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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Prospect: A Movie Review of Sorts

Here's one for my Song of Scarabaeus readers...

I'm constantly disappointed by science fiction movies these days, and after watching Netflix's Prospect (2018) tonight, I've figured out why.

When it comes to science fiction, my favorite trope is "gritty spaceship and rag-tag crew". It's why I wrote the Scarabaeus series. Midway through writing that book, I remember reading about a forthcoming "gritty spaceship with ragtag crew" series called Firefly and I felt like Joss Whedon had extracted it from my head. (My husband now tells me it's all just Starcraft, which I'd never heard of.)

Anyway, I don't know why I like gritty spaceships and ragtag crews but that's my preferred subgenre. The sci-fi tropes I enjoy less are horror elements, bodysnatching in all its guises, a present or near-future setting, or post-apocalyptic setting, supernatural or magical technology, and gimmicks like time travel. There are movies with these elements that I've enjoyed, but they don't capture my imagination so well.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

DISTORTION (Book 5) is posting now on Wattpad!

(That makes it sound like it's posting itself.)

So I've started posting book 5 of the Wynter Wild series to Wattpad, where you can read it for free. The blurb is below.

The title Distortion follows the musical theme of the previous books, and refers to what's going on in this family and in Wynter's life in particular.

Wynter has grown on me more and more as I've been writing these books. She made herself a "blank slate" when she left the cult-like ashram, realizing that to survive she needed to fit in and forget the past. Of course no one can completely put the past behind them, and in Distortion everyone is realizing just how much the past, specifically their mother, still affects them today. It has distorted Wynter's new identity, her social abilities, her concept of love, and her relationships.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Wynter Wild Books Spotify Playlist

In no particular order, these are the songs mentioned, or played in some form, in books 1-4 of my Wynter Wild series. The text link takes you to Spotify, and the embedded graphic plays a sample of each song. I'll be making more playlists in the future to give you an idea of what the various bands in the book sound like.

I'm not necessarily a huge fan of all these songs. They're just the ones that get a mention. The majority are classics because, as Indio says, no one's playing rock n' roll anymore...

A few notes about where the songs appear:

Indio gave Jenny the sheet music to The Devil Went Down to Georgia for her birthday.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Genre Expectations

Lost Melodies is the fourth instalment of the Wynter Wild series. Wynter is a teenager, but this series is not YA.

On Wattpad, where I'm uploading the book, readers skew young. The stats say 30% of my readers are under 18, 30% are 18-25, 30% are unspecified, and the remaining 10% are 25+. YA, of course, is read as eagerly by adults as by teens, but the expectations are the same: as a publishing genre, YA by definition deals with teen concerns.

The Wynter Wild series isn't YA. Three of my POV characters are adults, but the New Adult label doesn't fit either because (1) they are male, and (2) their stories aren't romances. I used to refer to the series as a Family Saga although it only covers a few years. An author who rated the series on Goodreads called it "New Adult Family Saga" and I like that... but it's not a genre that publishers recognize. (Publishers need to know where to "shelve" a book and a random crossover is a hard sell.)

In addition to publishing genres, there are Wattpad genres - not only main categories such as General Fiction (where I put this series) and Teen Fiction, but also tags by which readers can search for what they like. My series has certain tags for visibility, such as teen and cult and music, as well as the popular "little sister/older brothers"-type tags (a subgenre I never knew existed when I wrote the series). This subgenre comes with expectations of its own that I can't fulfill...

Friday, April 19, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Making Word Do What You Want, Part 2

In Part 1 of "Making Word Do What You Want" we looked at your options for making attractive matching page lengths. Today, I'm talking about hyphenation. If you're finding this series of Nitty-Gritty series useful, please share!

The alignment of text in a novel is fully justified, meaning the left and right margins are flush (even). The software achieves this by stretching out the spaces between words to a greater or lesser extent. Professional layout software also adjusts letter spacing (to a less obvious extent), which Word doesn't do.

The longer the words you use, and the larger the font (i.e. the shorter the line length), the more likely it is you'll get ugly spaces between words. In the sample below (I've increased font size to emphasize the problem), the first paragraph looks fine, but the words in the second paragraph are widely spaced because the word "important" didn't fit on the previous line:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Making Word Do What You Want, Part 1

When I worked in a publishing house, the job of laying out books, or "layout", belonged to the inhouse book designer and the (out of house) typesetter. They used book design software such as InDesign, which has magical tools to address the nitty-gritty formatting issues to turn a raw manuscript into a beautiful book. (I come from the textbook publishing world, where things are ten times more complex than novels.)

Can a word processor like Microsoft Word replicate professional layout software? The answer is no, but you can come close. In the next two posts I'll look at two things layout software does with ease to make a book look nicer, and which you can sort-of replicate in Word... but with warnings and caveats. Today, page length.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The House on Tiger Mountain - plan view

If you're reading book 4 Lost Melodies on Wattpad right now, I created a plan of the old farmhouse that the family buys in Washington state. My previous post showed the front view.

So, below is the plan with the room assignment when they first move in (it changes over time, and the furniture isn't accurate - e.g. some bedrooms are "junk rooms" rather than having beds in them).

Shown here is the first floor (what we call the "ground floor" in the UK and Australia) of the house on the right, with the basement on the left slotting underneath, and the second floor on the left fitting directly on top.

This gives you an idea of what the deck looks like, as it wasn't visible in the front-view image in the previous post.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The House on Tiger Mountain

My book family buys a run-down old farmhouse at the end of book 3 (Rhythm & Rhyme) on Tiger Mountain, east of Seattle. It's on five acres of land backing on to a state forest, and is hidden behind a stone wall.

This house becomes a character in its own right in the series, so I spent some time imagining it, drawing the plans, and eventually mocking up a view from the front. The house is eccentric, which in this case is another way of saying *ugly*, built in stages over the years.

I think I have a slight obsession with houses. We grew up with huge drawerfuls of Lego, and all I ever made with Lego was houses. I didn't play with the houses. I just made them. The three most fun parts about making Lego houses were:

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Future of My Books on Wattpad


I am a terrible salesperson and it's never really bothered me. Now that I'm taking the indie publishing route, apparently I have to start doing the sales thing. I've read all kinds of advice on how to market books, and I've been going about it sort of haphazardly. I am trying a particular marketing strategy in the pricing of my books, although I'm not sure I'll stick to it.

Books 1 to 4 in the Wynter Wild series have been, or will be, uploaded first to Wattpad. I chose that platform because it's huge, it allows for immediate interaction with readers, which I love, and it's free to use for everyone. Wattpad has a young-skewing audience, many of whom don't (and probably won't ever) pay for ebooks, so it's been more of a testing ground to discover readers' reactions.

I always intended to release Little Sister Song as a free ebook to generate some interest in the series, and I've also released book 2 Out of Tune for free as well.

So now I need to formulate a marketing strategy for the remaining books (7.5 of which are written).

Monday, April 8, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Body Text Font Choices

If you're formatting your novel (either the raw manuscript, or an existing ebook) for distribution as a paperback, choosing the main font of the text is one of your most important decisions. After all, it's what your reader is going to be staring at for the next few hours of their life.

Commercial novels usually use serif fonts for the body text (although you'll find sans serif in YA and children's titles). It's allegedly easier to read because the serifs group the letters together so that the eye more easily sees a single word as it travels over the page. Readers are probably therefore more used to seeing serif fonts, and for the body text I think it's a good idea to use them. Chapter headers can be anything you like, of course, as long as they're legible.

Google "best fonts for a novel" and you'll find lots of lists of recommendations. But aside from how the font looks, and whether you can afford it (or whether your free fonts have a commercial license), there are some other considerations. All the fonts mentioned below are free (or come with Word).

Little Sister Song - paperback edition

If you like the feel of a book in your hand... Little Sister Song is now available as a paperback edition at most Amazon marketplaces (check your local site):

Buy at Amazon US
Buy at Amazon UK

Unfortunately, Amazon Australia doesn't offer this service so my Aussie readers will have to order from Amazon US and pay shipping. Even I wasn't able to order a proof copy, so please let me know if you do order the book and discover something horribly wrong with it!

I worked for many years as an editor, helping to create books with other people's names on the cover. I remember the thrill of receiving my box of author copies of Song of Scarabaeus and holding in my hands a book with my name on the cover.

And this time, the book with my name on the cover is one I wrote, edited, and formatted as an indie publisher!

My current blog series looks in-depth at formatting your manuscript for a print book,

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Font Sizes Part 2

These posts are a formatting series for indie authors looking to produce professional looking paperbacks. In part 1 of my tips on font sizes, we looked at the cover, title page, copyright page, and chapter headings. In part 2 we'll be looking at body text, and header and footer formatting, including a bit of technical stuff to get things looking nice. Other posts in the series are listed and linked at the bottom of this one.

Body text 
Font size for your main body text is the one you've probably thought about the most. You may decide to deliberately use a large font for the visually impaired, but if not then take a look at a commercial novel and compare it to a printed page of yours. The biggest error I see is using too large a font. This makes your book more expensive for readers (or lowers your profit) because it'll increase the length of your book, and it doesn't look professional.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Font Sizes Part 1

In my ongoing series, I'm looking at all the little things you can do, as an indie author, to make your paperback book look more professional. I'm assuming you're starting with an ebook manuscript but it still applies if you're starting from scratch (i.e. with the scrappy all-over-the-place file you actually typed your story into, using whatever font and color appealed to you that day).

How do I decide on my font size?

There are actually several points during the formatting of your print book where this question needs to be asked. When you format an ebook manuscript, it's less important because most ebook devices allow the user to adjust the font size.

Flick through a commercial novel and you'll see different fonts and font sizes used throughout:

Friday, April 5, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Hard & Soft Section Breaks

Today's nitty-gritty is all about section breaks. Not Microsoft Word's section break that enables you to change the layout, margins, headers & footers separately, but the visual section breaks on a printed page, that little row of asterisks or hashes or wingdings used to separate time jumps, POV shifts, or a new location.

You don't control the pagination in an ebook, beyond adding forced page breaks to start each chapter (which may or may not appear in the final ebook, depending on the platform). The text flows from start to finish on your readers' Kindles and Nooks and mobile devices without page numbering. To delineate "jumps" in the narrative in an ebook, you've probably used a centered set of symbols, with a line-space above and below, to indicate these shifts:

* * *

Bonus points if the symbols are in sync with the book theme. I should've gone with:


But I wasn't organized enough.

Did you know there are two kinds of section break?

Nitty-Gritty Formatting Your Indie Print Book

I recently re-formatted my ebook Word files for to create files for paperback printing via Amazon. It can be a laborious process, especially for perfectionists (that's me). Establishing a checklist is invaluable for working methodically.

This series of blog posts gets into the nitty-gritty of making your paperbacks... beautiful! It will also make your checklist longer.

Okay, perhaps most of us, as readers, don't care whether our paperbacks -- I'm talking about the interior text -- are beautiful. But I labor over those little details. So, let's get stuck into it.

You probably know the standard advice, and if you don't you can look at a commercially printed book and figure it out -- such as:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Three Horn Toots

It's been a weekend of headaches jumping though Amazon's hoops to get the plagiarized versions of my first two books removed from their store. This process reset to 99c the "permanently free" price-matching Amazon did for me, but it looks like the books are free once again in the Australian and US stores. I've asked for them to be free across all marketplaces.

On April 1st, Little Sister Song hit the top 100 free Kindles in the Literary Fiction category, which was a huge and pleasant surprise. Today it's still there, ranked at #78, and Out of Tune is at #99. I took screenshot evidence! Thank you to readers who downloaded the books. Breaking the #100 barrier is important because it then appears in the Best Sellers lists, which means readers browsing the category for something to read will come across it, even when they've never heard of the author.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

FREE books on Amazon and funny pirated copies

UPDATE 2 April: In the process of Amazon removing the pirated versions, they reset the prices of my books, so they won't be free again for another 2-3 days.

I managed to persuade Amazon to "price match" my books with Smashwords and Barnes & Noble -- so they are now free! This was my original intention when I released the ebooks, but it's not possible to set a KDP book to free when you first publish it. However, they are now free -- at least until (and if) I enroll them in Kindle Unlimited (which will require removing them from the other retailers and Wattpad).

There are currently pirated versions of both books for sale on Amazon (how bold is that!) priced at around $4 (the price changes by the hour, it seems). They have delightful new covers (bonus points for making them sort of relevant??)...

Friday, March 29, 2019

Caleb's House Rules

By the time Caleb was a young teenager, he had pretty much taken over running the household. Over the years, he established a lengthy unwritten list of house rules to keep control over his brothers (and later, Wynter). Here's a list of most of the rules mentioned in the books (including later books you won't have read yet). The numbering system is a "running joke", as Indio describes it -- a number is given whenever the rule is mentioned (and listed here), but they're not written down in the Fairn household and change randomly.

Although rule 1 states only Caleb makes the rules, his siblings have given it a shot now and then, as you can see.

So... would you survive in Caleb's house? The full table of rules follows...





Wednesday, March 27, 2019

DIY Cover design step-by-step

Given my history working in publishing, I figured I should be able to manage self-publishing as a one-woman team... And I sort of have, along with, of course, the help of a huge knowledge base written by generous experts on various blogs, and my beta readers.

Today I'm looking at my cover design process for the Wynter Wild books -- for the indie authors out there who don't have design experience and want to do it themselves, you might find it helpful. Note, I'm not a designer so my experience comes with editing book covers and providing feedback in a professional setting. I take my hat off to designers of all stripes and what I've learned comes from watching them work.

Because I did these covers on the cheap, I started with a free stock image from Pixabay, which has royalty-free images for personal and commercial use. (I also spent $49 at Shutterstock for a ten additional images used in later covers.) There are other similar sites but I find the search engine on Pixabay better than most -- that is, if you search for "guitar girl" you'll get pictures of girls with guitars instead of pictures of girls and pictures of guitars.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Introducing Blunderbelly

In my Wynter Wild series, middle brother Indio plays in a college band called Blunderbelly. It sounds like a name they dreamed up while drunk or high, and I have no idea how it came to me as I was neither at the time...
Blunderbelly's never gonna make the big time. I love it, and I love those guys, but no one's really listening to rock music these days.

No one but me??

Blunderbelly consists of Indio Fairn on lead vocals and guitar, Turk on lead guitar, an unnamed bass player, and Eduardo on drums (who could use a lesson or two from Jesse, according to Jesse). They play a mix of covers and original music.

To give you an idea of the sort of music Blunderbelly plays, here's a list of songs that sound like them.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Lost Melodies: Sneak Peek

Sneak peek at the first chapter (2500 words or so) of Lost Melodies, book 4 of the Wynter Wild series. Hi to my Wattpad readers who've headed this way! I'll be uploading the complete book, chapter by chapter, to Wattpad when I've finished editing.

CLICK "read more" to keep going...

Jesse kept the hot brunette in his line of sight as he got on all fours on the mat for some spinal waves. Her fantastic body was the second-best thing about his morning so far.

Best. Yoga class. Ever.

“Inhale. Connect to your deep inner core strength. Exhale. Connect to your outer core strength. Inhale…”

The instructor’s soothing voice led them through the exercises. The brunette glanced over her shoulder at Jesse with a coy smile as she extended her lithe body into a side angle pose, and demonstrated her admirable flexibility by arching back into the camel pose. Jesse did his best to keep up, conscious of not straining anything.

When flirting at yoga, how big a risk of injury should one take?

Sunburnt Stars: A Conversation That Happened #11


Friday, March 22, 2019

Writer's Bible: Keeping Track of All the Stuff

Today I'm talking about bibles ("books" or "scrolls"), a term writers and screenwriters use to refer to their notes.

The more you write in a particular world, the more vital a bible becomes. This can be especially true if you're writing genre fiction, where you're inventing a world. I'm writing a contemporary series and yet somehow my bible has become... huge.

I use Google Docs to organize my work - my straightforward method is simply to apply H1, H2, H3 levels as I go, to organize information, and then go to View / Show Document Outline, which puts your headings down the left side of the document as a quick contents list. Word has the same feature (View / Navigation Pane).

There are two kinds of information that go into my bible:

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Smashwords author interview

I've written an author interview at Smashwords (based on their suggested questions) to share a bit more about my writing life and process, and the Wynter Wild series. Check it out here.



If you have any additional questions you'd like to see on there, let me know by commenting here, and I'll add them.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cover reveal! Book 4 Lost Melodies


Here 'tis! Lost Melodies is the fourth installment of the Wynter Wild series. I've almost finished uploading book 3 to Wattpad, and it'll be a few weeks before I start uploading book 4. NOTE: It will be tagged "Mature" on Wattpad, as it's suitable for ages 16+ due to adult themes (among other things).

Meanwhile, I'll be posting a bonus chapter there (actually part of the prequel, which will become flashbacks in a future sequel) about the first time Wynter and Xay met at the ashram.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Little Sister Song - free on Smashwords

I've published Little Sister Song to Smashwords and it's free! Available in several formats.



I'm hoping to persuade Amazon to make the book free there, too, which was always my intention.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Little Sister Song is out now on Kindle


 Little Sister Song on Amazon
I've just published Little Sister Song (book 1 of the Wynter Wild series) on Kindle:


The book also has a Goodreads page.

My intention was to distribute the first couple of books (at least) free to generate interest in the series, so I've been posting it to Wattpad. Given Amazon has a minimum US$0.99 price, that's what it costs. If I enrol the book in Kindle Unlimited to make it free for subscribers, I'll have to remove it from Wattpad for at least 90 days - I'm debating whether to do that.

If you'd like to support the book please consider a purchase or writing a review. The book and its sequels have had a phenomenal response on Wattpad from loyal readers, and I'll be forever grateful for their support that encouraged me to keep putting the book out there.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

What's it like on Wattpad? Part 3

I've been talking about my experience so far after a couple of months sharing my books on Wattpad.

Wattpad allows you to tag your stories so interested readers can find them. It was through the tag system I first realized there's a sub-genre of general and YA fiction revolving around siblings. In most cases, the protagonist is a girl in her early-to-mid teens, the siblings are mostly older, mostly boys, and the stories are first-person accounts.

There are sub-sub-genres in this category. I've found stories where the relationships are fairly toxic (the girl is bullied and physically abused... all in good fun??!), where she's subjected to intrusive or humorous overprotectiveness by her brothers, or where she has a more easy-going relationship with her siblings punctuated by endless pranking.

Whatever floats your boat, you can probably find it on Wattpad. [read more]

Friday, February 15, 2019

What's it like on Wattpad? Part 2

In my last post I talked about my reasons for using Wattpad, and how my first two books are doing since I started uploading them, chapter by chapter, about 6 weeks ago.

I wanted to share a few thoughts about how this method of sharing my books differs on a more personal level with the two sci-fi books I had published a few years ago.

Most obviously, Wattpad doesn't pay (although there are ways to monetize your writing). My alternative was to self-publish straight to Kindle and other ebook formats. In the end I decided not to do this because I had zero audience (given this is a different genre and it's been years since I published). The sheer size of the ebook store on Amazon makes it unlikely anyone would find my books before they sank into oblivion. [read more]

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What's it like on Wattpad?


In late December I started uploading chapters of Little Sister Song to Wattpad. That story is now complete on the site, and I've almost finished uploading Out of Tune (book 2) as well. I thought I'd talk a bit about my reasons for using Wattpad to distribute these books, and my experience so far.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Read Little Sister Song on Wattpad

Just a heads-up that Little Sister Song, book 1 of the Wynter Wild series, is now uploaded and complete on Wattpad, a free book platform where books can be serialized. In the future I'll be releasing the first few books of the Wynter Wild series as free Kindles (and other ebooks).

I changed the cover for Wattpad and discovered that adding a figure to the image correlated to an increase in "reads".  Click the cover for a direct link. (You do need to sign up, or log in with your Facebook or Google account.)

Little Sister Song

Getting instant feedback on a story, chapter by chapter, in the form of votes and comments, is certainly a different experience for me. Better still is the chance to interact with readers in real time, as well as to check out the other books they're reading in order to discover new fiction for myself.

I'm in the process of uploading book 2, Out of Tune, and updating every day.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Pure emotion songs

I know, I know, you disagree! Maybe with all five. But don’t blame me. These are Indio’s “pure emotion” songs, meaning, according to him, they bypass the cerebral cortex and drive directly into the brainstem. The list is guitar-heavy because he’s guitar-heavy.

These songs aren't my "songlist" for writing to—I prefer instrumental music for that. Indio is the middle child, a musician and songwriter who also expresses himself through art. When his sister Wynter shows up with her half-formed musical talent and non-standard interpretations, he teaches her what he knows—starting with the blues turnaround, of course. For a short period in her childhood she had access to a radio and listened to classic rock stations. These five classic songs (and bonus), aren’t radio-friendly for various reasons, so she’s never heard them before but Indio considers them essential listening. (Song squares by me.)
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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Ignore this tip: Cast your novel with actors


"Fan casting" is an obsessive pastime of all authors, right?

Many authors.

Some authors.

Only me? No, I know you all do it. I've seen the blogs. And this blog post isn't exactly a writing tip, but rather something useful and slightly creepy that helps me with my characters.

Years ago I read a blog by an author listing which actors she would cast in her book series. That phenomenally successful series did in fact make it to the screen, and for all I know the phenomenally famous author had already signed the movie deal when she started publicly talking about actors. So she had a professional reason to think about these things.

For us merely mortal authors, casting famous faces is a fun fantasy. It can also be something more: a way to visualize and experience our characters to make them easier to get a handle on, easier to write.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Personality Typing for Made-Up People

I became fascinated by personality typing years ago. I see personality typing as a model of actual humans, meaning it's a structure we've imposed on the messy natural world in order to understand it, rather than a real thing. For this reason, I think it probably works better on fictional characterization than actual humans.

In the past I've typed characters at the start of the writing process. Whether or not you have a large cast, it helps to keep personalities distinct. You probably already have broad characters in mind at that point. Reading through personality types to find ones that "match" can help hone the characters.

A few systems to try (I've provided a link for each, but there's loads more info available by Googling, including zodiac signs if you're looking for more arbitrary ideas):

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How do you feel? Writing Emotion

Overusing the ol' hammering heart? I write that way too. But recently I took a deeper dive into writing emotion via your characters' thoughts and reactions, rather than via bodily sensations. The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful resource and a good starting point, but too much hand-trembling, knee-shaking, and trickling beads of sweat can become exhausting to read.

There are several ways to approach the writing of emotions and I tend to be minimalist. Too minimalist! I'm still learning.

I wanted to share a few more links that have helped me get a handle on this. Bear in mind that point-of-view characters are going to narrate their experiences differently on the page, depending on all sorts of factors like personality and level of self-awareness, as well as the specific situation they find themselves in.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

You're writing about WHAT?

There's so much pressure today on writing for the market, writing for your ideal reader, writing for a genre so the publisher feels secure in how to market the book and the bookseller knows where to shelve it.

All this is important but let's not lose sight of why most of us write in the first place. I think writers write for much the same reason as readers read. A reader picks up a book, and sticks with it, in order to escape to that world for a while. A writer writes in order to create that world.

Writers are generally imaginative people and we like to escape for a while into the worlds we created, too! Given the hundreds of hours it takes to write a novel, it had better be a world that captures our heart. Writing the book of your heart doesn't mean abandoning marketing concerns and the rest of it, but it does require some emotional investmentit requires heart.

So don't let anyone get away with asking, incredulously, You're writing about WHAT?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ignore this tip: Don't waste words

Don’t waste words!

I’ve seen this writing tip thrown around as if anything but minimalist sentence structure and short words is the equivalent of purple prose.

I’m setting poetry and short stories and non-fiction aside, because they’re a different breed. In novel writing, I think it’s okay to linger sometimes.

I’m not talking only about description. I tend to skim lengthy descriptions just like you probably do. An effective description of, say, a location, is done by taking into account two things: the perspective of the character experiencing it (what they notice depends on who they are), and the focus on extraordinary details. A bus station has seats, restrooms, a ticket counter, and buses. Everyone knows this, so you don’t need to describe them unless there’s something unusual about either those items or the character experiencing them. For example, my main character Wynter grew up on an isolated commune and has never been to a bus station before. So, for her, the vending machine is unusual and also incomprehensible—a “big, brightly lit cupboard” full of locked-up snacks she’s never seen or tasted.

So, when is it okay to waste words?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Editing: Imposing structure retroactively, part 2

In part 1 of this two-parter we looked at how to create a structural template for your panstered first draft. Today we'll complete the process by using the template to look for holes and pacing problems.

Looking at my Little Sister Song structure, my theme is stated in two parts: Wynter has found home (8%) but Joy got left behind (5%). As the story proceeds, we learn they are all counting on Joy to hold the family together (will she or won't she?), so this becomes more important later. The reader doesn't need to be beaten over the head with theme and may not realize the sentence they just read was, in fact, a statement of the theme. My reference is fairly vague and I think that's fine. But if, at around 5%, you haven't introduced any concept of what the story is about (and I don't mean a lofty idea like Love Conquers All, but a personal, tailored idea for your characters to explore), now is the time to figure out how to do that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Editing: Imposing structure retroactively, part 1

In a previous blog I looked at why “outline first” is not always a useful writing tip, because it can detract from the creative joy of producing words on the page, otherwise known as your first draft.

I have a better use for outlining, and it’s after your first draft is written. The techniques of outlining that you're probably already familiar with can bring order to your existing story, and more importantly uncover pacing and plot problems.

As with all editing tips, the key is to work in an organized manner, choosing your preferred tools, and using them effectively. My preferred tools are Google Docs (or Word), one of several traditional story structure paradigms, and occasionally a million or so sticky notes. If you work with Scrivener or another writing program, these programs have inbuilt structuring tools. I'll focus on a simple word processor, but you could use the same techniques with pen and paper.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ignore this tip: Up the stakes!

Up the stakes!

Heard this before from agents, editors, bloggers, craft books, or critique partners? If you’re writing genre fiction, this may be good advice. A murder mystery (usually) needs a dead body. A thriller probably needs several. A courtroom drama needs some broken laws, the more salacious the better. A science fiction novel needs a species, a spaceship, a planet, or perhaps an entire galaxy at stake.

Or does it?

There have always been quieter novels written in these classic genres. My current series is a family drama without a steadily rising body count or a terminal illnessand, I hope, without melodrama. And yes, I’ve been told by professionals to “Up the stakes!” as well. But I don’t believe external drama or even manufactured friction between characters is always the key to writing a compelling, satisfying story.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Sunburnt Stars: A Conversation That Happened #20

When I was a kid, I used to draw comic strips about girls in boarding school (I mean, what else is there?!). More recently I've tried my (digital) hand at comic strips about writing, living with another writer, and motherhood. The series is called Sunburnt Stars for no good reason.

So, stand by for the occasional randomized little bit of nonsense. (Click to enlarage.)

Here's a seasonal one:


Friday, December 21, 2018

Ignore this tip: Outline first

Pantster or plotter? Whether you’re one or the other, a mix of both, or you chop and change over the course of a project, you’ll discover plenty of useful information from writers on the craft on how to make the most of your preferred method of working. You’ll also find a great deal more information on the latter than the former in terms of plot structure (Hero’s Journey? Plot Embryo? Save the Cat beats?), and methods of creating outlines (Snowflake? Brainstorming and index cards?).

But for those who find themselves stuck in outline mode, unable to complete that first draft, I’m going to offer a different approach that’s worked for me. Let’s start with a bit of layman’s psychology.

I’ve always found that the most useful method of getting words on the page is to feel inspired to do so. Doesn’t matter how many hours in the day you can dedicate to writing, or how many craft books you’ve read, or how detailed your outline is.
Being creatively productive follows directly from loving what you’re doing.
Writing inspiration comes from many places. The ability to maintain the desire to turn that inspiration into a complete novel is pure gold.

What maintains that desire?