Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October News and Brains

All The News That's Fit to Print
Absolutely terrific news—The Wild Rose Press has contracted with me for my latest historical mystery, The Bricklayer’s Helper. I am absolutely floating on air. With luck, I should have two books coming out in 2010: The Bricklayer’s Helper; and Vampire Protector—a contemporary paranormal. It’s going to be a fabulous and busy year.

Actually, it’s a little scary, because I’m also planning out the upgrade and deployment of Windows 2008 on our 580 domain controllers, so I’ll be spending a lot of overtime doing that, as well. Let’s hope I have at least a few hours of sleep at night. I don’t do too well without sleep.

So, on the subject of writing, I have two observations to share.

The Importance of Making Life Hard for Your Characters
Everyone knows that you should throw your hero or heroine into non-stop trouble, pretty much from page one. But there is a subtle difference in just thrusting your character into a bad situation, such as having your hero accidentally walk into a murder on his way home from the office, and what I’m about to mention, or having what seems like a good decision turn out badly.

The latter is the real trick and leads to terrific fiction. It may be the difference between ‘okay” books and those that take your breath away. I’m working on a historical suspense at the moment and had one of those a-ha! moments when I was working on the plot and realized that one of the heroine’s good decisions is actually going to plunge her into a world of hurt. It’s the kind of decision that the reader wants her to make. It’s the decision she should make. And she does make it. But it will lead to tragedy.

Yeah. Now that’s a good twist, assuming I can carry it off.

This is, in essence, the opposite of the heroine going down into the dark basement to investigate a noise when she’s just heard on the television that an axe-murderer escaped that afternoon from the penitentiary half a mile down the road. During a rainstorm when all the electricity is off. That’s a dumb decision on the part of the heroine and will frequently lead to readers walking away from the story.

On the other hand, what if she calls the ex-cop living next door, arms herself with a gun and a flashlight, and the two of them go to make sure no one has broken into the basement of her house? That might be smart, because you can’t exactly call the cops every time you hear a sound in the basement, now can you? So this might be a practical and wise thing to do. But what is the ex-cop is actually the partner of the madman who just escaped?

Oh, yeah. Now you’re talking suspense. Although you do need to let the reader know that the ex-cop may not be the best choice. Otherwise, you'll lose a lot of that suspense. (Remember Alfred Hitchcock's briefcase under the table.)

On Another Note--Brains
One other thing I wanted to mention is that I have finally found the solution to many of my writing problems. That might be an exaggeration, because it’s not like I found the magic potion that makes me the next Jane Austen or William Shakespeare. No, not exactly.

What I found was a solution to my problems of keeping track of…stuff. I’ve tried a variety of solutions over the years, ranging from physical, paper notebooks to other filing systems, but none of them worked. Invariably, I did not have the notebook with me when I traveled, or the electronic filing system just didn’t work as I hoped because I “reuse” a lot of characters. My stories are generally interconnected and some characters and/or locations pop up time and time again. And then there is the research.
Research I’ve done in the past for one book may be needed for the subsequent book.
And while I love Writer’s CafĂ© Storylines for plotting out my books, it’s a pain in the patootie to keep track of characters who span multiple books.
And spreadsheets are fine, but just too much work to copy over for new stories, etc.
I've even tried geneology software, but that really didn't work, either, because I had all my other bits and pieces, such as research that I need to span multiple books too.

But I found a solution. See the picture to the left? Well, it's my brain. And I can add all kinds of junk to it and in just a few clicks, get any information I need. It's sweet.

So I am now using The Brain (check it out) to keep track of everything. I’d tried it in the past for my day job, but it didn’t work out for me. But the product stayed in my mind, bubbling in the background. This last week I got terribly frustrated trying to find all the research I did a few years ago for Smuggled Rose on roses grown during the Regency. And locating character sketches I did a year ago for I Bid One American. I wanted to use some of that material and it was spread all over the place in all kinds of different locations on my computer. Some was saved in files under each manuscript’s folder. Some were links in Internet Explorer. And so on.

I can create characters and save all their information/vital statistics/descriptions and link the characters to multiple stories in multiple ways. I can link characters to each other, too, in relationships (Parent to Child or Jumps between heros and heroines, etc). And I can keep all my links and research material—everything—all in one place that can handle multiple links and relationships.
To the left, my brain is centered on Deadliest Rose, my newest manuscript (a historical suspense). All the characters are linked to it, as well as things like roses/rose research, descriptions of the house, Rosewell, etc. If I click on Rosewell, I can see who lives and works there, based upon the relationships I set up.

So my characters from I Bid One American can now show up under Deadliest Rose, as well as I Bid One American. I don't have to laboriously copy over any information from one manuscript's folder to another. I just linked to my newest story, Deadliest Rose. All my notes are there. And web links, snippets, pictures, etc, can be saved under research and linked to any story.
As I mentioned, you can link things in parent child relationships or as jumps. I generally make a manuscript a parent and then link all the characters and research as children. If the characters have relationships, I link can link them, too. Parents can have a parent relationship to their children. Heroes and heroines can be linked by “jump” links. You can see in the picture to the left, centered on Ariadne Wellfleet, that she is linked back to my manuscript Deadliest Rose and a jump link takes her to Charles Vance, the hero of the story (and her love interest). But she also has links to the people who work for her, and to her house, Rosewell.
You can show all kinds of relationships and create links to get to information in all kinds of ways.

I also tag characters with the names of the stories they are in, so that information is immediately visible. And I use labels to indicate who are the heroes, heroines, murderers, butlers, maids, etc.

This is exactly what I needed. I can now keep track of all my characters, research, settings, etc, in a way that relates them to the stories they are in, and yet makes the information available to me for new stories, too, without laboriously copying anything from one set of manuscript files to another.

I doubt The Brain was intended for this purpose, but it is the perfect way to track the information I need as a writer. Yes, it’s terribly expensive (slightly over $200) but really, no more than any other writing software I’ve tried.

In fact, I’m considering playing around with its ability to create web pages and publish “A Writer’s Brain” to my website so people can see how my characters develop and how they relate to each other and they stories they are in. It might be fun.

Who knows what lurks in the minds of writers?