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

The Character-Driven Plot

 

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Here’s a baby turtle for the heck of it.

I began writing Song of Swans several months ago and was determined that it would be more character-driven than my other works. I wanted to get into the depths of my characters, to follow them and find out what happens via their actions.

 

This means that my outline has been smacked around quite a lot. I am currently on chapter five, but the things happening in it are things I meant to have in chapter three.

There are some people who would say that if it is truly character driven then I wouldn’t need an outline at all, I would just discovery write (aka – go by the seat of my pants) but I have found that I need an outline in order to get to the finish of a book.

SO!

For those of you fellow Outliner’s who might be reading this … I learned a trick that I thought I would share.

You see, once I finish writing the chapter – the actual chapter, not the outline – then I go through and I highlight all the things that have happened to my character and make a note of it in the margin. Then I go through everything that’s happened and I write down in my OUTLINE for the next chapter the things that still need to be addressed.

Example …

Cassy steals something in chapter 1. She isn’t a thief so there was already a debate about taking said item, but in the end her curiosity and hunger won out. MARGIN NOTE: Item has not been fully investigated yet.

Chapter 2 has her on the run, trying to get someplace safe before she opens said item and

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And some baby geese, too.

sees her loot. Unfortunately, she gets caught. MARGIN NOTE: Cassy got knocked on the head pretty good and likely has a mild concussion. ITEM STILL NOT INVESTIGATED.

 

Basically, anything highlighted in the margins of the previous chapter needs to be addressed in some fashion during the next chapter. Even if I don’t want to answer it yet, I have to at least mention it somewhere in the narrative.

This has had an unexpected benefit. While I might moan about the fact that I’m two full chapters longer than anticipated at this point, the flow is remarkable. I had always meant for the characters to get to where they are now – currently huddled in a cave, suffering from shellshock – but what is happening on the page is far deeper and makes more sense than what I had originally outlined.

Another thing I’ve had to do is take a step back, breathe, and really put myself in the room with my characters, to let them lead and show me what happens next.

As an author with several published novels under my belt, it seems strange that I would only just now be coming to this point in my writing, but it’s true. And the difference is undeniable.

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

About Writing Different Genre’s

 

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First Fantasy Novel – Oh, noo’s I can’t write anything else EVER!

A long time ago someone told me that if I started as a fantasy author, I would always be a fantasy author. It was stressed that I had to pick one field to master and then go with it, limiting myself to that field.

 

Being the young, easily swayed person I was back then, I believed them … for about a minute and a half.

My current list of titles includes science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. While it could be argued that science fiction and fantasy are the same genres (they’re often in the same section of a bookstore) we’re going to go ahead and draw a big dividing line between them.

I’m sorry, but science fiction is NOT fantasy. Some books might cross the borders between the two, but when push comes to shove you know the difference when you’re reading them.

So it’s safe to say that I dabble in several different genres at this point.

Now, the argument still stands that if you stick with one genre you will eventually “master” it. I use the word “master” lightly because writing is a craft that very few people

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Oh, Snap! My first Science Fiction novel! Eat that, nay-sayers!

master. We all just work hard at pretending like we’ve got it down.

 

What I mean by “master” in this situation is that you will have written so many that you’ve trained your writing brain to create new and enticing material precisely because you have written so much of it. Your mind stretches harder for newer, fresher plot twists and characters and worlds because you’ve already used many of the tropes before.

However, the same can be said even if you cross genre borders. Just because I used a trick in a fantasy novel does not make it free to use in one of my science fiction books. So I still end up stretching my creativity in any given book and that “mastery” is still being developed.

Now then …

There is the issue of “brand.”

If you’ve been in this business for any amount of time, you’ve heard that an author has to have a particular “brand” to sell. James Patterson sells fast-paced thrillers and mysteries. Stephen King sells intricate horror stories. Jennifer Crusie sells quirky romances.

 

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Sweet Holy banana’s, Batman! Here comes a Historical Fiction! I’m out of control now!

How then, do you have a “brand” when you sell books in different genres? I addressed the issue of a brand in another blog post but didn’t really answer how I meant to brand myself.

 

I have admitted to being awful about marketing. It feels so pretentious to wave my books around. My marketing tends to sound more like; “Hey! I wrote this book and I think it’s kinda decent so maybe you could read it? Maybe? I mean, only if you want to. Or if you have the time. Or … whatever.”

Super wimpy, I know. My only defense is that I’d rather be writing.

You know … “mastering” my craft. Trying to get better.

Trying to tell a good story. The sort of story that will hit you in the gut and stick with you for a while. The kind that challenges your point of view and makes you think about how other people live and how you might be able to help those who need it.

I want positive relevance with my books.

For the record, I actually had to hunt for what I wanted my books to be and pinpoint why it is I bother with all the work writing is to figure this out. But in the end, once I had answered the question of “why do I write?” I was able to find my so-called brand.

“Positive Relevance” is what I’m striving for here and what I want my books to represent and be. So … I believe that is what my brand is.  And it should reach across all genres that I write in.

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Rearranging Life for Craft

 

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Flooding fun. 

 

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the days go by. Suddenly it’s 9:15 PM and I haven’t written a single word on my current novel.

How did that even happen?

Sure, I got groceries in the house. Worked a full 8 hours at the day job. Ate dinner with the family. Listened to my son talk about Minecraft some more …

I suppose the day has been full.

Still, the issue of time is becoming more relevant now that there are relationships to cultivate and a partner to talk to about anything and everything that comes to mind. Before, when people would say they just couldn’t find the time to get any writing done, I would smirk at them because …

Hey, single parent. Nothing can be as crazy as holding down a full-time job, being a single parent, and squeezing in writing time, right?

Well … maybe? And maybe not?

Because I find that I have less time now than I did before for writing and I’m having to rearrange some things in order to get stuff done.

That being said, I have an amazing partner in crime now and he is supportive of my craft. In fact, he encourages and urges me ever-onward with the manuscripts because he wants to read them once I’ve finished.

SO!

I am wrestling my schedule into something workable. And I fully and completely admire all writers out there who are in relationships and have families and still manage to get words on the page before crashing into dreamworld.

No, seriously. My proverbial hat’s off to you. You’re all awesome. And if you have any tricks of the trade you want to offer, I’m more than open to hear them.

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

 

Birthday Shenanigans and Release Buzz

I know, I know. I probably should have mentioned all the birthday shenanigans over the last week but … Hey, I was busy doing fun things.

Like visiting Craters of the Moon and going to the movies and eating steak and having pie. (I maintain that pie is better than cake.)

But in the middle of all of that, I also have been reminding people about Persona’s May 1st release date. 

Persona took me over a decade to write.

That’s right, over a decade. I started writing it when I was 19-20 years old and then life happened and I stopped writing and while this could have been considered a “trunk novel” … I just couldn’t let it go.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a “trunk novel” I’ll go ahead and explain. You see, there are many professionals out there who say you need to write a couple of novels to get the feel of storytelling and learn the mechanics of the writing craft. These beloved little first creations are known as “trunk novels” because they are supposed to be buried inside a trunk and never see the light of publication.

The general consensus seems to be 5 trunk novels, with the 6th novel you write coming close to publication quality. And once those five are written, you bury them and/or burn said trunk, thereby assuring that your terrible first-tries never tempt you into touching them again.

Persona, whose title underwent many changes over the last decade, would have been my 2nd attempt at novel writing.

Now, I’m not vain enough to say that the early drafts of this book were any good. In fact, they were awful. So very, very awful. And if I were going solely on the plot concept, this book would have been burnt with the other trunk novels.

But … Megan was too compelling a character for me.

She is an independent, strong character without moving into the cliches of the woman-warrior. In fact, she doesn’t fight … not physically, anyway.

Her choices are what make her strong.

So, back in 2013, I decided to pick her up again. While I kept the novel based in WWII, 98% of the plot was altered. I kept only Megan and a handful of characters from the first work, which I imagine means I burnt the trunk novel after all.

I’m not sure what I did here could be considered a “rewrite” given how much of the story changed. Still, her beginnings were in my youth and I remember those first attempts with a great deal of fondness.

Writing Persona taught me quite a lot about being an author. I learned to cut things I held dear and to dig deeper into the minds of my characters – even the ones I never gave a true voice in the work.

I am proud of Persona, both because I love the story and because it is a clear map of my improvement as an author. I hope many other people can be inspired by Megan’s journey to understand herself and the world around her.

 

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYNothing is more important than who you choose to be, and for Megan Shepherd that choice has never been more important or more terrifying. In the middle of WWII, her ship is sunk in the Atlantic and all of her hopes and dreams for a new life translating papers for the JTLS in Britain sink with it. When she’s picked up by Germans she discovers that her understanding of the language is the only thing keeping her alive.

While under the scrutiny of the local SS, Megan’s plot to escape the country is derailed when escaped POW Sam Layton lands on her doorstep.  As the Allied Advance begins to box in the Third Reich, Megan and Sam make a mad dash for the Swiss border. But the truth never stays buried for long and those Megan has tricked are out for vengeance.