We (the authors), however, have to keep track of the 25 plot threads (in this book…and the 47 in the other books), the 207 character arcs, the 506 settings, and how it ALL weaves together to interact and tie up. It’s easy to get buried beneath all that stuff your brain has to consider. And because it’s so easy to get bogged down, we lose track of the characters’ personalities and growth (which is, I think, the most complex and difficult part of any story).

Notice I said CPs keep track of “a single linear progression of stuff.” You know what sounds like? YEP. Dominoes. By evaluating your dominoes, you can recreate what a CP does.

Now, I know I keep talking about dominoes lately, but seriously! Your ability to understand your story will transform when you pull things apart and look at them in order–especially if you’re dealing with multiple POVs.

When we pull out our characters and look at their individual dominoes, we can hone in on ONE THING AT A TIME. Clear out the noise and see what a CP sees naturally. Oh, Eleanor acts X way here, then x way here, then x way here. Ahhhh, I think I see who she is again…More importantly, based on her choices/reactions earlier in the book, this is how she will choose/react in the next scene.

I realize it’s easier said than done to take apart the dominoes, but scene cards or Scrivener can greatly help with that task. I like to also write up a summary sentence of the character’s emotions in each scene so I can get an easy, bird’s-eye-view of the whole arc.

Okay, so I realize that might have only confused you all more, so feel free to ask questions in the comments or forum. 🙂

Also, don’t forget to sign up for the Misfits & Daydreamers where I also answer questions about writing.

Now you tell me: How do YOU reconnect with characters?