What I Write vs. What I Read – July Round Robin

I haven’t always loved to read. As a writer that seems like a scandalous admission but honestly, there had been too much going on inside my head for me to fully appreciate the work of other writers.

In my defense, this was sometime between grammar school and high school, so when I say “younger” I mean pigtails and Barbie dolls. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy writing back then because I did. And in fact, I have a cousin who used to swear I made Barbie dolls more interesting than anyone else. Instead of just going to work and coming home, Barbie (who was given a different name because honestly, who wants to be called Barbie?) we would go on adventures through time or try to avoid dying in some major natural disaster.

I don’t mean that to sound pretentious. At the time I had no idea that the way I played with my toys was any different from other girls.

But all of these stories and “play” in my imagination where I created the rules made reading about someone else’s rules and worlds a little more difficult. And then … Wait Til Helen Comes traumatized me in the 6th grade. I read the whole thing in a day, hiding it under my desk during school because I absolutely had to know what happened.

I’m pretty sure the teacher knew and didn’t say anything.

After that, it was like reading exploded into my life. My Aunt Debi has always been a big reader and every now and then I’d get one of her books. That’s how I found Jurassic Park. And The Hobbit. And this one novel whose title I can’t remember but it was about a big octopus/squid thing that ate people.

Genre’s didn’t matter, and they still don’t. I will read anything and everything, which is probably why I write in various genre’s as well. I broke into this business with Fantasy novels, moved to science fiction, then historical fiction, and I have a horror novel waiting to be edited in October.

The one thing I haven’t been able to write, but I will certainly try it again at some point, has been the murder mystery. I’m not sure why, since I love Sherlock Holmes and intelligent mysteries of that ilk, but those books tend to linger in a dark place. You have to understand your murderer, after all, and I find that unsettling.

I used to watch Criminal Minds but stopped because it was leaving me with that unsettled, distrustful sense too.

Anyway, I’m not sure what attracts people to read any one particular genre. I’ve never been able to restrain myself to just one, so I find it a trifle bizarre anyone could say; “Oh, I only read Urban Fantasies.” Or, in the most snobbish voice I’ve ever heard; “Fantasy and Science Fiction aren’t real fiction. You should read literary fiction. Or at least the classics. Anything else is just drivel.”

… No, really. I’ve heard that.

My response to that was to avoid the literary fiction section of the bookstore for a couple of years. Which I suppose wasn’t fair to literary fiction authors.

See what my fellow authors have to say in this month’s Round Robin …

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/542

(YOU ARE HERE) A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/

Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/rhobins-round-robin/

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog

All About Character – June Round Robin

Sitting on my bunk in the open bay barracks one Sunday afternoon, I entered a debate with the soldier in the bunk next to me. Her name was Culpepper and she was a skinny thing with cropped blonde hair and a thin face that made those awful military-assigned glasses look like goggles perched on her nose.

I can’t say much there, I had to wear those glasses too and any sense of vanity I had was forced to the side for those weeks in basic training.

We were both on the top bunks so much of what was happening in the barracks below couldn’t touch our debate, which was just as well because none of the other soldiers would have cared enough to join the conversation. You see, Culpepper and I loved to read.

This, sadly, set us apart from many others in our platoon. The difference between Culpepper and myself was that, at the time, I had already begun my writing career. Pieces of what would become the novel Sedition were written on 3×5 cards that I kept in my cargo pockets alongside a little pencil.

“Plot is more important than character,” Culpepper insisted and I, holding my latest letter home, shook my head.

“Nobody cares about plot, they care about who that plot happens to.”

“Yeah, but a character who doesn’t grow, who doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, is boring,” Culpepper said, which I had to acknowledge as true.

As the debate went on, we came to a consensus that there had to be an equal amount of plot and good characterization on the page to keep the novel going, but I’ve always remembered that conversation. Not only had I found a fellow reader, someone who I could relate to on an intellectual level in the middle of one of the more stressful moments of my young adult life, but she challenged me to remember that plot and character are inseparable.

Plot is born of character, and a character only grows through the plot.

For example, my current work in progress Song of Swans (title is still in the works) has a character named Cassy. I had originally planned for her to be a thief, someone whose circumstances had made her the lowliest of the low, forcing her into a life of crime.

This aided my PLOT quite well, as there’s a chapter in the outline where I have her executing those particular skills in order to survive.

However, when I went to write that first chapter I found that her character was flat. She had no life. There was nothing there that made me truly care about who she was or why she was a thief or … well, anything at all, really.

After several days of struggling, I came to the realization that I couldn’t have her be a thief.

#1) It felt too Dungeons & Dragons to me. (There’s nothing wrong with Dungeon’s and Dragons if you like to play, I just prefer not to have my fantasy novels be that on the nose.)

#2) There are many fantasy novels out there that have the main character as a thief, and I felt I should challenge myself to step out of the cliche.

#3) Cassy herself was telling me she wasn’t a thief, not really, and if I’d shut that plot up for a second she would be willing to tell me exactly who she was.

So I scrapped the thief bit and discovered that she was a laundress with one unique quality; she could read. Which led me to the obvious question of why she, a commoner in a very medieval-feeling setting, had an education and, more importantly, what she was doing with that education. 

What was she doing with the fact that she can read? Well, she was teaching a fellow slave.

Suddenly I have a character driven plot. Cassy is more complicated and more relatable than the original pages, and while I am left wondering how in heavens a laundress is going to survive everything else that’s headed her way, I’m confident that she’ll show me.

Take a look at what some of my fellow authors have to say about building characters and character arcs in their stories …


Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/rhobins-round-robin/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

First Sentences, Paragraphs, and Chapters – May Round Robin

Topic: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

Having just read Sol Stein’s On Writing, I fear I might be a little biased on this. While captivating beginnings have been hammered into my head since high school, this book brought home the reasons why.

Readers give a novel less time to engage them than they do any other form of media out there. Movies and games and TV shows get more of a chance from potential viewers/players.

For a TV show, you might give the first whole episode a go.

For a movie, it’s something like the first thirty minutes.

For a book …

Well, for a book we get a sentence. And then hopefully a paragraph. And then maybe a page. If the narrative doesn’t engage us immediately, that book gets put down.

Unless, of course, you have lucked out and found that rare reader who will give the whole thing a shot and THEN decide they hated it.

So the pressure that authors are put under for an excellent first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter is seeded in a depressing reality. People just don’t have time to devote to reading the first three chapters of a book before deciding whether or not they’re going to continue.

They need to want to continue from the very start. Something about the character or the situation has to resonate with them, or they will run off to wash the dishes. (Because nothing humbles an author more than realizing washing dishes is more interesting than their book to some people.)

That being said … the rest of the book has to get better. I have noticed during my second drafts that I’m often tightening my work, trying to touch back to whatever resonance I managed to capture in that first page.

And I always, always, always re-read the first chapter before I write the final chapters.

In fact, oftentimes I end up beginning my second draft before completing the last 3 chapters of a book. I have to bring myself back to the start of it, remind myself what promises I made in the beginning that should be carried forward, before I can complete the work in its entirety.

I tend to follow Stephen King’s advice here. I write the first draft “with the door closed.” Meaning it’s just for me and nobody gets to see it and I tell it the way that I want to tell it.

And then I write the second draft “with the door open.” Meaning I take all the tricks of the trade I’ve been taught and write the book for my ideal reader, keeping them in mind instead of just rushing through a flurry of creativity.

This works.

It means that the whole of the story is down, you know what you want to say and where the book is supposed to lead, so you know what you want to set up in that first chapter. And you know what tension you need to keep through the whole book, which gives you a more cohesive story.

See what some of my fellow authors have to say in this month’s Round Robin discussion …

A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

About Reviews – April Round Robin

My mother always taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. While I haven’t always followed that advice, I’m certain many authors wish critics would.

I’ve had one or two reviews that scoured my work to the bone, which … let’s be honest here … required a pint of ice cream to get me through. Mint chocolate chip is the greatest comforter in times like these.

But when push comes to shove, negative reviews are always the ones that I learn from. I’m not a world-renowned author, not yet, and I’m still honing my craft. So anything that teaches me how to be better is good.

Sometimes painful, but good.

Positive reviews help sell a book, but not nearly as much as word of mouth. Like it or not, people talking about your book is still the number one way to push those sales up – or so all the professionals tell me.

I’ve sent my books out to reviewers for their honest opinions and come back with some positive results there, but those results never last for very long. To be honest, sometimes the only result of a positive review is my own feeling of accomplishment; somebody read my book and understood what I was trying to say!

Since Sedition was first published eight years ago I’ve held a 4.36 star average on Goodreads and about the same on Amazon, which I suppose is quite good considering there are a lot of things wrong with my early novels. But the only thing this knowledge serves is to push me to become better.

Maybe it sells one book every three months or so, but at the end of the day it still only pushes me to be better. I don’t have time to check reviews every day or even every week. I check them once or twice a month, see if I have anything new, and then I get back to work.

See what some of my fellow authors think about reviews …

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/how-to-get-reviews
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

March Round Robin – Emotional Rollercoasters

Topic: Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?

Every once in a while there is a solid thumping sound emanating from my desk. It alarms the cats most days but I think my son is mostly used to it.

Alright, so three or four times a week there’s an incessant banging going on in my little corner. This is the sound my head makes as it smacks repeatedly into my keyboard. It generally happens when I’m having to deal with one of the “problem” characters.

Right now that character happens to be Liana, who I’ve talked about before. She’s just too full of angst for me to deal with and I can’t handle her for more than a few minutes at a time. But I’ve had other characters that drain me. Brodis Windringham from Saboteur was a deeply bitter man who put me through a ringer.

Generally speaking, having to write in the antagonist’s voice is always difficult. Their scenes only ever range between 600-1000 words long but once I’ve finished, I have to run off to soak in a bath or take a long walk through the park. Anything to refresh my mind.

Death scenes drain me too.

One particular character died near the end of a book and it took me a week to recover. I gorged myself on mint chocolate chip ice cream and Netflix that week, and once I got back to work it was still traumatic for me.

I suppose that if the death of a character can affect me in such a way then my characters feel very real to me. And in truth they are all, in some fashion or another, a part of who I am. Or at least a sample of traits I would like to inhabit; Trenna with her fearlessness, Megan with her gentle bravery,  Seach’s selflessness, Elsie’s sense of duty …

You get it.

The characters on the page are alive because they display the gamut of human behavior. I imagine this is the same as when you’re reading a favored book. Take, for instance, The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. I recently reread this series from start to finish (it’s 3 books long and includes Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess) and I was asking myself why I loved them so much.

These books can be found in the young adult section, which I rarely read but in this instance I find the books beautiful. Clare’s handle of language, the way she weaves classics into the narrative and lets books affect the characters on the page, never ceases to impress me.

Beyond that, however, are the characters themselves. Tessa and Will and Jem are unique and yet, they couldn’t possibly exist without each other. Together they tell a story of love and loss and grief and hope; a story I am very grateful to have been able to read.

It is my hope, and I imagine it is the hope of every author out there, that their characters come alive for those who take the time to read. It’s only when those characters really breathe on the page that they have any hope of being memorable.

So, essentially, if the characters didn’t feel real to me, then I think I would have missed the whole point of being an author.

Join our Round Robin discussion this month and take a peek at what some of my fellow authors have to say about emotionally draining scenes and the realness of characters on the page …

Participants:
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Dr. Bob Rich htt  http://wp.me/p3Xihq-Wo
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Description – February Round Robin

TOPIC:

Description. What is your saturation point? What is not enough? How do you decide what to include and when to hold back to allow the reader to fill in the blanks? 

With several books under my belt now I’m going to have to admit that … each work is different when it comes to description. I’ve found that Fantasy novels tend to be very description heavy, relying on your ability to craft a picture with words in order for readers to really plant themselves in your work.

However, science fiction tends to be different. Or at least for me it is. While I still have to describe what it’s like to be spelunking through Pluto, it comes off quite different from when I’m describing a character crawling through caves in a fantasy world.

This might be because the basics of Pluto are already given to me by science so I don’t have to reach very far to bring out those descriptions, whereas with a fantasy novel I’m trying to link the reader’s mind with something familiar and yet strange to evoke a unique picture.

Or it might be that the readership is just plain different.

A lot of people read science fiction for the possibilities it inspires and a lot of people read fantasy to escape and immerse into a new world. Which means that description has to be tackled in such a way that you’re giving the reader what they were hunting for.

Here, lemme give two examples …

FANTASY – Torven 

The snow muffled his steps through the wood, chilled the pads on his feet and made the fur on his legs plaster wetly against his skin. An aching stillness was in the forest today, broken only by the whisper of branches high overhead and the distant gurgle of a half frozen stream somewhere to the west of him. He would need to go there soon, it had been too long since he’d had a drink and Torven had been travelling some distance since the morning.

Still he tarried, continuing his lonely trek for several meters before diverting toward the stream. Snow began to drift soundlessly from the sky, catching on the leaves and piling on the ground in large, fat flakes. Some fetched up in the fur on his back but he could not feel them, would not feel them until his body heat finally melted them down to run icy rivulets over his skin.

Being a wolf did have some advantages, he supposed. It would not be as cold for him as it would be if he’d been a man.

SCIENCE FICTION – Debriefing (novelette under construction)(Mild language warning)

“This is bullshit,” Seach said from his bunk.

The tight confines of their transport vessel made his commentary unavoidable and Jorry sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. Thirteen years at war hadn’t managed to temper Seach Barlow’s penchant for insubordination and she was beginning to believe he might never be cured. Her navigation chair squealed as she turned to face him.

The back of the ship consisted of four bunks standing parallel to each other with one small space to walk between them. The low ceiling curved into a semi-circle and one set of thick yellow bracings separated the pilot’s nest from the main hold of the transport. Seach lounged in the top left bunk, one booted foot hanging over the side and she could see his frown through the holographic screen created by his personal computer. His amber eyes glared at the information he was reviewing and her stomach knotted with new worries.

He was reading their new orders.

See how the descriptions differ? The fantasy work is very focused on painting the picture whereas the science fiction gives more of a basic view of where the characters are standing.

Beyond that, we’re also having to look at what’s going on in the scene. If it’s an action scene we obviously don’t want to pause for a lengthy description of what the opposition is wearing. But we also don’t want to be so sparse with our descriptions that the reader doesn’t quite understand what is going on.

For me personally, I try to focus on the character in front of me. The descriptions can’t just be there to look pretty, they have to affect the character too. I’ve found that description says more about character than many people realize because, while I might see the dawn as a sign of hope and inspiration, to a character whose execution has been scheduled for the morning it would be something far more sinister.

This is how I decide what to include and what to take out. If the description doesn’t add to the tone of the character, if it doesn’t somehow reveal something about that character, then I cut it.

Take a look at what some of my fellow authors think about description …

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Dr. Bob Rich  https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/description
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

January Round Robin

When I was in the sixth grade my teacher gave us an assignment that would change my life forever. She began by reading an excerpt from a Fantasy where a person was climbing a mountainside, desperate to get to the cave near the summit.

Only then she stopped.

The assignment was simple; we had to write a page and a half continuing the story. What was in the cave? Who is this person climbing and what are they trying to accomplish?

I took to the assignment with zeal, possibilities exploding in my little sixth-grader head as my pencil did the nearest approximation of cursive writing across the page. Only, I couldn’t stop at a page and a half. Before I knew it, I had an entire notebook filled with the adventures of Amanda Call, a princess warrior from a mythical race of beings whose only purpose in life was to complete tasks divvied out to her by her Wizard.

SAM_2191Its title was A Quest of Bravery and I still have it on my bookshelf today. It’s just a little thing and my cursive was atrocious back then, but seeing it always makes me smile. It reminds me of that moment in the sixth grade when I realized that magic really does exist.

That’s the moment I got started with writing and that magic has followed me ever since. I sense it every time I start a new book, all those endless possibilities swirling around in my head until I find the one that needs to be said, the one that highlights something important about what it means to be human.

That’s why I write.

That’s why I can’t stop writing.

Every book teaches me something, be it about the craft of writing itself or about some aspect of humanity that I struggle to grasp. I think that if I ever stopped writing, it would be tantamount to saying I knew everything and had no need to learn more.

So every book becomes a quest for me, a journey that I must take to better understand myself and the world around me. It’s hard work and sometimes I want to quit, but I’ve found that the harder it is, the more rewarding the ending will be.

Check out what got my fellow authors involved in the craft of writing and what helps them move forward!

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-SK
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/  (YOU ARE HERE)
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com