Monday, September 28, 2015

How to make a "wrong" summary work.

I've been working on the summary to my book that will be released next month and had to refrain from going unconventional. Again. For the summary of one of my other books, I tried going against the grain and wrote a one-sentence summary.

It didn't work.

But that's not always the case. I see unusual summaries work often - some written from the perspective of the main character, some in the form of a letter. I've even seen an author let an excerpt from the story say what needs to be said. Some of those worked for me, and some didn't.

What has been your experience of unusual summaries? What worked and what didn't? Examples?

Caitlin:  The first one that comes to mind is WE WERE LIARS. But I didn't like it. I was annoyed that there wasn't more of an explanation about what the book was about and I probably wouldn't have read it if it wasn't for a book club. After reading it, I still didn't think the blurb set it up well. I think if an idea comes to you that just seems really great and isn't conventional, then cool, go for it! If it fits the book well, it's certainly worth a try! :) But I don't think it's worth it to sit around trying to think up an unconventional way to write the summary. I think that process would probably create something that comes off as gimmicky and/or "you don't need to know what this book is about you just need to read it" (which is annoying, IMHO). 

Dan: When a reader visits a book page on Amazon or another online bookstore, I think there are three main factors that influence their purchase decision: cover, description, and price. There is some value in trying new things to move books, but I'd be very careful in going unconventional with the description. Readers expect certain things when shopping for books, and a nice 2-3 paragraph book description is one of those.

Straying from that in hopes of "standing out" may ultimately do more harm than good, but it's probably worth investigating if you have a clever idea. A/B testing, also called split testing, is an important tool that authors and publishers can use to assess the impact. In the simplest form, you try one description for a designated time period, then try the other, and see which one converts better. So I'm all for trying unconventional things, as long as it's backed by hard data.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to avoid realism when writing, and why would you want to...

Hi, all. Lisa here today, and I'd like to talk about skirting reality for the sake of making your story more readable.

In writing, the goal is to replicate real life as closely as possible. "As possible" are the key words here. There are things we write about that we have to work around because to be totally realistic is to make it hard to read - dialect, sex, cursing, character voice, etc. Some ways of avoiding are easy, for instance, fading to black instead of having "on-screen" sex. Others are not quite so easy, but I have found a few tricks to skirt realism, and I'll share. I'd also like to know what you all do.

1. Everyone has heard that writing in a male's voice you can't use as much description. Generally speaking, the male mind just doesn't notice as many details as women. How I get around it is by using the exceptions that we have in real life. Yes, males don't normally notice all the details that women do, but there are exceptions, and for purposes of writing I have learned to pounce on those exceptions. When I write from a male's perspective, I give him a characteristic that would make him notice the details that I want to write - those details that make a scene complete. For one of my characters, I made him an artist of sorts. He drew- mainly sketching faces - so that allowed me to realistically include details that would have seemed out of character before. So, one way to skirt realism is to find real life exceptions and work under those.

2. Another point is language and/or dialect. One of my characters is Scottish. I loved that but he got way too slangy for readers to be able to understand sometimes. However, if any of you have watched Trainspotting, you know that their speech is almost indiscernible. To tone it down wouldn't be realistic...unless I could find an exception. My exception became the outside influences on him. I lightened up his slang a lot and blamed his lack of an abundance of "Scottishisms" on being around his American and British bandmates for three years.

3. Yet another character should have had really, really bad pottymouth. Since I always write first person, that would have transferred to his thoughts tenfold. But that would have been hard to read. However, the goal is still to be realistic, so what do you do? What I did was give him a strong guilty conscience. His dying grandmother told him he was a good boy, would always be a good boy. She is the only one to ever say anything quite so positive to him, so he tries to fulfill that idea. Don't get me wrong, he's still got strong language, but it's not overabundant.

So what are your tricks for skirting reality when reality doesn't transfer well onto paper?

Dan: I hadn't heard that one should use less description when writing a male voice. Then again, I am male, so I may have just failed to notice it *grin*. I'll admit, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of avoiding realism. In science fiction and fantasy, realism is rarely the default. I'm usually coming at this from the other direction: trying to inject more verisimilitude into my writing.

At the same time, SF/F readers often demand more pace to a story than realism would allow. The classic example of this is the protagonist learning to fight with a sword. In reality, a farmer who's never fought with one would take years (if not decades) to achieve mastery at this. Yet we don't usually have that kind of time to spend on a training montage. Robert Jordan addressed this in a clever way: Rand al'Thor goes from shepherd to master swordsman rather quickly, but that's partly because he's inhabited by the soul of a thousand-year-old guy who was a true master.

I wish I'd thought of that.

Caitlin: I'm actually quite bad at this! I've been told that some of my new adult characters don't use words kids in college would use. Don't get me wrong, I don't just ignore that criticism, I consider it. But, in the end, I also don't think every college student sounds exactly alike. (Hell, I remember one girl in college asking me if I could assist her with "lodging" for a trip, and yet another asked me where I "summered" is full of all kinds!). So, basically, if something doesn't ring true to your CPs, you need to consider it, but you also don't need to adjust your characters to meet stereotypes.  FWIW, my husband often notices details I don't, and I'm supposed to be the writer  ;-).

When it comes to reality drastically interfering with the pace, you need to remember that your loyalty is to the story. Does smudging this reality a bit service the story, or is it just a lazy workaround that hurts the story? That should help guide you, methinks.

- Thanks, guys. What are your thoughts? Is finding ways to skirt reality a good or bad idea? In what ways to you work around the more mundane but necessary moments of real life in order to keep a good pace to the story?

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Hi, everyone. It's Lisa today and I have a problem that I share with one of my characters and probably many other writers out there. Keira is a lyrical dancer who has many things on her mind. During one of her performances, she is thinking of her grandfather dying, her mother's inconsiderate delivery of said information, making the right steps in her routine, ignoring her internal drum that doesn't come close to matching the beat of the music everyone else hears at the recital...she's having a hard time. She tells herself "focus!" repeatedly. But just like everyone else under the stars, telling yourself to focus doesn't quite do the trick. Keira's lack of focus is a lot like mine when I either want to write or I've actually sat down to write. So, let's make a deal. I'll tell you some of the things that help me focus in hopes that something in my list will help you, but this is a give and take post, okay? Okay. Be nice and tell me some of your focusing secrets too.

1. The first of my problems when it comes to focus is the area in which I'm trying to write.
If it's not at least a little tidy, my mind can't be tidy either. If it's really bad, and you can't see wasting time to really give it an overhaul, maybe stuff it all under the bed or behind the chair you're sitting in. Maybe if you can't see it, then it won't keep diverting your attention to it. No? Then straighten up.

2. The second problem is people, whether they be online, in person, on the phone - people divert me often. How I combat the in-person distractions is headphones or earbuds. I prefer the headphones as they look more official and/or intimidating to the person about to interrupt you. Plus, they tend to shut out extraneous noises too. These headphones or earbuds serve yet another purpose which I'll tell you later. As for the digital "person" interruptions - turn it off. Turn you cell phone to vibrate, don't look at text messages. If it's an emergency, that person will call when texting doesn't get your attention. Not only does that keep you have having unnecessary interruptions but it also keeps your focus on the task at hand. What I mean is if you decide to quickly read that text, it could be something that isn't so easily forgotten. It could be something that wiggles at the back of your mind, messing with your focus. Let the little "wiggling" wait until later. As far as the online people alerting you with their bells and whistles - turn those off. You can turn off the IMing alerts on Facbook, Twitter, etc. Do it. Your writing is important. Even better, turn off internet. It's a simple button that you can undo later. It's F8 on my computer, and I'm sure you have something just as simple though I believe it's a pretty universal thing. If it's not F8, then it's at least got a tower with curved parenthesis-like lines on either side of it. That's internet signal radiating off of it, if you were wondering, threatening to make you lose focus.

3. Choose the sounds you allow to enter you brain wisely. Some people think no sound at all is best.
But there never is really no sound at all, is there? I'll get back to that. Some listen to music. I can't listen to lyrics as that'll make me lose focus. I'll involuntarily, even unconsciously, think too much about what I'm hearing. You need something that will fade into the background - not something that will sound especially great, make you wonder about the lyricist, singer, producer, etc. Some people believe only nature's sounds are okay such as waves or trickling stream, birds, etc. Those are all good, but I've found some sounds/music that is specifically designed to make people focus really well. Look it up - there is all kinds of "music" made for concentration and focus. I'd listened to one on Youtube for a long time then decided to pay 1.99 to download it since I turned internet off.
Okay, back to the "no sound at all" notion. The reason I'm not a subscriber to this is because unless your house is totally empty and you live in the middle of nowhere, there is talking, television, radio, a dog, people on the sidewalk, things that are making noises and distracting you. It's easier to tune them out when there is a different noise in your ear, just make sure it's a noise that will make you churn out words like a beast!

Now it's your turn. Share your secrets on how to focus.

Dan: Oh, what a fascinating topic! I should admit up-front that I'm not the best role model for focused efforts. I'm a bit different from Lisa, in that I can (and usually do) remain productive in a messy environment. All of my workspaces default to some level of disorder. Yet if that's a distraction for you, I agree 100% that it should be addressed before you try to get down and do some serious writing. As long as you don't lose most of your writing time to cleaning every day, you'll probably come out ahead.

Most of my distractions are internet-based. One of the reasons I like Scrivener is that it has a distraction-free, full screen writing mode where you can't see any windows except for the text editor. That helps a lot. Many writers (including at least a couple of pro authors I could name) turn off the internet while writing. I haven't been brave enough to try that yet, but I probably should.

Caitlin: I love the images Lisa! I also can't focus if I'm listening to something with lyrics. I have a "Film Scores" station on Pandora that's great for writing. Many of the songs have an "epic" feel, which just gets me more excited about what I'm writing. :)  I would also definitely recommend using a timer.  Set it for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes and work on only one project for that amount of time. Texts, emails, etc. can all be checked after the timer goes off and you are on a short break. Then set the timer again and get back to work. Repeat. :)