Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Getting Read for NaNoWriMo

Didn't add an article to my blog last week because I was deep in edits. I wanted to give my Regency mystery: I Bid One American a final "going over" before sending it off to an editor. This is one of my favorite stories so I hope she likes it—at least she requested it.

So I got that submitted and I recently sent the first three chapters and synopsis of a contemporary mystery-romance to my agent and hopefully, she'll let me know what she thinks about that one soon.

The decks are now cleared…sort of. I've been noodling around with a much, much simpler Regency than I've ever written before with the idea that I could try to sell it to one of the remaining publishers of Traditional Regencies. This is a tough one because they make you stay between 50,000 to 70,000 words and my "natural" story length seems to be about 86-90,000 words. Big frownie face. However, this time, I'm deliberating trying not to kill off anyone in the story and removing at least one subplot I already thought of, in order to try to make a story that can be told in 50,000 words.

And interestingly enough, National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo occurs every November AND the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. A novel in one month. Which so fits into my plan to really, deliberately write a shorter novel to fit within the Traditional Regency parameters… And I've polished off my other things so this is perfect timing.

I just have to figure out the plot. You see, I'm not what you'd call a "pantster" which is someone who writes by the seat of her pants. I've tried it and it's generally not worked at all well for me. And I've "won" at NaNoWriMo (written 50,000 words in 30 days) twice now—but only because I had a very brief outline of what I wanted to write. Without that, I would have a heck of a time grinding out that many words.

Let me make it clear, however, that it's not like a real outline. It's more like this: I break the book down into chapters. I figure each chapter is going to have about 3 scenes that accomplish something for the purpose of driving the hero and heroine into their big black moment of despair.

So I start a file that has chapter headers—one for each chapter. Now 50,000 words is about 200 pages (standard manuscript) and a chapter is about 20 pages (or around 8 pages if you are e-publishing) give or take. So you need about ten chapters to start with.

After creating ten Chapter So-and-So headings, I then just put in my 3 plot points. For example:

Chapter One

  • Introduce Elizabeth—preparations for a party
  • Party—she meets Alexander
  • Alexander inadvertently finds out Elizabeth used to write poems and he lambasted her poems

That's usually all I write, although I may elaborate if the points don't give me enough clues about what I had in mind. For example:

  • Introduce Elizabeth—preparations for a party—she wants to get married but she's not sure she's desperate enough to marry the man next door, Alexander. The party is to welcome him home and Elizabeth's aunt has been working to arrange a marriage between the two.
  • Party—she meets Alexander and rather likes him—maybe the arranged marriage won't be so bad and she'll finally live down the humiliation of having published a book of poems. She believes that once she gets married, she'll assume the mantle of wife and once and for all, everyone will forget she ever wrote poetry. She wants to get beyond all of that. Desperately.
  • Alexander inadvertently finds out Elizabeth used to write poems and he lambasted her poetry because it was so trite and sickeningly sweet. He "does the math" and realizes she was actually only sixteen when the book was published, but while this is uncomfortable because he knows she will probably hate him if she finds out, he is not ashamed of what he did. Because bad poetry is bad poetry and she obviously had talent. He had hoped that his review would challenge her to reach her potential instead of writing pathetic odes to birds and flowers. She could do better and he wants her to do better. He believes all artists should either strive to do best they can do or stop messing around.

That's the long version. I generally don't write a long version—I generally just write sketchy points with about three or four words.

However, the long version brings me to another device which is badly misunderstood and unloved. You see, before you write the story (particularly if you want to write 50,000 words in 30 days) now is the time to write the synopsis. Oh, no! The dreaded synopsis! But wait! I exclaim (with improper punctuation). Writing a succinct synopsis does something that not even plot points or an outline will do for you.

Because you see a synopsis has information in it you need to write your story. A synopsis is really just a few pages filled out according to a nice little formula.

  1. S/he did this because of X.
  2. Her/His action resulted in Y.
  3. S/he felt Z way about the result so they decided to do V.
  4. [Loop back to item 2 and repeat until done with the story.]

If you follow that formula, you should have an escalating series of events/decision/character reactions that lead ultimately to the huge big black moment when everything is almost lost (but isn't—or in the case of some of my more angrily imagined stories—where every character dies horribly) but the characters finally win through and are drawn to the conclusion.

What this synopsis does for you that the outline doesn't is: show you your story holes. I can't tell you how many times I've finished a manuscript and been a little uneasy about it. I then (stupidly) write the synopsis (instead of writing it at the beginning) and I start getting into a predicament where the hero or heroine does V for no good reason whatsoever. Or the hero or heroine had a completely stupid reaction to whatever resulted from their actions. Or the story flow just did not make sense.

'Cause when you go through that formula for your major plot turning points, and include your character's reactions and his/her decisions and resulting actions, you start to see what hangs together and what does not.

I really think writing the synopsis ought to be done first. And interestingly enough, did you know that a lot of published authors write only the synopsis and first three chapters to submit to their editor? There is magic in that. The synopsis fixes the plot up front and the first three chapters are necessary to find out who your characters are and how they interact with one another. I don't care how many character sketches and interviews you do, until you start writing, you don't know your characters. And when you've written about 3 chapters, you'll find out who your characters are, and you'll discover many, many amazing things about them that will have a later impact on the story.

So even though you may have a plot outline and a synopsis, don't expect to actually follow them. They are the aura of your story. Or perhaps the bones. Either way, by the time you finish, your final manuscript will probably not even be close to what you outlined or put in your synopsis.

Does that make the outline and synopsis bad? No. They are just signposts and ideas. Things to keep you going in the right directions. The synopsis in particular keeps you on track with what your characters need to get them to the crisis and back out alive. (If you intend them to come out alive—I'm sorry, but I have a very black heart sometimes.)

Circling back, finally, to NaNoWriMo—writing that minimalist outline may be enough (hey, the chapter headings alone give you 20 words toward your total of 50,000, meaning you just need to write 49,980 more). Or if you're serious about writing a real book, the outline and the synopsis together may give you the signposts you need to write quickly without staring at a blank screen wondering what the heck you should do for the next scene.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

I'm getting ready for NaNoWriMo and by George I'm going to make it to 50,000 words again this year and tell Alexander and Elizabeth's story whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Signing

Sunday, Oct 14, the Durham Library held a Regency Tea for five authors who write novels based on the Regency period (roughly 1800 through 1820—those dates are not precisely accurate, but they are used by most publishers to define this genre). NY Times Bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries, Claudia Dain, Deb Marlowe, Susan Ralph and me—Amy Corwin—attended and it was so much fun! In between munching on fabulous desserts including rich, luscious brownies, tart lemon squares, and lovely warm spinach & feta cheese filled phyllo dough treats, we had a panel discussion about the art of writing. It is interesting to see how many people would like to write. I don't know how many will actually set pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and write a complete novel, but I think it's one of those things a lot of people dream of doing.

I feel very lucky to have been able to both finish a novel and see it published. And tada it is now in print and available from Amazon.com — what a real thrill to finally see my work in print. My publisher shipped me my box of author copies and I took all of them to the Regency Tea. We gave out some as door prizes and I gave a copy to the Durham Library with the hopes that they may like it and buy other books in the Cotillion line from Cerridwen Press.

And speaking about promotion—I guess I'm hopelessly na├»ve but I got a note from Arthur C. Clarke, the Science Fiction writer. I really admire his work and have almost every book he has ever written, including my favorite "Childhood's End". I can't see him trolling the Internet for new, relatively unknown writers—particularly Regency romance writers—but hey, it's nice to think I really did get tapped on the shoulder by him. It reminds me of the time I was visiting Historic Williamsburg and walking through the gardens behind the Governor's Palace. I was just walking along thinking about weeds when low-and-behold, I saw Isaac Asimov! I was absolutely stunned. Like a blithering idiot, I stumbled over and shook his hand, mumbling things like, "I've read everything you've ever written!" He must have thought I was a moron, but he was exceptionally polite. And I totally missed the opportunity to take a picture of him—drat! You know, now that I think about it, I wonder if he was really polite because he thought I was some kind of crazed stalker. Of course that was before there were all these crazed stalkers running around and you wouldn't expect to find one rambling through the formal gardens behind the Governor's Palace in Historic Williamsburg, but still…

So—I love Science Fiction and I have a great deal of respect for those who can mesh real science into an interesting and readable story. So it's nice to dream that Arthur C. Clarke really does want to be my friend. J The Internet is really a weird place.

Tonight I have to get back to real work. I've been polishing up the first three chapters and synopsis of a new manuscript with the working title of Whacked! I don't know if I've mentioned it before. I sort of think I might have. This one is a contemporary mystery—on the light side, though. With luck, my agent will like it and ask to see the rest—then, gulp—I'll have to polish the rest of the rough draft and see where that one leads. This writing game is definitely not for sissies or people with easily wounded egos. Although having a truly bad memory helps on that last bit. I get rejections, but I can't remember them. But I know I have gotten them—if I could only find the file I thrust them into—Oh, here it is. Over one hundred and counting…

But that's the point—everyone gets rejections—everyone. The best thing you can do is forget them and write something else.

Which is what I need to do…right now, so good night and sweet dreams!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Going Crazy

So I took a few days off work and got the fabulous news that my book, Smuggled Rose, is out in print. And Amazon is carrying it, although it says it will take a few weeks to get the books in and deliver. I'm hoping they are just exaggerating. And I got my box of five Author's copies that I can put on my bookshelf. I'll probably just end up giving them away, but they are nice to look at for the moment. It's very surreal.

And really interesting because I sent the Amazon link to a relative and they wrote back: "Thanks for the link. Who is this Amy Corwin?" Well, uh, that would be me. Duh. This isn't the first time that I've noticed that most people have no idea what I'm saying to them, 90% of the time. They stand there with smiles on their faces and say, "Oh, that's so cool…" But ask them twenty minutes later what I said and it's like I never existed, much less said anything.

Maybe other people have experienced the same thing. Maybe that's why folks at work who call me all in a tizzy about something are so thrilled when I keep my mouth shut and just listen. By the time they finish talking, more often than not, they've figured out the problem they called me about while they were talking. And then they thank me. Hey—no problem. All I had to do was listen. Although if they don't figure it out, then I actually do have to do some work and resolve the issue which generally stinks (and is why I needed to take a few days off so that my nervous rash would go away).

Anyway—while I was lolling around not working, I went way off track and wrote a short story. A crime story. And started a second crime story. I've found I like to write short stories. I like just writing about that one moment when the world shifts for a character. Of course, I just swooped through the web and found that most publishers of short crime fiction close down during the month of October and don't accept submissions, but that just gives me time to polish and think about where to submit it. And worry about it and decide it's horrible. That's the bad part.

An intelligent author who just had a traditional Regency come out in paperback might also worry about things like: What the heck was she thinking to write a crime story? Well, I do read a lot of them. And I like them. And I'm particularly fond of those Florida Crime stories and funny crime stories like Dave Barry wrote (you know—the one they made a movie out of with Tim Allen). And I just read a great Geezer Noir collection of short stories that were really a riot. So I have a new goal: to one day get a short story included in one of those anthology collections.

I love anthologies.

So onward and upward. In November, I'm going to join National Novel Writing Month again because I'm going back to traditional Regencies. I have a half-baked idea for a novel about a lady Poetess and a Critic. No murder or mayhem, unfortunately, but I'm going to try to crank out 50,000 words in November and see if I can't get another Regency historical published.

Who knows? I may get lucky!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Eight Random Facts

Tonight's blog is just for fun. A wonderful writer friend of mine, Edie Ramer "tagged" me to write eight random habits or facts about myself in my blog (or web site—whichever is appropriate). Then I get to tag eight other people so they can do the same.

You know there's that seven degrees thing, i.e. you're only ever seven people (or whatever) away from some hugely famous person or thing…I keep wondering if that's true and somewhere if you keep following all these various tags, someone is going to tag some outrageously famous and cool person like Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, or the dynamic writing duo of Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Although if you really knew such an overworked, completely stressed out person, you wouldn't do such a thing to them.

That's not to say that the authors I'm going to "tag" aren't also outrageously cool and famous. Hmmm, I don't think I'm going to continue down that path because I can see far too many "open mouth, insert foot" opportunities. I'll just say that the folks I'm going to drag into this cauldron are people who either owe me a favor, have done something so egregiously bad to me that I'm now getting my revenge, or I just happen to know they have a blog or website and hope they won't be too upset.

My Eight Thingies

  1. This bites: I hate lists. Oh, sure, I do lists for work and make copious notes for myself, but only when I'm losing my mind. Which is pretty much daily. So that's number 1. Grrrh.
  2. I hate hot weather. It almost can't be too cold for me. Perhaps not entirely true—I'm not terribly fond of temperatures dropping into the minus numbers, but at least with the cold you can put another layer of clothing on. Unfortunately, there are only so many layers of clothing you can take off and once you're down to the skin, that's pretty much it. If you're naked and still hot, there's not much else you can do except get heat rash and a boat-load of chiggers because you're walking around without sufficient protection. So hot weather is out. [This is turning into a "what I hate" list—I need to do a 180.]
  3. I love autumn. I get a huge burst of energy, both physically and mentally. I write volumes in the fall and early winter because I know come summer, I'm going to be a droopy, miserable little brat who just vegetates in the coldest room of the house and complains about having hot feet. (Which reminds me that I also hate made beds, i.e. beds with the sheets tucked in nicely, because I feel hog-tied when I get into them and spend hours trying to pull the sheets out so that my feet can be free and breathe.)
  4. My husband thinks I'm an alien. He claims that anyone who thinks her feet need to breathe at night (see #3) and who can't tolerate another person putting their hand on the top of her head because it makes her feel like she's smothering is obviously not a human being from the planet Earth. Apparently, he has concluded that I breathe through my feet at night and through the top of my head during the day (like a whale—and I'm getting pretty much the same proportions, too). And all because I yank the sheets out so my feet aren't covered at night and I go bananas when he lays his hand on the top of my head (and that is not funny even if he does nearly pee in his pants with laughter when he does that). Nonetheless, I do actually breathe through my nose. As far as I can tell. That other stuff is just crazy and it beats me where he came up with those ridiculous ideas.
  5. My cat has no respect for me. If I turn around to get something out of the fridge while I'm getting my meal together, when I turn back, the cat is either drinking my milk out of my glass or eating my food off my plate. He doesn't do that to my husband, although it could be that he objects to my husband's beer. It's getting to be a challenge to eat before the damn cat tries to shoulder his way in and grab the food right out of my mouth. And he's got really bad halitosis (the cat—not my husband). I'm not sure about the dogs, either. Lately, they've been eyeing my plate and leaning over, hoping to slobber enough onto my food to gross me out and make me give it to them. My husband is definitely the alpha dog, but our pack of dogs treat me more like I'm the zeta dog—cute and sort of nice to have around, but completely irrelevant when the alpha dog strolls in.
  6. I am constantly amazed by Cops. And I'm amazed that I watch Cops.
  7. I love technology. I love Wired magazine. Even my husband reads Wired and he's a freakin' biologist who moans that we should forget all this Windows/GUI stuff and go back to MS-DOS (I'm still mad at Xerox/Apple for introducing a GUI OS—when I first saw it, I wanted to sit and weep with frustration in front of the computer—and I loved computers. I don't know what the stupid pictures are, what to do with them, or how anything works and I despise it. I hate just randomly clicking on pictures that mean nothing to me and hoping it will turn out okay. Thank goodness Microsoft will now let you install a server with no GUI interface! Hip-hip-hooray!) Anyway, I wish I was rich enough to buy all the electronics and doo-dads I'd like. And I wish I had enough time to actually learn to use all the electronics I currently have. Wow, sorry, this was really off-topic.
  8. I grow roses. A lot of roses. And I'm a birder (i.e. I go bird watching). And in college, I almost became a biologist. Weird. Thank goodness I came to my senses and just married one, instead.

So those are some bizarre-o factoids about me.

And now here are the eight poor authors who will now have to bare their souls in their blogs or websites:

Jenna Black

Kristina Cook

Caren Crane

Charlotte Featherstone

Lisa Fuller

Deb Marlowe

Susan Ralph

Mai Christy Thao