Monday, December 30, 2019

Writinng the Same When You are Different

QUESTION: Why don't authors keep writing the same kind of book? Some of my favorite romance authors have switched to different genres, and I HATE it.

There isn't a simple answer. Here are a few.

* Failing markets. The writer's genre starts losing readers so publishers want fewer books, and fewer books are sold. An example is historical romances.  Its established authors branched out into contemporaries, paranormals, and suspense novels to continue making a profit at their writing. 

* Respect. Romance authors, in particular, get no respect from their non-romance peers, and this gets really old. Non-romances also have more professional cache. 

* Authorial control. Romance editors exert more control over the final product than in any other genre so the final product is often more of a collaborative effort. At a certain point in a writer's career, this can get really old, particularly when some kid in their first editorial job decides she knows better than an established writer.

* Boredom. An author spends months writing a book that takes you an evening to read, and she then starts another book. If every book is exactly like the last as some readers want, this process can become boring. The creative juices dry up. If the author doesn't change gears, the readers will be the next to be bored.

* Innovations. Genre, as a whole, doesn't stay the same. Romances have changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and woe unto the writer who doesn't change with it. 

* Bandwagon Syndrome. Some authors see a trend become popular, and they absolutely must write to this trend. 

* Changes in an author's life. Writing is an emotional process, and sometimes, things happening in an author's life make them change the direction of their writing. I have had friends going through an ugly divorce who could no longer write about everlasting love when their true love proved to be a cruel, manipulative jerk. One writer lost her young son to a sudden illness. When she started writing again, she turned to novels that expressed her faith in God. 

As much as writers want to please their readers, sometimes, they simply must change direction with their writing. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

What A Christmas Carol Can Teach a Writer

"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."  The only character more interesting than a villain is a villain who is redeemed.

"Oh, Holy Night.”  A powerful story is often best told simply.

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  Sometimes, something innocent can become creepy.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  A one-sided romantic relationship is boring.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  The underdog with a reviled talent makes a great hero.  

"Frosty the Snowman.”  A great character often deserves a sequel.  ("I'll be back again, some day." ) 

"Carol of the Bells.”  Driving rhythm can pull the reader forward.  

"Do You Hear What I Hear?"  You can tell a story through dialogue.

"Silent Night.”  A few simple images can create powerful emotions.

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”  The quiet, homey moments are often filled with the greatest emotions and memory.

"The Christmas Song.”  ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…." )  Setting alone can show strong emotion and story.
“Last Christmas.”  A bad romance character can’t tell the difference between love and sex.  

“Blue Christmas” sung by Elvis.  Some songs are meant for only one singer, and so are some stories.  

“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”  A fantasy plot makes much more sense with lots of details.  (“There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage.  I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage.”)  NOTE: Best Christmas novelty song ever!

"Good King Wenceslas.”  Sometimes, a character is remembered more for kindness than power or glory.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas.”  Home and family are two of the most powerful goals within the human heart.  

"Baby, It's Cold Outside."  "This is for your good, not mine" is a great seduction.

“Is that You, Santa Claus?”  Every good thing may disguise a bad thing.

"Jingle Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock.”  The times and tempo may change, but the story remains the same.  

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Sometimes, the character's emotions and the message aren't the same.  

"Santa Baby.”  With the right voice, even Santa and a chimney can be made into a double entendre.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You.”  Love is the greatest gift.  

Monday, December 16, 2019

Pretend Doesn't Make It Okay

Imagine that a reader gives you a dollar’s worth of trust by reading your book. That trust means she expects you to give her certain things like a good story, interesting characters, and competent craft, among other things.

Every time your story fails in one of these elements, the reader takes away a bit of that money, and, when there is no money left, the reader tosses the book without finishing it and will no longer trust you enough to buy the next book.

The really tricky problem is you don't know what will irk each reader. Maybe it's grammatical mistakes. She may take a nickel out of that dollar, or, if she really hates grammatical errors, that error may cost you a quarter or the whole dollar.  Or it could be plot problems, bad science, or faltering viewpoint to lower that dollar to nothing.  

Do you really want to risk losing that reader by being sloppy about any part of your writing? It's just pretend is not an excuse many readers will accept.  

Monday, December 9, 2019

QUIZ: Do You Have What It Takes to be a Writer?

Do you have what it takes to be a fiction writer? Here's a true or false test to find out.

Be brutally honest. The only person you will be cheating is yourself. Choose TRUE if the statement describes you or what you believe, FALSE if it does not.

1. I don't need to know grammar and spelling. That's the job of the editor. My job is to tell the story.

2. Most authors make lots of money. That's why I want to write.

3. I want things NOW. I'm just not a patient person.

4. Friends or family want to watch a movie you really want to see, but you haven't written your quota for the day. You usually stay at the computer and write.

5. If I don't write every day, I get grumpy or edgy.

6. There's one secret to writing a publishable story, and when I learn what it is, I'll succeed.

7. Criticism really hurts me. If someone criticizes my work, I feel like a failure.

8. If someone criticizes my work, I will change it immediately.

9. I love to read a certain kind of story, and that's what I want to write.

10. It's easy to write and sell a novel. All I will have to do is sit down and write it, then I will sell it.

BONUS POINTS QUESTION: I dream of stories to tell, or characters demand their stories be told, or I envision whole scenes, and I want to find out what happens next.


1. FALSE Editors are busy people, and they don't have the time to correct simple mistakes. Simple mistakes indicate a poor writer, as well, and usually brings a fast rejection. WORTH 10 POINTS

2. FALSE Most authors are very poorly paid, expenses are high, and the time required is intense. The average writer can't support herself or her family on several books a year from a major publisher with good distribution. A few self-published writers do but most don’t.  WORTH 10 POINTS

3. FALSE Traditional publishing is an excruciatingly slow process. First you write the book, then you wait for months as you send out queries, more months for them to look at a portion of the manuscript, and even more months to look at the complete manuscript. And if they want to publish it, it will take a year or more to see print. Even self-publishing a book, if you do it correctly with an editor, etc., takes many months of work.  WORTH 10 POINTS

4. TRUE You have to create writing time and that means you have to give up other things. You have to want to write, or you'll never succeed. WORTH 10 POINTS

5. TRUE Writing is an adrenaline addiction. WORTH 10 POINTS

6. FALSE There is no one secret to creating a publishable novel. There are, however, a few things you need to do. The first is sticking your rear in a chair in front of the computer with some consistency and writing. WORTH 10 POINTS

7. FALSE A tough skin must be standard equipment if you want to be a novelist. Every step along the way will be filled with criticism and rejection. The trick is to realize that they are talking about your work, NOT you. WORTH 10 POINTS

8. FALSE Writing isn't a project by committee. You know your work best so you must decide if a suggestion has value or not. The trick is determining what changes are part of learning craft and what changes force your voice or story in the wrong direction. WORTH 10 POINTS

9. TRUE You have to enjoy, respect, and read the types of stories you write. This gives you a good basis for knowing what works and what readers want.

Nothing is more obvious to a reader or an editor than a writer who doesn't read in her field. This is especially true in romance. A reader can spot someone who is writing for the money really fast. WORTH 10 POINTS

10. FALSE Writing is a craft that must be learned. You are as likely to have the natural skills to be a publishable writer as someone who has never played basketball would have the skills to play professional NBA basketball.

The first novel rarely sells. Most published writers write several before they sell. Some can write up to a dozen novels before selling. WORTH 10 POINTS

Bonus Points Question: TRUE If this doesn't happen to you, you really aren't meant to be a fiction writer. All the other things above can be learned, but this can't. WORTH 100 POINTS


0 to 99 A writing career isn't for you. Do a happy dance because you have escaped such an evil fate and go read instead.

100-145 If you're willing to change and work hard, you can become a professional writer.

145-190 Congratulations. You are completely insane and the perfect candidate for being a professional writer.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Those of us who write fiction are strange creatures to most people.  We create people, places, plots, and even worlds filled with magic or space ships.  “Where do you get your ideas?” is a major question.  Another is “What is it like to write those stories?”
I’ve often used the first scene in the movie ROMANCING THE STONE where an historical couple ends an adventure and have a love-forever-after smooch.  A woman is narrating the action, then the words “The End” appears.  The scene dissolves away to a very happy, weeping modern woman at a computer.  She’s in a sloppy outfit, hasn’t showered in days, and she discovers she’s out of cat food.  Yes, this is what it’s like being a writer in many ways.
A few days ago, I found a better movie to explain the creative writing process and the business of being a writer.  It’s called THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS, and it’s about Charles Dickens’ creation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL from the first idea to the final pages of the story.  
No, he’s not just staring at a bare page with a quill in his hand although some of that happens.  Real world things like his need for another hit and immediate cash after several flops push him to write a story fast so it can be out by Christmas.  
We follow him around London as bits and pieces of the story flow around him and wait to become part of the story. (If you’re familiar with the novel beyond just the plot, you can spot these easily.)  A waiter named “Marley,” people talking about poverty and the poor, and a happy dancing pair of shopkeepers start to fill his cast and give them future dialogue. At home, a new housemaid tells his kids ghost stories, his sister’s crippled son is shown, and his feckless parents arrive. More fodder for the story. 
Dickens spends a long time figuring out Scrooge’s name then Scrooge himself shows up to taunt and frustrate him.  (My characters also become much more real when I’m gifted their names.) And the story and the cast grow as his audience of family members, the maid, and a few friends listen and comment.  
Then writer’s block appears, and Dickens must figure out Scrooge’s emotional secret so he can finish the manuscript on time.  
I won’t say any more about the plot, but it explains the creative process in a way that makes sense to people who don’t write.  And, yes, most of us writers are that bonkers with characters following us around and harassing us, and ideas come from random places and memories.  We also isolate ourselves as the story churns within us. As with Dickens, writing is truly hard work, but the business of writing is the worst problem we deal with.
So, the next time someone asks you about the creative process of writing, suggest this movie to them.