Monday, October 27, 2008

Writing Telepaths' Thoughts and Conversation, CRAFT

QUESTION: I have a character who is a telepath. Should I italicize what she picks up from others' minds?

If the characters are "speaking" mentally, I've often seen authors italicize the conversation.

Mary thought to Matt, What happened to my son?

He fell into the river but grabbed a log.

If, however, Mary is picking up the images from Matt's head, I'd do something like this--

Mary tilted her head and concentrated harder on what Matt was trying to show her with his thoughts.

Darkness. A river surging past. A hand reaching out of the water and grasping a log. Then her son's head coming up out of the water as he pulls himself up onto the floating log.

"He's not dead," Mary sobbed and rubbed away her tears. "Billy's not dead."

I’ve also seen writers use colonss for mental dialogue in the same way as you would use quotation marks.

Mary thought to Matt, :What happened to my son?:

:He fell into the river but grabbed a log.:

The advantage of using the colon is that there will be no confusion about when speakers change.

The most important thing to remember is to choose one method and use it consistently.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why Women Love Romance

QUESTION FROM A GUY: Can you give me the deep reason for the romance novel's appeal to women? I can't ask my mother -- that would be too weird.

There is no ONE deep reason. Here is one of them--

I've never had time to watch football or learn much about the game so all I see are a bunch of big guys pounding each other and chasing a ball across a field, but if you are a football fan, you understand the subtle tactics, the skills, and the rules of the game.

In the same way, many women understand the subtle tactics, the skills, and the rules of the game of love. The romance novel offers them a front row seat at the most fascinating and important game of all -- love and marriage. Many nonromance readers sneer at how all these books are the same, but they are no more the same than every football game is the same.

Romances also offer a more important payback because they are teaching women more about the emotional dynamics of men and women so they can play the game and win for themselves and society by creating a monogamous, stable relationship for themselves and for the successful rearing of children which takes two committed parents.

And, yes, there is usually sex in these novels, but romances aren't about sex. If they were, they'd have more than the 10 to 20 pages of love scenes in the average 400 page novel. The love scenes are there because they are another part of the emotional dynamics, and how the man acts afterward usually defines the problems and the possibilities of the relationship.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Moral Core of Genre, CRAFT

One of the primary hallmarks of genre fiction is its moral core. The characters and their choices may be morally gray rather than the white and black of good and evil, but the reader expects that good will eventually triumph. The good guys will gain some victory, and the darkness will be banished.

If the author fails to deliver on this promise of light over darkness, she fails a fundamental promise to the reader.

In the same way, the major character or characters must have a moral core that helps them recognize the right choices and gives them the strength to follow through, whatever the cost, to reach that triumph over darkness.

Happiness can never be gained without a struggle against the forces of darkness. The darkness may be a black-hearted villain, but its most important manifestation is within the main character who must fight her inner darkness with that moral core.

Sometimes, if the main character is an antihero or shallow chick-lit heroine, the struggle will involve a great deal of protests, whining, and foot-dragging to reach that point, but that point is reached.

Betsy, the Queen of the Vampires, in the MaryJanice Davidson series, is a perfect example of this kind of character. Shallow, shoe-absorbed, and selfish, she whines her way through each book, but her inner moral core always leads her to do the right thing in the end.

If Betsy never did the right thing, this series wouldn't be the success it is because shallowness won't hold a reader's attention or their emotions for very long.

Sometimes, in a series, a character will change from evil to good, or good to evil, but that change must be foreshadowed in earlier choices and decisions. Bart the Bad may be up to no good through the early novels, but the reader should see that he chooses not to ambush the hero because a child is nearby. This not only adds moral complexity to Bart, but also makes his move toward the light more believable.

In the same way, a good guy's pragmatic or selfish choices will foreshadow the coming darkness.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Things I've Learned about Publishing

Publishing is a profession. Always act in a professional manner. This includes any situation where you are in public as a writer.

Spelling, grammar, and clarity are part of that professional manner. Don't send emails filled with errors because it reflects back on your craft.

Your editor/publisher/agent may be your friend, but she is first and foremost a businessperson. If it is a choice between making money and being your friend, she will choose the money almost every time.

Learn the business so you will understand what is happening in your career. No one cares as much about it as you do.

Some publishers use the same kind of controlling behavior as abusive spouses. They convince you that you write crap and no one but them will want it, and they pay you accordingly. If you don't escape this abusive cycle, you will either self-destruct as a writer, or other publishers in the know will not touch you because victims in this situation usually lose their confidence to push their writing to the next level.

Publishing is a small world. If you p*ss off one editor, every editor in the business will know about it. Editors also move from publisher to publisher. The editor you annoy today may be your new editor tomorrow.

Promote yourself, not your publisher, ebooks, or the type of books you write.

If you create bookmarks or any other expensive promotion, use them to promote yourself, not your current title because it won't be your current title forever.

Brand yourself as a certain type of writer and produce all your books to reflect that brand. Make certain that the same readers will be as happy with your next book.

Strive to improve with each book. Strive to surprise with each book. Don't write yourself into a rut.

If you don't enjoy the writing, find another profession. The publishing business is brutal and often the only joy is in the writing.

No amount of promotion will make up for a lack of distribution.

It's easy to be seduced away from the hard aspects of writing by other creative things. Working on your website and book trailers is much more fun because they aren't part of that bottom line.

There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet and on group listservs. Be discrete. The comment you make today will come back to haunt you later.

If an agent or publisher lies about one thing, you shouldn't believe anything they say.

The advantage of a small press/epublisher is personal attention. The disadvantage is the owner's life crisis will shut down operations.

If the publisher believes that the contract terms only bind you, not him, run for your life.

If an agent or publisher says they are in the business to help writers, run for you life. They are almost always crooks.

Don't be ditzy and proud of it. No publisher wants a business partner who is an idiot.

Writing is physically taxing. Take care of yourself by exercising and eating wisely. You may have an extra hour to write by avoiding the gym or that walk, but you'll pay for it long term by having your body fail when you need it most.

Take care of your computer. Keep your virus software up to date and run repair utilities once a week.

Back up your hard drive! Back up on a regular schedule.

Back up your books and keep a copy or copies elsewhere. Most banks offer a free safety deposit box to regular customers. Keep a digital copy of your books there. A flash drive is perfect for this.

Keep a paper copy of your book. If your computer crashes taking everything with it, the paper copy is the very best back up. Paper copies never become an outdated format.

Keep adequate business records. Save receipts for business supplies, etc., so you can use them as business expenses on your taxes.

Keep all your promotion information in one spot. (See Marilynn's article on organizing promotions at her website .)

Read as much as you can about the business. If you don't understand something, ask questions.

The writing craft is like athletic skill. Even a natural talent needs practice to improve, and you are always learning something new about yourself and the craft.

A good teacher and a good critique partner are worth their weight in gold.

A writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. A winner keeps going for the long haul.

Writing is a hobby, an avocation, or a career, but it is not a life. Real life is what matters most. You will regret it if you look up from your keyboard one day to discover life has passed you by, and the writing wasn't worth the cost.

"I'm just starting [a new book] and the battle has already begun. I don't think they ever go smoothly. It's work. It should be work. It should be hard work. I think if you sort of sit around and wait to be inspired, you're probably going to be sitting there a long time. My process is more about crafting, working an idea through my head to see if it's a good concept." Nora Roberts in an interview with the "Hagerstown Herald-Mail."

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life.There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. Your silent heart will guide you. Be silent now. It is the possibility of a dream that makes life interesting. You can choose between being a victim of destiny or an adventurer who is fighting for something important.” THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho

FREE BOOK ON PUBLISHING: Donald Maass, super agent, has a free PDF download of his book, THE CAREER NOVELIST: WINNING ADVICE FROM A TOP AGENT AND HIS BESTSELLING CLIENTS. I have a copy, and it's full of excellent advice. Some is a touch out-of-date, though. You'll find it here: