Thursday, December 18, 2014

Point of View Considerations for Writers

Dan is here today to talk about an often-overlooked area of writing craft: point of view. POV is one of those topics covered mainly in the introductory fiction writing class alongside theme and tense and other literary terms. There's not a huge amount of debate and discussion on this topic outside of MFA programs. Yet POV can make or break for a novel, and many new authors handle it poorly. Sometimes without knowing it.

Initial POV Decisions

When starting a new project, the author must make several decisions related to point of view. For example:

  • Will the story be told in first, second, or third person POV?
  • Is the narrator be omniscient or limited?
  • If first person POV, who is telling the story?
  • Are there multiple POV characters? 
These questions all deserve some consideration, because changing the POV of an existing manuscript usually requires a complete rewrite. That's a lot of work for any writer, and thus POV decisions should not be made lightly.

First, Second, and Third Person POV

This point of view choice may be influenced by the age category and genre in which the author is writing. For example:

  • In epic fantasy, the point of view is almost always third person. Admittedly, there are some wonderful exceptions to this unwritten rule (such as Robin Hobb's Assasin series) but the predominant form is third person, multiple POV.
  • Many young adult (YA) novels favor first person POV. As long as I'm pigeonholing this category: the narrator is usually a snarky teenager.  
  • Second person POV is rare, and (from what I've heard) difficult to do well. The only books I've enjoyed in this POV are the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which come to mind because the publisher of that series, R.A. Montgomery, recently passed away.
The decision here has a number of consequences. Writing from first person POV, for example, usually means that you have only one POV character, that the story is told in his or her voice, and with limited (not omniscient) narration.

Writing Multiple Points of View

In the fantasy genre, novels with multiple POV characters are common. As both a reader and a critique partner, I've learned that telling stories from multiple points of view is difficult to do well. One problem is the disruption of continuity: at the beginning of a book, we're just getting grounded with one character's perspective when the narrative jumps to another character. It's like hitting the reset button. I often feel that the author should have done a little bit more before changing points of view.

Another issue is character sympathy: some characters will appeal to certain readers more than others. In the first few books George RR Martin's The Game of Thrones series, for example, I groaned whenever I came to a chapter about Sansa. She didn't do anything interesting until book four.

Limited or Omniscient Narration?

Most of the books I've written have a limited point of view; in other words, we have only one character's perspective in each scene or chapter. Yet I've enjoyed reading some truly masterful works of fiction -- James Clavell comes to mind -- with third person omniscient points of view. Clavell hops around into lots of different characters' heads, even within a single scene.

I think it works because the characters are all so damn interesting, and also because the novels take place in Asian cultures (feudal Japan, 19th century Hong Kong, etc.) in which people often conceal their thoughts and emotions. As I said, I don't use omniscient narration, so I'd love to hear from an author who does.

A Writing Tip for Tight POV

I generally write first person or very-tight third person (limited) point of view, and I have a suggestion for new authors who do the same: when you're in such a tight point of view, there's very little need for the italicized thought. For example, in a first person POV story, a line like this:
The dragon was five hundred pounds of teeth, muscle, and claws. That thing is going to kill somebody, I thought.
...could be written like this instead:
The dragon was five hundred pounds of teeth, muscle, and claws. That thing was going to kill somebody.
See what I mean? There's no need to clarify that the statement is a character's inner monologue, because we're already in his or her point of view. Every line of narration is from his or her perspective; saying so would just be redundant.

What Are Your Thoughts on Point of View?

I've shared some of my thoughts on point of view, but I'd love to hear yours. What types of POV do you prefer? What do you struggle with? Finally, what advice can you share with fellow authors?

Lisa: I write in predominantly 1st person simply because that's how it comes to me. This is probably because characters exist for me before the plot does. Normally when you think of plot first, it goes something like this: She was going to break up with him--had even told him it was over, though he didn't believe it. That was before his parent's went missing, and no one can make a break-up stick when parents are missing.

In direct contrast, here's how my thoughts go when I am brainstorming: My name is...Farah? No, I have a tougher name because I'm a badass, frizzy-haired girl who drives a motorcycle. O'Ryan is my name. What situation could I be in that would conflict with my personality? Got it, I'm stuck in a relationship. Whoa, I'm not the type who'd stay with a guy when it's no good anymore. Not normally, but I'd be a big douche if I broke up with him considering his parents have gone missing.

So, my thinking is to write the story how it comes to you and not force the "voice" into something it's not. I did and ended up writing 15,000 words of trash. The reason I was trying it was because I'd read enough opinions saying third person was the more mature, advanced, intelligent way to write (and my professor in college felt the same way). Those opinions may be wrong and the may be right, but it doesn't matter when it comes to my writing. People would much rather read my first person narrative rather than my awkward and winding 3rd person fumbles. I do have an epilogue in Moment(s) that is in 3rd person because that's how it came to me. I heard it all in my head as if someone else wrote it. So I guess that's the only way third person works, when my other personality takes over my head. And now you all think I'm insane. It's okay, we don't mind. :D

Seriously, my advice is to write how you hear it in your head, how it will flow out of you in the smoothest way. Because the flow that worked so well in your head will read that much smoother for readers.

Caitlin:  I adore writing in second person when it's flash fiction. (My flash fiction collection is called Your Room...heh). But I agree that it would be hard to sustain an entire novel that way. It's one of my long term ambitions to try it though! So far, I have only written novels in the first person. It comes a lot easier to me, and is pretty standard for YA (as Dan mentioned!) and New Adult as well. One novel idea I've been kicking around for years has a male protagonist. When I think of those scenes, they're in the third person. But, I think, for me, it's because I'm "afraid" to get closer to that character, and, perhaps, sexistly, I'm afraid to write in a male voice. I think once I'm more comfortable with the idea, that book will also be in the first person.

Karlie: I've never been brave enough to attempt writing in second person - and first person doesn't do that well for me either. As you pointed out, Dan, epic fantasy is usually written in third person, multiple POV, and that's how it works best for me too. The one and only time I attempted a novel in first person…that was a learning experience, which is another way of saying it turned out to be completely trash. (funny how you and I had absolutely opposite experiences, Lisa!). I wish I could think that way, but it just doesn't click with me. So, for me third person is my go-to POV.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Little Do You Know - Turn It Up Tuesday

Alex and Sierra are amazing singers and songwriters, and they've encapsulated my characters' dilemma perfectly with their song Little Do You Know.

He loves her too much to stand by and watch her use her body in such a demeaning way. Doesn't matter that even he agrees that if there ever was a corner to be backed into, she was in it snuggly. There's no other way out. Yet still, he can't stay. 

But leaving doesn't diminish his pain, only heightens it because he knows how deserted she feels. He realizes he can't live without her either, no matter what she has done, has put herself through. He begs for forgiveness.

All my mistakes are slowly drowning me
Little do you know
I'm trying to make it better piece by piece

And she wants to forgive.

Underneath it all I'm held captive by the hole inside
I've been holding back for the fear that you might change your mind
I'm ready to forgive you but forgetting is a harder fight

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Short Stories: A Different Beast

It's Karlie here, ready to talk about the pros and cons of short fiction!

Here lately I've been trying my hand at bits of flash fiction and longer short stories - and it's definitely a change. I've always been more inclined to work on longer novels, but the time squeeze is taking a huge toll on me right now - and it probably won't let up anytime soon.

In some ways, writing short stories is definitely harder. There's no room for a lot of character development or backstory, forcing most of the plot to take place "in the moment". So you only have a short amount of time to make the reader care about the characters so he/she will keep reading, and you don't have any time to delay setting up the plot. For someone who normally works with 300 pages at minimum, it's extremely hard to tell a story in just a few thousand words - or less. 

However, it is helping tighten up my writing style. I've learned a lot just over the past month or so, and it's amazingly satisfying to hold a complete story in your hand, even if it's only ten pages long. Also, it's helping round out my portfolio rather nicely. ;) And it's much less daunting to start and finish a short story than a full-length novel. 

What about you guys? 

Caitlin: I would agree short stories are a different beast! I actually took the opposite route that you took, Karlie, and I wrote flash fiction before I got into seriously writing novels. I think it did help me be a much more efficient writer, and, as you say, it doesn't require the patience of novel writing! But, mostly, I just think it's fun. :)

Lisa: I've finished seven novels, but it's only recently that I've considered a short story. Before I wasn't interested because there just didn't seem to be enough space to sink my teeth into character development really well. As you may know by now, I'm a character-first-plot-second sort of gal. But recently I was thinking about this character and her plot synonymously and realized there wasn't enough for a novel. With that decided, I considered writing her story as a short piece.

A lot of authors do like you, Karlie, write shorter fiction after getting a couple of novels under their belt in order to benefit their craft. I agree that it could help tighten an author's writing a lot. But I have the opposite problem. I plan a book that seems like it will take 80,000 words to write and end up with 55,000 words. So...perhaps my writing is a little too tight? I already know one of the problems is that I'm stingy with transitions. I wonder if writing short stories would hinder growth in that area rather than help it.

Dan: Once upon a time, writing and publishing short stories represented the first steps towards writing and publishing a novel. That's changed somewhat now, particularly due to the financial woes and closure of many short story markets. Because of that, and the minimal length, and the lack of an agent-barrier-to-entry, the markets that pay professional rates are extremely competitive. Most take less than 1% of stories submitted. They have that luxury because of the huge supply.

Even though I started out by writing short stories (as do many writers who take a fiction writing class), I still find it harder, in some ways, than writing a novel. It's not just the economy of words required, it's that most of my good ideas are about epic conflicts. I find it challenging to handle these and make them satisfying in a short fiction piece. That said, I find that writing shorter pieces (especially flash fiction) can be a good exercise for honing one's craft. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: What Hurts The Most

It's Karlie, posting Turn It Up Tuesday a day late. Sorry about that.

Anyway, my song is What Hurts The Most by Rascal Flatts. It goes perfectly with one of my short stories, Unspoken. It's kind of an after the credits thing, but it fits the whole mood so perfectly. 

Natalie Hunt and Mark McGuire make an amazing pair - in a squad car. But since they lost another good cop to a shootout, Mark seems to realize how short life really is. Natalie wants to move to another level, but they both know the perils of that crucial step.
When tragedy strikes again, this time much closer to home, one of them is left alone with the words left unspoken.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Should Authors Read Their Reviews?

Caitlin here. As you may have seen, my debut novel, Heartsick, is coming out in February. (Yay!) While some days it feels like the launch date can’t get here fast enough, other days I pause and think that actually, right now is the fun part. I get all the excitement and anticipation without any pesky negative things, like bad reviews. While this is a cozy thought to me right now, eventually I, like all writers who put their work out there, will have to confront the dreaded truth: not everyone is going to like my book. 

Of course, I’ve had negative feedback before. Critique partners and writers group members and fellow writers on forums have criticized my writing. But those environments are collegial. The aim is to help each other become better writers. There’s a camaraderie to it that takes the sting out of it.
And, of course, I have also been rejected. Rejections rarely bother me. Every famous author has been rejected. It’s just part of the business. I even made a rejection goal in 2013—I wanted to get 125 rejections. I failed, but I did get over 100! To do that, I had to submit, submit, submit. And, at the end of the year, I also had several new short story credits and a literary agent! So, my motto: rejections breed success. :)

But…rejections are private. And, again, there’s a respect inherent in the process because agents and editors are professionals. Their job isn’t to tear writers apart, it’s to build them up. And, in fact, if they take the time to send a personal rejection, it likely means they saw something promising in your work.

So, if I’m not afraid of critiques or rejections, why do reviews have me quaking in my ballet flats? Simple. Reviews are for readers, not authors. They aren’t there to make me a better writer or let me down easy. They’re there to help readers figure out if my book is worth reading. And sometimes they’re there to entertain prospective readers with snark and merciless analysis. 

I am not criticizing reviewers for doing this. I whole-heartedly agree with Veronica Roth when she said, “The worst thing for an author is NOT someone hearing your book is bad, it's someone not hearing about it at all.” (If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend her post on the author-reviewer relationship.)

So, I want reviewers to snarkily tear apart my book! Honest, I do. I’m just not so sure I want to read those reviews. Sure, maybe the positive aspects of a review will build me up, maybe the constructive criticism will help me improve. Or…maybe the negativity will freeze me. Maybe I’ll never want to publish my writing again.

I don’t know if I should bravely face them or bury my head under new WIPs. 

What do you think? Should authors read their own reviews?

Karlie: Theoretically, I would say stay away from them! However, I know I won't be able to resist it. Knowing me I'll read the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think it's important to have the right mindset though - don't let the negative reviews get you down or stop you from writing! Like Caitlin said, at least people are reading it. ;)

Lisa: I have never actually thought this through. Thanks for posing the question, Caitlin. I think maybe read the reviews as they might say something that will help you. Not that it's their intention, nor their job, but multiple reviewers might say something that you were already worried about, and you know from then on that you should trust your instinct on that matter next time. Then again, I can see how a bad review could stun you into no-more-writing land. I know that I've received critiques from friends that was harsh enough (probably not harsh at all but it felt that way at the time) that it stopped me in my tracks, making me take a brief break from writing. And that's from a friend and coming from a place of helpfulness. So, maybe I'll win the lottery and hire someone to be the filter -  read the reviews and only send me excerpts that I need to see.

Dan: As far as reading the reviews, I think it depends on the author and is a matter of personal choice. Some authors might like to have the feedback or (from good reviews) the positive reinforcement. It's also a good way to check the temperature of the readership, and find out what works (or doesn't work) for many individuals. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I'll have the guts to read the reviews of my own book, especially the negative ones. The most important guideline I've heard from many published authors and professional reviewers is that an author should almost never respond to reviews or engage reviewers. The reviews are generally not aimed at authors anyway. They're aimed at readers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turn it up Tuesday - Together Forever by Emblem3

All we'll need is love
We can take our time

As writers, and adults, we might be a little scared of having our characters believe they've found "the one." Here's something that this song tells me that we aren't recognizing:
1. She might have actually found the one. The chances are slim for a sixteen-year-old to find the person that she really is going to live the rest of her life with but possible.
2. This song sets us directly in a young adult's mind set. Who cares if she is right or wrong. When a teen experiences new, young love, he/she believes that it is the "the one." Because it feels so right / deep / intense. These aren't reasonable assumptions to make as a teen, but guess what. Teens aren't always reasonable. If you have your teens overly reasonable when it comes to love, you've missed the mark. Somewhat reasonable makes your character likable, overly reasonable makes your character unrelatable to other teens.

So take it from these kids in Emblem3 as they're definitely in the right age range. It's okay for teens to believe they've found Mr or Ms. Right.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Before we were writers, we were readers.

So what do we read? What makes us choose that book? The summary on the back cover, reviews on blogs or Goodreads? Or perhaps it was written by an author you've already read and felt like it was a sure thing. It could even be the first page or first chapter that you quickly scanned that made you take the leap and head to the bookstore checkout, library counter or push the purchase button. What did the trick for you?

So, you've read the book now and enjoyed it. What made you enjoy it? Is it because it made you cry? The characters sucked you in to their life, the plot was unique and riveting, the twists were shocking....
And now you're probably asking: Why so many questions for the writers, Lisa?

Sometimes writers forget how important reading is in keeping in touch with what we love. It's also important to keep in touch with our reader selves in order to know how important that first page is, those first five pages, the first chapter. Of course reading should still be a pleasure, but it doesn't hurt to ask ourselves these questions afterward. So, writers, answer us below. You never might get your brain refocused.

Readers, tell us what made you choose the book you most recently began. About the last book you really enjoyed: what made you like it so much? What sucked you in and made you invest your precious hours on the story?
I'm also curious to see if our answers match. Are readers-only more enthralled with twisting plots while writers are mostly enthused by fully-fleshed, relatable characters?

Caitlin:  I find books a number of ways. I'll read books I might originally feel meh about for my book club (because I love talking to other people about the same book and often books can surprise you). I also listen to friend recommendations (Right now I'm reading a Harlan Coben book, HOLD TIGHT, because my sister and a writers group friend insisted I MUST read him. :) ) Other times I'm looking for a specific type of book, like a romance with a political backdrop or a young adult book with FBI elements...just cause, well, I can get picky in my reading choices. I also read books by some of the authors I follow on twitter or who I've run into in online forums because it's fun to read books by authors I "know." And I'll check out books that people mention in blogs and on twitter. So, basically, there are a lot of ways that I find my way to my next book. :)

Dan: I'm glad you asked this question, Lisa! Understanding how readers find books, and choose which ones to read, is increasingly important for authors. For me (talking as a reader now) it's usually the author that draws me to a book: if it's someone I've read before, or heard about, I go for it. Often I'll get personal recommendations from a friend, co-worker, or family member. I try to read books that win awards or draw acclaim in my genre, too, which is why I'm currently reading Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice. Sadly, I've never chosen to read a book based on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.

When it comes to choosing between books, I do consider reviews like those found on Amazon or Goodreads. Availability is also a factor: if I can get the Kindle book through Overdrive, I'm more likely to read that book first.

Karlie: I love to be surprised - as in, shocked out of my mind. As long as everything adds up correctly, those big twists make me very happy.You guys probably have this problem, too - when you read constantly, predictability is a major problem.
I also love cop thrillers, anything involving the FBI, firefighter stories…but if it has an intriguing blurb, it had better follow through, or that author is off my read list. And like both Caitlin and Dan, if I really love an author, I'll try pretty much anything by him/her.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How and Why to Make Your Characters Fail

Make characters fail in writing
It's Dan today, and I want to talk about failure in fiction. I don't mean failure on the author's part -- failure to finish a book, make it good, get an agent, get a book deal -- we all know those failures pretty well. I'm talking about when characters try to accomplish something and don't succeed.

I wrote a short story recently about a con man in a secondary (fantasy) world. Kind of like Ocean's Eleven in King Arthur's court. He was witty, charming, devious -- everything that your ideal con man should be. I wrote up one of his heists as a flash piece, and sent it to my online workshop. A few of of my fellow writers remarked that while this guy made for a strong character, he was too strong. There wasn't a problem I threw at him that he couldn't handle. 

I loved that about my character, but it was also a problem, because there was no drama. I'd forgotten Pixar's first rule of storytelling:

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

It's the opposite of a character that's too flawed: a character that's not flawed at all. Basically, I needed my character to fail at something.

Having my characters try and fail doesn't come naturally, at least not yet. Maybe that's because (like many writers), I often base my characters on romanticized versions of real people. More capable and more successful = better, right? 

Then I started thinking about The Incredibles, one of my favorite Pixar movies. It's about a family of superheroes, all of whom were pretty much born awesome. The problem is that their purpose isn't to fight crime and stuff, it's to re-integrate themselves as normal members of society. Which, as superhero-type people, they really have trouble doing. I won't ruin the movie for you, but I'll say that when they achieve their goals at the end of the movie, I appreciate it much more, because I saw how hard it was for them. 

And that's why I'm trying to make my characters fail more than they succeed. What about you? Do you have trouble having your characters fail at things?

Caitlin This is definitely a problem I continue to struggle with. The MC of my first completed novel is telekinetic and can remote view. Great, right! But my writers group pointed out that she could deftly handle anything I threw at her. Like you, Dan, I thought at first, yeah, isn't she great! But I realized it made for a pretty boring novel. I gave her powers some challenges (she loses her vision when she uses telekinesis and grows weak when she remote views) and also increased some challenges within her personality to make her struggle more. It was hard, at first, but ultimately I like her as a character even more now that she fails at things (and certainly relate to her better!).

Lisa: What an interesting post. I can't say that I've conciously had my characters fail to make them more realistic or relatable. I've had them fail for the sake of the plot, etc., but thanks to you I'm going to consider those things more. Because you're totally right - if they continue being successful, then there's less tension, less will he or won't he...succeed. We can also relate to someone who doesn't do things perfectly every time. Afterall, we're only human. Thanks for this, Dan.

Karlie: Sometimes I worry my characters fail too much. I tend to hurt the ones I love the most (Lisa can probably relate to this, *cough White Star cough*). But sometimes I get lazy - it would be so much easier to just give them their way this time, instead of writing out the whole process of everything going wrong and back again. However, I usually end up going back and redoing it anyway - so I might as well go ahead and go the extra mile the first time around. Great post, Dan!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bounded in a Nutshell: An Interview

Hi, it's Karlie! First of all, it's Day 6 of November! If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, kudos  to you! I hope you're keeping up with that word goal, and hopefully you have plenty of chocolate and caffeine on hand. Drop by and let us know about your NaNoWriMo experiences and happenings. :)

 Anyway, I'm doing something a little different today. Instead of asking a question, I'm posting an interview. A friend of mine, Dr. David Lowery, recently published his first book, Bounded in a Nutshell. A collection of poetry, it was released in July 2014, and he agreed to answer some questions for me. Dr. Lowery is an English instructor at Jones County Junior College (Ellisville, MS).Without further ado, here it is!

Karlie: Bounded in a Nutshell is your first published work, right?

Dr. Lowery: Yes, that's correct. It was part of a "year of challenges" I set up with my wife - we decided to do one thing each month we didn't think we could do. This resulted from the artistic challenge. The month of April is National Poetry Month, and I made myself write a poem every day. When I was finished, I decided I wanted to do more with them. I had done so much academic writing over the last few years, I just wanted to pursue something creative.

Karlie: Walk me through the publishing process. How did you go about getting your book out there?

Dr. Lowery: I did a lot of research online first, looking at a variety of publishers until I found one that would give me control over the publishing process. This was very important to me. I eventually settled on Xlibris, because they gave me freedom with the cover and formatting, down to little things like font.

Karlie: What did you do to promote the book?

Dr. Lowery: The publishing company sent promotional book posters and bookmarks, and I took those around to various bookstores. I also continue to promote it on Facebook and Twitter. As a matter of face, I'm having a book signing on November 13th at the Laurel library, from 4-6 PM.

Karlie: Where can people get a copy of your book?

Dr. Lowery: It's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and You can also get a copy of it from the bookstore at both JCJC and William Carey University.

Karlie: Thank you for sharing this with us! Everyone, you should check this book out, and if you're anywhere near Laurel, MS, come to the book signing!

Dr. Lowery has been teaching for twenty-two years, and he has received numerous awards for his achievements, including Humanities Teacher of the Year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Using Multiple Pen Names

Caitlin here. There are a lot of good reasons for using a pen name instead of your real name. But what about using multiple pen names?

I spend more time than I probably should trying to build up just the one author platform right now. If I had to manage two or three platforms, I seriously wonder when I’d find the time to, you know, actually write. Spreading your brand out that way seems inefficient. I’d rather pool my resources into one, single brand.   

However, the argument for multiple pen names concerns the idea that readers come to expect a specific kind of story from you and, if you don’t deliver it, you could disappoint them and lose them as fans. And I do write across genres. I’ve already noticed a disconnect in my writing on Wattpad, where I have a collection of literary flash fiction and a YA Scifi. Very few readers seem to enjoy both.

So am I annoying the flash fiction readers every time I send out a message about my young adult book? If people subscribe to my newsletter because they like the YA on Wattpad, are they going to want to hear about my New Adult books? And if readers love the fluffy contemporary romance I’m wrapping up now, will they be putt off by my darker short stories?

This concerns me, but I also like to have faith in my readers. Faith that they understand I write varied stories. Faith that they’ll pick and choose what they like based on the description. Even faith that they might be up for reading something a little different from a familiar author. After all, I’ve noticed a handful of readers who are voting for both my YA book and my literary fiction.

But perhaps I’m expecting too much of my readers. What do you think? Are multiple pen names a must if you write across genres?

Karlie: Personally, I've never seen the appeal of using pen names. Like you said, Caitlin, that's just a lot more promoting to do. I write across genres, too, but I've found on Valorpen that most of my readers are loyal no matter what genre it is, and most of my writing buddies say the same thing. As a reader, I also read across genres, and I'm more likely to try new things if it's by a familiar author. So for me? I will probably never try to publish with multiple pen names.

Lisa: I wouldn't use a pen name for the very reason you've stated, Caitlin. Though I do write such varied genres (paranormal romance, thriller, horror, romantic suspense and contemp romance), I can't bring myself to do it. My writing time is too valuable to try to build a brand for each of my genres. However, I have seen a valid reason other than different genres for different pen names. I know a lot of writers who are still fairly young and post their writing online. They've established pen names for their "covers" and/or blogs rather than display their real names for everyone to see.

Dan: I will tell you that pen names are far more prevalent than I had ever realized... Many authors I know use them. I am considering one myself, mostly because my name is so hard to spell. But you're right, Caitlin; it means building and maintaining multiple platforms, which is a lot of work. If you intend to write different genres it's almost a requirement.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

That character's doing what? I ain't buying it.

Hi! It's Lisa again, and I'm having problems believing some things in books. Are you?

Sometimes as I'm reading I come across actions, sometimes often used actions, that I just can't buy. Isn't it actually impossible to clench your hands so hard that your fingernails make your palms bleed? That skin is too tough, isn't it? My hands are pretty darn soft (don't judge, I'm a writer), so it'd be easier for me to do it rather than someone else who does regular labor with his or her hands. But guess what happens when I try. My nerve endings won't let me continue; those little things run to my brain and tattle on me. My brain makes me stop. My fingernails also buckle. If I try really hard, I break the skin, but those darn vessels are just too hard to get to. Also, that wore me out; my finger muscles were screaming at me to let go. I guess I'm just weak...but I type all the time so those little muscles are used regularly. Hm, I don't know. Anyway, to my other point. Let's not forget the melodrama this makes me picture when it's in a story. I'd like to roll my eyes when I read it. Really? So this character is so pissed he's clenching his fists hard enough to make himself bleed? Not buying it, and I'm not totally into this story anymore.

In my opinion, there are only two ways I see this clenching/bleeding actually happening. 1) If a person is having a seizure because the nerve endings are a little bit busy and clenching, and they aren't worrying about telling the brain to unclench. After all, people have been known to bite their tongue until it bleeds, and sometimes all the way off, during a seizure. 2) The second reason has a little to do with the first one: there's brain damage or nerve damage or both. Maybe the pain sensors in your hands have been damaged so clenching until you bleed happens without you knowing. The nerve endings could be working but the brain isn't working so well - brain damage. There is brain damage or a brain disorder, and it can't/won't receive the message to relax the hands.
A character clenching until the skin is broken is a tad bit more believable, though I still have to lift an eyebrow and move on. It's just overdone. Are 99% of the world's population hand-clenchers in moments of stress? No. Then why are 99% of our characters? Do something else.

This goes for biting your lip until it bleeds too. One, like the clenching-hand-cutting-skin deal, it's a bit dramatic. Two, it's overused. However, I will concede that the skin of your lip is much softer, so it's much more believable that making it bleed could happen before your brain makes you stop. And it's much easier if you have dry lips, peeling lips or already-present sores. But it still makes me roll my eyes.

Now, that's my little two cents worth on stuff I just can't swallow. But I'd like to know yours! The reason I decided to write this post is because I came across this in a book again and then started thinking: I probably have some things like this in my books and don't even know it! I need help!

What do you read regularly in books that you just can't swallow?

Dan: Interesting topic, Lisa! As long as we're not talking about self-mutilation (which is a real thing) I'm with you. Having your character's palms bleed is a cheap way to show what he or she is feeling. In my experience, real people who are angry or scared often show less emotion than you'd expect. With anger, it's often subtle things, like using shorter phrases while speaking or not making eye contact.

As long as we're talking pet peeves: personally, I hate it when there's a misunderstanding that could be resolved by a simple open conversation, and that misunderstanding is the core of the book's conflict. Guess what? People talk about stuff that matters to them. Realistic problems tend to be far more complex.

Caitlin: I was totally with you on the hands bleeding (and impressed you went to the lengths to test it out! :) ). As for lip have that in one of my books. :( I'll be re-analyzing that soon! I'm with you Dan on the misunderstandings, although I used to enjoy Threes Company. Heh. My pet peeve? I guess it would be when the author deliberately tricks you to no effect via a character's thoughts. I recently read a book where the MC thought he saw Character B. He realized it wasn't him but still shuddered because it would have been like seeing a ghost. The previous fate of Character B is important to the this obviously is a pretty strong hint that Character B is dead. Thing is, he wasn't. And the MC knew that. At the end of the book that ghost comment didn't make any sense at all! Grrr... If a character thinks something, it should make sense he/she'd think that in the context of the story.

Karlie: Great thought, Caitlin!! I'm completely with you there. I also hate it when the hero gets a injury that should have taken weeks to heal, but the next day he's up and going again. I don't care how tough you are, it's gonna take some time to recover from broken ribs/wrist/ankle.

Another personal pet peeve of mine is the "deus ex machina," or that moment when the answer drops out of the sky and hits the character on the head. You know, that warrior that never showed up anywhere else in the book suddenly defeating the bad guy and then disappearing again. Even though it's usually a little more disguised than that, I come across it a lot more than I'd like.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: My Immortal

It's Karlie here - and my song is My Immortal by Evanesance.

He left in so many ways - in bitterness and crushed hope, abruptly and without warning, leaving behind neither closure nor advice. But even though he's gone, Anne Brisban finds that he still lingers in every facet of her everyday life. In the shadows, in the sunlight, in every thought, in the quiet hours before dawn. He's everywhere, and sometimes she hates him for it.

If he had to leave, she wishes he would just leave. Maybe then she could move on. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Building Your Author Platform

Hello, it's Dan today, and I'm here to talk about platform.

In the modern world of publishing I often hear discussions of author platform, especially among new writers trying to break in. There are a lot of misconceptions about what platform means, and how important it is, so I thought I'd take a crack at clearing things up, and offer some useful resources for authors hoping to build their platform.

What is a platform?

Broadly speaking, an individual's platform answers the question, "How many people know this person, and in what way?"

The definition of author platform -- at least in machiavellian publishing-industry terms, might be more accurately phrased as "How many people will buy this author's book, and why?" 

Your platform matters to publishers because it affects how they can market your book, and how many copies they might expect to sell. Here are some of the things that might be considered part of an author platform.

1. Celebrity status

This is arguably one of the most powerful things to sell books. Like it or not, being famous (or infamous) makes your book marketable, even if it's an absolute pile of drivel.

2. Qualifications

For non-fiction, an author's qualifications are an essential part of his or her platform. We expect people who write books on a topic to have expertise and/or a unique perspective. Books about science or medicine, for example, are generally written by scientists or doctors. Harrowing survival stories are written by survivors. Cookbooks are written by people who cook.

There are fewer minimum qualifications for the fiction author, though being able to string coherent words together might be one criterion. Professional short fiction credits and agent representation support the idea that the author can write well enough to be paid for it. It also helps if the author has proven experience that informs the book, i.e., Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini's book THE KITE RUNNER is about a boy growing up in Kabul.

3. Audience

Your audience comprises people who know you already and may be interested in buying your book. Celebrities have audiences. Columnists and reporters have audiences, as do many experts who have published articles, won awards, or had speaking engagements.

Established authors of fiction already have an audience, one that's reflected in sales of previously published work. Thus, if you've published books already, their performance (for good or bad) is part of your author platform.

4. Personal Connections

Your personal connections may also contribute to your platform, especially if you have relationships with people or groups who can help promote or sell your books. For example:
  • Members of the publishing industry (agents, editors, publishers)
  • Celebrities or famous authors
  • Members of the media (TV, radio, magazines, or high-profile blogs)
  • Professional and amateur organizations (SFWA, conventions, book clubs, etc.)
  • Bookstores and libraries

5. Online Presence

I mention this platform component last, because it gets the most attention sometimes but may not have a significant impact one way or the other. Granted, we live in a digital world, and readers increasingly go online to find new books and connect with their favorite authors. An author's online presence might consist of:

  • A web site and/or blog
  • A newsletter / e-mail list
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) 
  • Online community membership (Codex, AbsoluteWrite, etc.)
Remember, these are ways for you to reach out to a potential readers and to build relationships with other influencers. A "Buy my book" link in your Twitter profile is not a platform!

How important is the author platform?

If you're reading this article, the answer is probably "not as important as you think," but this is a question best answered by what the author hopes to write. As I mentioned before, a platform is essential for a non-fiction author, because it directly affects how the book will sell. 

A platform is less important for authors of fiction, with the notable exception that authors who have already published books can bring a readership to the table. Most new authors trying to break in don't have a substantial platform, and that's fine. It's hard to build up a readership when you haven't published anything! That said, if you have 10,000 people following you by e-mail or on social media, you have a greater ability to promote your own work.

How to Build an Author Platform

I use the word "build" quite intentionally, to highlight the fact that building a useful author platform requires hard work and should be done with a long-term plan in mind. At a minimum, a new author should have:
  • A web site and/or blog
  • A presence on social media sites
These two things are well within your power to establish, and if you're serious about getting published then you probably should. Next, I recommend the wonderful Platform Pick-up series by literary agent Sarah Negetovich, which covers elements such as:

What About Short Fiction Credits?

I've read books about platform-building in which the authors suggest that you begin submitting stories to professional magazines right away in hopes of snagging one. I think this advice is a bit outdated, for a couple of reasons:
  1. Short story writing is an art form. Many authors who write long fiction struggle with short fiction, and vice-versa. 
  2. The short story market is fiercely competitive. Magazines are constantly inundated with submissions. The acceptance rate for most pro markets is well below 1%.
  3. A short story sale does not promise that the author can write long fiction.
Then again, if you write short stories that go on to win prestigious awards, it can do wonders for your career. It's a considerable time investment to write a publishable short story, but if you enjoy doing it, go forth.

What's Your Platform?

Now it's your turn. What are you doing to build your author profile?

Caitlin: Great post, Dan! I'm always trying to build my platform in strategic ways and it's so hard to know what will yield results. As for publishing short fiction, I agree it often takes different skill sets, but I'd definitely encourage novelists who enjoy writing shorter pieces to submit them. I've published a few pieces of short fiction and a handful of people have reached out to me from the depths of the internet to let me know how much they liked one of my pieces. And yes, these occurrences are utterly awesome! Maybe those "fans" will buy my book. Maybe they won't. But it does serve as a potential way to connect with readers who may appreciate my style and sense of humor. And, it's just fun! :)
Karlie: This is something I've started to seriously think about, Dan, but truthfully, I haven't done a lot on it. Like you said, if you have nothing published or even about to be, it's hard to promote yourself as a writer! But I'm trying to increase my online presence as much as I can, because I'm serious about writing and I want to be successful with it. In this day and age, that usually requires being all over the Internet, LOL. Awesome post, and it really got me thinking. :)

Lisa: I guess you could say I had a smattering of a platform as a non-fiction writer before I wrote my first book. Though I never looked at it as a platform at that time. Now I'm glad I gleaned followers in the newspaper buisness before starting the uphill battle of reaching a whole new audience. (Since I'm pimarily Young Adult writer, it doesn't exactly mean my previous followers will transfer over very smoothly). However, there are some loyal ones that are hanging in there. Now that I'm more focused on what a platform actually means, I see how a person can either look like a writer waving a bunch of flags to get attention, or how he or she can simply be friendly and gain an audience more organically. Both may do the job but who will have long-standing fans?

Also, something I believe you touched on a little bit, Dan, is you can't let your platform overreach your writing goals. Afterall, an audience is important, but if you don't have any books to share with them, it's all for naught.