Death and Weddings

I’ve been plotting out a Smoke Jumper novella. I’ve been wanting to write a mystery for a while and the idea came to me for a murder set at a destination wedding. So I’ve been researching death and weddings. It’s been…weird.

First the wedding!

I’ve been making a Pinterest board. Just like other Pinterest board makers. Except my thought when I look at something is, “Would this make a good clue?” “Would this make a good red herring?” “How will this factor into the death?” “I wonder which bridesmaid’s dress color will look good with blood?” “What picturesque location would be best to find a dead body?”

Basically, it’ll be a sort of rustic farm wedding, with a dead body and a shape shifter. That’s how most weddings are right?

rustic wedding
Matt MacGillivray

Death and corpses

I’ve seen this making rounds but The Human Body After Death is extremely helpful.

I’m having a poisons problem. Wolfsbane seems WAY to obvious considering that my shifter will be a wolf.

Here’s a list of 10 poisons used to kill people (beware audio – sorry!) The real problem for me is where and what I’d like to use. Poison ivy just won’t cut it. I’m not sure if this poison will be the actual weapon, or a red herring, but I know I need something that is plant based, ideally found in North America, super ideally found in the Rocky Mountains. Hm.

Mysteries

15 Tips from Elizabeth Craig

25 Things You Need to Know from Susan Spann

Really old post but had some good stuff about plotting clues which I’ve been having trouble with.

This (long!) post has some clue examples which is also helpful. Beware it isn’t even for writers, it is for creating one of those mystery dinner things I think. But I really liked the clues section.

 

 

Subplots and complexities

So I know I’ve talked about the endless pushes to cut, but adding can have value too. Sometimes that value is in subplots and complexities. I think of the try-fail cycle often as I work on plotting things. These are reading about it things.

Writing Excuses

I love this podcast, I do keep looping back to it over and over. This discussion of pantsing talks about my favorite thing which is “yes-but/no-and.” This focuses on the try-fail cycle. Having a character just succeed and succeed is boring unless those successes just make things work. Successes that make things work are fantastically useful. Failures that make things worse are also useful.

Creating Subplots

Lists

Side Quests

Some people like them! I think it is important to remember that people like and enjoy the subplots.

(Yes, I’ve written on this before. This is more links and resources about it, hopefully helpful. It is something I think I will continue to come back to over and over. Character I don’t feel like I struggle with quite the way I struggle with good plotting skills. The thing I think that would make me better, weirdly would be doing something like running a tabletop roleplay game campaign, but that is a TON of work and requires knowing a LOT about the rules of the game. I am always in favor of throwing out the rules for a good storyline, which people who have been my GMs clearly know, but I think that works less well when you don’t have someone going, no no, there are rules, this isn’t all about the story.)

stat plots
I’m trying to make a plot/subplot joke but I feel like it isn’t turning out well…. Christophe Dang Ngoc Chan (cdang)

 

Romance Planning

No not planning a romantic getaway, but romance planning for plot or story. I’ve had some troubles hanging onto my romance arcs. They seem to get shuffled to the background, which is frustrating when sometimes they’ve started as the primary point for the spark of the idea.

Every time it has shuffled to the back it was ultimately the right choice for the story. But I also wonder if I’m just not as strong at writing it so it is easier to shuffle than to strengthen.

So I took some time and read some stuff. Because reading!

Finding your Romance Arc

by Susan Warren

This talks about the Why/Why not vs the Why not/Why…I’m a little worried I don’t entirely understand it. But it sparked a few valuable things.

Make the Romance the Story Arc

by Scott Eagan

This is completely my problem. So I’m going to try something in the future that takes this plan the romance and backdrop the other thing approach.

The Seven Story Beats

by Kaye Dacus

This was really direct. I think my issue is that I hate hate hate #6! So I have to struggle through writing it to bring back around to #7.

Suggestions?

Does anyone have any suggestions or tips for planning a romance or having it not get lost behind the other stories?

romance roundup
Sunset is romantic right?

I have no idea what I’m doing!

I’ve had a couple people insinuate lately that I might have a clue about things. I had someone important do it to me at work even. I have no idea what I’m doing!

None

I don’t know what I’m doing with writing, or blogging, or podcasting, or all the stuff I do at work. I mostly just try to figure it out as I go. I google, I research, I listen to podcasts and watch webinars and read articles and whatever else.

I try things that make me uncomfortable. I try to learn what things work and don’t. I try to constantly remind myself that it is ok to fail. Learn from that failure and move forward.

I feel out of my depth constantly. I feel like making this post is likely a HORRIBLE idea and I’m sure I’ll go back and forth on should I push the publish button or not a dozen times. If you are reading this I went for publish. (Unless you for some obscene reason hacked my blog and are reading my trashed posts, in which case…I can’t help you.)

I can’t be the only one who feels like this. Someone else out there must too. And sometimes it is good to know you aren’t alone, so maybe someone will read this and go OH! Me too! And maybe Future Me will read this and go, oh you were so adorably young then. (Future Me I promise to floss tonight, you can thank me now.)

But…

This was partly pointed out at work and partly in the writing sphere. I do all that stuff, and I learn. I ask questions and listen and try very hard to learn.

That’s good. That’s apparently not something everyone does. I know this because I watch other people, but I don’t entirely believe it. I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone else has a secret handbook on how to exist and how to write and how to be a leader and how to whatever else. If anyone has a spare I’ll take it.

I fail.

Often. And then I go ok, so that didn’t work, what can I try now. I reflect and try to learn and really take in what didn’t make sense, what wasn’t right for me. Whatever.

Sometimes I don’t have a good plan on how to fix it. (I’m looking at you future ancient anthropology flash series that I just can’t make work.) But sometimes it helps.

And it doesn’t always have to be failure. Every time I record I get a little better, a little faster, a little clearer.

Last weekend I listened to my podcast in the wild. Normally I’m listening to it at home with good headphones and no other sound. Music is really loud so I keep turning it down. In the wild? On the train with people around me making noise and my ear buds? I need to turn the music up. (If you disagree please let me know!) I can learn from things like that too.

I learn every time I write something, even if it doesn’t work. I learn every time I read something and take it apart. I learn things listening to podcasts that aren’t fiction at all. I learn things from reading “informational” letters from my health insurance company or the government.

And maybe…

I do kind of know some things.

I’m not entirely sure what. That seems to be the next step, figuring out what it is that I’m learning, what it is I know. What am I really good at? I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’m learning.

Audio. I think I might be kind of ok at audio. I get annoyed when people who know me listen to the podcast and act surprised that it is good. Of course it is, I have experience, I know what I’m doing. I’m not saying I’m perfect or I know everything, but I know some. Certainly enough to put out a decent podcast. Enough to professionally narrate audiobooks.

Blogging. I might not be horrible at that. I’ve done that before. I have experience. History and and understanding of it. Maybe I’m not great at social media, but this long form thinking stuff? I’m not horrible at this.

Seems the theme is the stuff I’ve done before I feel best about. I don’t want to pack up and throw this all away so I feel like I’ve done it before to succeed next time. But I do want to learn every day. Learn as I go forward and maybe succeed this time.

So…that’s my perhaps way too personal, perhaps way too vulnerable, perhaps totally stupid post about how I have no idea what I’m doing, but I might be learning.

Side Quests

I’ve read a few things slamming side quests lately and I get the desire to cut it. Far too well. I’m not a heavy author who needs to cut endlessly. I’m not a 100K word novel writer. I write extremely lean. And I’m feeling a little defensive about this whole cut cut cut!

In the past I’ve cut and  cut and I’ve cut down and down and down and you know what if you say “just cut everything that doesn’t matter!” to someone like me, you get me to throw up my hands and go, “Girl meets boy, they fall in love, bad shit, everyone dies.” Guess I’m done. Oh wait. I can cut bad shit because why do we care? I can cut they fall in love. And really does it really matter if girl meets boy?

Suggested edits:

Everyone dies.

Romeo and Juliet
Everyone dies

Eh…maybe not

Well that’s not very fulfilling.  (I’ve had several novels cut out of existence because of this whole cut cut cut mentality that is so common to read about.)

Cut things may be great advice for someone who wrote a contemporary romance that is 250K words. That doesn’t mean it is universally good.

Unless I’m writing flash fiction, editing means adding content. Usually a lot of content. Side quests can do a lot including develop the character, show you who they are, what they can achieve. We can watch characters fail. Failure makes us fall in love with characters when they get back up and dust themselves off and try again.

When I am reading I want to love the characters. I want to care about them and what happens to them. Otherwise the novel might as well be “Everyone dies.” Heck even nonfiction has characters I love, sometimes characters are dead bodies, or shrimp, or anything.

The magic of being an author is tugging those heart strings and making me fall in love, cheer, shout, whoop, feel. I guess I could just take some drugs, but books are…for the most part cheaper and much much better for my brain.

I like bare bones things, I think I brought that up when talking about flash fiction as adult coloring books. But bare bones doesn’t mean cut all side quests. It means create an interesting and engaging frame work. A blank page isn’t actually an epic adult coloring book. (I refuse to google this and find out that someone out there has a bound empty book and is calling it an adult coloring book. I refuse!)

Interesting and engaging content includes things that are more than everyone dies. Weave them together, make them valuable, interesting, grow the characters, tie it in, but don’t assume you are doing it wrong if you aren’t slashing things with a machete. Listen to your beta readers, do they feel like they need more? Do they say some things are a little bloated? Focus on your work and your needs. Not everyone needs to cut down to everyone dies. If we all did the world would be a very sad literary space.

Bonus content

I relistened to the Writing Excuses episode about side quests and I highly recommend it. It made me feel like oh, yeah, these aren’t bad things. Just because some people say cut ruthlessly, unless they are actually talking about my novel that they have in my hands, they might be wrong, or talking in generalities. I’ve never had a beta reader tell me I just needed to cut wholesale. I nearly always get the opposite. I want to know more about this or that or whatever. Which is good. And tells me that I’m not generally too heavy on side quests (or descriptions, or whatever else).

Writing excuses also talked about writing side quests as bonus content. Which I’m super for! A part of the 600 Second Saga podcast was developed based on that idea. Those  side pieces, I love to read them. They are stories that take place in the same world but outside the primary story line.

(And here’s the plug! If you have some bonus content that you’d like to share with the world, bring in more readers, or flex your skill with something different way? I highly recommend submitting it to the 600 Second Saga podcast. I’m always looking for new authors, and side quests can be a great way to have a complete story, and develop interest in your world.)

Writing oops

I’ve had a little bit of a writing oops recently. I’m not really sure how to feel about it. I feel like this whole write something fresh is advice I need to say and hear constantly. I know this is a thing. I know I get frustrated and my work suffers when I’m not working on anything new and I’m just struggling through a thousand edits.

So what have I been doing lately? Struggling through a thousand edits and not doing anything new. Even the “new” piece I was working on wasn’t really new at all.

So a writing oops

And then…Wednesday or so I think I started to get this idea. And I wrote a bunch on the iPad in bed. And then I kept waking up with more ideas, and kept sitting up to write more and more. NO! BAD! Sleep is important. So I made as good notes as I could.

And then the next day it haunted me all day. And I had to make more notes and more. And it was fun and delicious.

I realized that what I had written, which was just going to be like a throw away doesn’t matter was a later scene for something. And then I started to outline a story.

I really like writing. It is fun. I enjoy seeing the thing I have eating inside my brain on the page.  I’m not sure I really like editing. I like the final outcome, I like when I have the thing that was on my brain in a form that is better than I could have imagined it. I like when I sit down to read the thing later and it makes me excited and nervous and happy and scared and whatever else. I like when people listen to (or read) my work and say it feels like I’m just telling them a story. That’s what I want. I want to share all of that. I’m willing to do the work of the editing to get it there. But I just like the writing all by itself too.

A writing bonus

I also sat down and hammered out the friday flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. Which I did in my most scarcast voice. So it took a while to shake off that feeling of being a teenager. But it was also fun. Give a tiny little glimpse into a strange world where your future in a habitat colony is decided by a test  and you have ear stalks.

I do love that about flash fiction. The writer gives just the barest brush strokes of the world and the reader can come along and fill it in. Let’s be real. Flash fiction is like adult coloring books. We are super trendy! Go us!

secret garden coloring
flash fiction is like adult coloring books sort of?

ahem…join us in the trending

If you want to be a super trendy adult coloring book like writer come write flash fiction for 600 Second Saga! I would really like to bring in some new and exciting authors. I have a slot open in June still.

If you aren’t sure I’m really happy to answer any questions. I am also very willing to work with new authors or those who aren’t sure about writing flash. If you’d like feedback or notes please let me know.

(I’m not very good at or comfortable with plugs, but I really to want to bring more authors in and help spread the word about some very cool authors that we’ve already had on the show. So I’m trying to learn.)

So what do I do with my oops?

I finish it. I don’t know that it will see the light, and I’m ok with that. It is fun, it is short, it makes me remember that OH! I like writing! And that makes me very productive in all the rest of the writing tasks.

Anyone else ever oops?

Publicity Roundup

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about publicity, marketing, outreach, and such recently so I thought I’d do a publicity roundup. These are a few of the more interesting links, resources, and even an ad I ran across.

Publicity infographic

Infographic from Book Baby. Because infographics are pretty.

I am doing most of the things on the list…ok like halfish…I am working on developing a couple contests, likely for audiobooks, coming up soon. Stay tuned!

Spending an hour a day in social media seems like a lot to me. Though if it was one of the less productive hours of the day it wouldn’t be so bad. And if writing was my full time job it would be different. For me it seems like the best thing I could do with an hour would be write. I don’t always get to do it. Sometimes it is a blog post, sometimes a flash piece, sometimes novel work. But I feel like if I’m going to commit another hour a day to something it should be writing. Though every hour can’t be productive. I can’t expect to spend 4 hours a night after 9 hours of work being productive at writing, that’s not how you brain, or at least not how I brain.

A great ad

Tree Lobsters has a fantastic ad for a new short story collection. (I didn’t know the Tree Lobster guy did short stories, but a read and love the comic so I’m going to guess the stories will be as fun.

Awesome ad/comic

I don’t know that I’ve learned how to make a great ad, but I think this is one. Funny, visual, but some thing else I can’t place.

Blog tours

I’ve been reading a lot about blog tours lately. I actually feel like I know less now than I did when I started reading. I’m not sure how that is possible, but that’s what I’m feeling.

You can pay someone to help you set up a blog tour, and there are a lot of these companies out there. I found lists of companies and inevitably about half of the sites no longer existed so I think it is a high turn over business. Mostly they collect bloggers and connect authors with bloggers.

There also seems to be a site that does it free, though no guarantee of success, you as the author have to do the outreach on your own.

Blog Tour (the free site)

There also seems to be the idea of just find the sites you like and ask. That seems terrifying. On some sites the authors do regular things that are guest posts you can request to participate in. For most sites though…scary.

Publicity roundup person
Image via Under30CEO

 

Motivation

I’ve been feeling a lack of motivation lately. I think I have hopefully sorted out what was happenings. I had created a gantt chart for all the work I need to be doing, what I need to get done to get the things I’m working on published. This laid things out through 2020 with a novel, two novellas, and an anthology every year, plus record and produce audiobook versions of all of them. Plus the podcast every week.

Sisyphian motivation
Sisyphus is not the motivation I’m looking for. I would like to wake up and look at the mountain I’ve made in the morning.

This might be reasonable if writing was my full time job. It might actually be a bit on the heavy side. But it isn’t my full time job. And I’m ok with that. I’m not planning on making it my full time job so I don’t need to throw every bit of energy I have into it. I need to do it in a sustainable way. I need to be doing something I can do for the next 5 years or more.

I also have this thing where apparently if I can’t do more than what is required or do it faster or better I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing things. So sort of the problem is I need goals that still seem like a lot but are not only achievable but exceedable.

I can tell as I’m thinking about these goals and tasks I feel very demotivated. It is absolutely manifesting in how much I am accomplishing. I ended up spending nearly all of my weekend critiquing work for other people and getting very little of my own work done.

What I’m trying to do is figure out a good way to work and get done what I need, and feel good about it. I don’t want to make myself hate writing. I don’t want to feel bad about what I’m accomplishing.

Much to my ever present dismay I am not a reprogrammable robot. I can’t debug myself. I can’t alter the settings. What I can do is change the way I work to work with the way my brain works. My brain, and yours no doubt, is really good at what it does, and what is does is being very tricksy. It really likes things the way it has decided it likes things.

So I need a new strategy. Smaller, more manageable goals. Though not all small goals. Like I’d really like to get Dangerous Metal recorded and published this year. That seems reasonable as it is really ready to be recorded and published. But maybe I don’t also plan to record and publish Stranded (or whatever I end up calling that one). Maybe I plan for a novel and a Smoke Jumper novella every other year. And then when I can do more? Great!

Oh and also still the podcast which requires finding authors, giving feedback, finding listeners, marketing, writing, recording, producing, and more!

I like doing these things. I like writing. I like recording. I like creating something. I like bringing other people’s creations to life. I want to continue to like these things. I don’t want to have all the fun sucked out of them by constantly feeling like I’m failing at them and then having that feeling made manifest because I’m so busy focusing on that feeling that I don’t actually do the things.

I’m trying to figure out what the right way for me to work is. I think this revelation is another step.

And yes, I hid the gantt chart so I can’t see it anymore.

Related article about the desire to get things done undermining effectiveness

Camp NaNo

Camp NaNo is coming up soon and I’ll be using it as a chance to dig in and focus on a giant monster edit pass of the first in Jenna’s series.

I know that some writers are judgey of NaNoWriMo and the NaNo camps. For me, at least, they are a good opportunity to set my focus on one project and try to carry it to completion. Doing NaNo doesn’t mean I never write for the rest of the year. And for the people who do only write once a year? Good for them for writing once a year! That’s awesome. If you were a full time author and only wrote once a year for a month? You might still be doing fine. If NaNo isn’t for you that’s great too. Do what you need to get the outcome you need. If you need NaNo and the camps? Great! If you need a daily goal, every single day? Great! If you need to go to a hotel in Amsterdam? Good for you.

For me? I work on other projects, editing, flash, podcast. (I have a podcast! You should check it out!) But using NaNo to write novels is really valuable to me.

Now that I just said that I’m going to loop back and say that I’m going to edit this NaNo. (And I’m going to record in the summer camp.) I have partially finished projects floating about everywhere and I want to start moving forward with some of them. For years I’ve been writing things and throwing them out. Writing and moving onto the next thing. Even writing, editing, and then abandoning. I need to move forward with some of these projects.

broken watches
Camp NaNo is about time, and so is Jenna’s second book!

I really like Jenna’s story, I like what I’ve written. I like the second book, but the first needs work. (Though I did have a moment of re-reading it last summer when I did this thing I do when I’m reading a book I really like where I move from spot to spot in the house without stopping reading at all. That was a great moment.) So I need to make some big sweeping changes and that is what I’m going to try to tackle this April.

It doesn’t make me a bad author or a lazy author or a good author. It just means I’m trying to use the tools that work for me. NaNo is a tool that works for me. I’d be silly to not use the tools that work for me.

Compiling Feedback

What now? I need to start compiling feedback.

Ok so I’ve gotten feedback and I’ve thanked the person (I really liked Elizabeth@Be There Dragons’s suggestion of a small thoughtful gift is a great one). Then I need to work on what to do with it.

Some feedback is better than others. If I’m going to be doing a full rewrite  the grammar and spelling are likely not that helpful. If someone doesn’t like the genre…then not much I can do about that. If someone doesn’t like strong female leads or magic or aliens or whatever, then I have learned that the book/short/flash wasn’t for them. But I’ve also learned that the piece doesn’t have a lot of cross over appeal.

Within a novel/la

I try to pinpoint things like if a character is called out multiple times throughout a novel (or novella) for being harsh, crabby, angry, etc. I want to step back and look at is that the perception I want of this character. If it just shows up once? Or only from one person it isn’t a theme, I can look at that one incident. What I want to see first is what are the things that are repeated. Anything that shows up more than once needs a lot of attention, it needs to be carefully considered and look for why is that showing up.

I have something in my To Edit queue where the major feedback was on the character’s attitude. Some people thought it was bitchy, others said cold, some aggressive, some thought she was kickass. This was a theme, this character fit a pattern and I sat down and looked at who was reading it (inside genre readers/outside genre readers/men/women/etc) and compared that to my target audience. I also thought about what the goal was for the reader to feel toward her.

My initial goal for her was that she be a bit…not ideal, kind of not really a person you’d want to be friends with. Which I achieved. Except that doesn’t really make for a good read. So I succeeded. YAY! But I failed. Ok time to dig back in and make changes. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work well, that’s ok. But, then I need to loop back and fix it.

This is a bit where iterative design strategy comes in, but hold that thought for now.

So I create a list of character changes that need to happen. Then I focus on plot, what was confusing, didn’t work, or needed expansion. In beta passes these are the things I want to know. If it is one person or one spot? I’m going to try to fix that one spot, or consider if that one person (out of many, one out of one wins, one out of many may not) makes sense. (Back to the person who hates magic and complains every time my character uses magic? I’m going to ignore that. The person who doesn’t like strong female leads? I’m going to try really hard to ignore that even when it continues to eat away at my brain like a horrible brain eating worm.)

Shorter or flash fiction

I treat this a little different because especially for flash fiction and sort of under 7K fiction I’m really looking to see if the tone works, if it feels like a whole story, does it work.

I want especially to see what things people are confused by and on the other side what lines they really like. In a short piece (and since I do audio for my short works) a line that reads well is worth a lot so I’m going to hang onto those.

Just one person or many

When working on web design or elearning design and one person can’t get to the next screen that could be multiple things. It could be a technical issue, which we rarely have in writing, it is extremely rare that someone is unable to turn your page. So I almost never have to trouble shoot technical things like that. (Except last week when all the i’s disappeared from my comments.)

If one person has a problem with something it is worth considering, if more than one? It likely is a problem. If they can’t understand something? It isn’t understandable, I can do a better job of explaining it.

Iterate

I’m sure someone has written a book perfectly on the first pass. But I am super not that person! I am a fan of iterating. Some people write a first round and then throw it away and then go forward after that. I don’t always do that. But I’ve absolutely thrown things out. Sometimes it is better to take the lessons you learn and move forward.

Most of the time you can wrap those into the next version. A character too cold?  Find ways to warm them up. Reread the scene. What else needs to happen.

I often fix a bunch of things on a single pass, but having a plan makes a big difference in getting a good outcome.

You can’t iterate endlessly. At some point you have to put your penny down and go forth and try it.

BUT!…

I get this. A lot. Less than I used to, it happens a lot though. I read a piece of feedback and I get this gut reaction of …BUT!

I struggle, but I generally manage to set aside the explanation, or write it down (which is useful later). When someone is reading (or listening) to something I wrote I don’t get a chance to explain when they make a confused face.

Everything I want to tell them, everything they need to know has to be in front of them when they need it. Sometimes you don’t want to give it to them yet, so you have to compel them to keep reading.

You don’t get to argue with the reader, you don’t get to hold the book in front of them, you don’t get to tell them they have to do something.

That moment when I want to go “but!” is the moment I can learn the most from.