GENREALITY

Archive for the 'Alison’s Posts' Category



Monday, July 13th, 2009 by Alison Kent
A single room will do

(Updated to add: I’ve posted my first LB&LI workshop.)

This is going to be a quiet week in my corner of the blogging / Twittering / emailing world (though probably not so much on Twitter with all the live Tweeting events) as writer friends head off to DC for the RWA National Conference. (And for the record, can I say how much calling the conference “Nationals” bugs me? This is not some UIL sporting event. It’s the RWA National Conference. Even says so on the Website.) That said, for those of us staying home, this is the week of the fabulous (and FREE) Left Behind & Loving It workshop series, the brainchild of GenReality’s own Lynn Viehl. Today Lynn is talking about Conceptual Planning, Construction, and Development and at the end of her post, she links to other participating blogs. I was telling Lynn yesterday that I have five workshops started, but I’ve been so focused on writing the last few weeks, that I don’t have any of them completed. I hope to get them posted, and I’ll give Lynn the links to share if I do. I’ve been so busy writing, in fact, that I didn’t even have a blog topic for today until I woke up this morning thinking about something I’d read on my Blackberry just before going to bed last night. It was a link I followed from Twitter to a blog post on Top 10 Tips for Enjoying RWA. I was tooling along enjoying the tips until I got to #6:

6 Leave husband and children at home. Babies too

This is a conference for writers. Period.

Anyone who’s seen me at a conference the last twelve years (except in DC 2000) knows that my husband comes with me. In 2000, I roomed with a good friend of mine who had been my roommate for all but a couple of the conferences I attended between 1991 (my first, as an unpublished author) and 1996 (my soon-to-be-husband’s first; we married in 1997). That year was a case of being newly in love and unable to bear being apart for a week. Plus, I wanted my writing friends to meet him, and vice versa. We had a great time that year; Harlequin’s party was held at Universal Studios in Orlando (is that right?). We had an even better time in Chicago in 1999, walking the Miracle Mile and looking at all the cows, and in Denver in 2002 where we stayed at the Hotel Monaco and walked back and forth to the Adam’s Mark. That year, he went kayaking with my Harlequin editor and several authors while I networked gossiped with friends.

Yes, my husband goes with me to have a mini-vacation, doing touristy things, seeing sights, etc., But the main reason my husband goes with me is that he’s my career partner. He’s invested from the ground up and has been since I sent him a copy of my first Harlequin to read in 1996. I’m not the only author to have a supportive spouse. I know that. And I can’t imagine how authors who don’t have their spouse at their back manage. I know I couldn’t. He’s the one who cooks and cleans and grocery shops when I’m on deadline. And does so without grumbling or needing to be asked. I still do the laundry. Laundry’s just not his thing, though he’s certainly capable. The kitchen, however, is his domain. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg of the things he does for me. He’s even been known to sleep on the couch so as not to disturb me when I’ve finally crashed after a long day of writing and the insomnia that follows. He’s brought sandwiches and smoothies to the backyard where I’m writing so I don’t have to stop the flow to make lunch or a snack. He bought me a bluetooth keyboard for my Blackberry so I can write anywhere. He stands in line at the post office to mail my blog prizes.

He is my plotting partner. He does not critique, though occasionally I will ask him to read a scene. But when it comes to plotting, he’s the muse who pulls my books together. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said, “We’ve got to go to dinner and talk,” and he knows right away it’s not about family or financial issues or even for fun, but that I need to hash out a story. Recently I needed a motivation for a character to have conflict with another, and he pulled the rabbit out of his magic hat on the spot. He does that for me. I don’t know how, but he does it every time. A couple of summers ago I was finishing one book so was pondering another, and mentioned needing a backstory element that could be carried through, a sort of mystery to be solved. And voila! Standing there in the backyard between me and the trampoline, he found it. I talk to him about publishing houses, about sub-genres, about the market, about editors.

And this is why I love having him at conference. He goes to the workshops. Not the same ones I go to, but ones that interest him. See, he’s a story guy. We’ve been known to sit in movies and whisper to each other, “Ordinary world,” followed by, “Inciting incident,” and then, “Call to adventure.” Just this morning, in fact, he told me about a Website he discovered last night through XKCD.com called TvTropes that is a compendium of, well, TV tropes, story elements, etc., that we all recognize but some of us who make our living in fiction like to put a name to. Conferences spent with my husband are the best. Yes, I love to hang out with the girls and talk, and we do, and he’s been known to butt in and make sure the overworked server in the sports bar doesn’t forget our table (which he did in Dallas when I was huddled up with HelenKay Dimon and Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler and Maya Banks and Amie Stuart and others I know I’m forgetting). And he’s stood in line at Starbucks to order while I’ve sat chatting with HelenKay and Nancy Warren, and he’s talked up Stargate with Crissy Brashear and Angie James. But the best part of having him at conferences is the end of the day when we unwind and cuddle up and talk about the day, his impressions, my questions, his thoughts, my decisions, and the impact of everything we’ve learned on my career because he’s as invested as I am.

So, no. Sorry. I won’t be leaving my husband at home.

Monday, July 6th, 2009 by Alison Kent
Size Does Matter

No matter the length of story you write, you’ll come up against challenges. A 100,000 word novel isn’t going to work without a plot that requires that many words to be told. Taking a 60,000 word story and padding to the longer length doesn’t give you a successful 100,000 word novel. It gives you a padded 60,000 word novel instead. Rehashing the same issues over and over in a 100,000 word novel doesn’t give you a successful 100,000 word novel. It gives you a 100,000 repetitive words. A successful 100,000 word novel will have enough action, character development, and conflict to sustain that length. On the other hand, a 60,000 word novel presents its own challenges. There can’t be too much action to be played out, character to be developed, or conflict to be resolved else the story will feel rushed and the plot short-changed. It’s a bit of a Three Bears scenario in that all of a story’s elements have to be just right for its length. One might judge by length and think a 100,000 word book is harder to write than a shorter novel, but that’s not necessarily so.

One of the most demanding story lengths has to be that of the novella. I’m only familiar with the lengths published in the romance genre, so I’m speaking strictly to those. I’ve written one novella for a Harlequin single title anthology and two which were published by Harlequin Blaze. My most recent novella for Blaze, UNBROKEN, in the Tex Appeal anthology, came in at 21,425 words. For Kensington Brava, I’ve written two novellas of 15,000 or so words which were published in “six-pack” anthologies. I’ve also written four standalone novellas at approximately 35,000 words each. Most novellas are published in anthologies, and in romance, most anthologies consist of three novellas, though they can have more.

For their RITA contest, RWA defines a novella as follows:

In this category, a love story is the main focus, and the ending is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. Typically, the word count is 20,000 – 40,000 words.

Though everyone’s experience with writing novellas or short stories will be different, here are a few tips on how to effectively write in the shorter format. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of these tips are about limits. Having a limited word count automatically limits what can be done with the available words and in romance, those words need to be about the love story readers want. Whatever external plot point has brought your couple together will have to take a back seat to the development of their relationship because the one thing not negotiable is the genre requirements.

1 ) – Tell one character’s story. In longer romance novels, the hero and heroine both will have goals they wish to accomplish and conflict that keeps them from doing so. In a novella, keeping the focus on one goal, one conflict will shave off a lot of words. Making the story about one character allows you to dig deeper into who he is, what he wants, what drives him, and what he’ll do to get it. Splitting your 30,000 words between two characters allows less room for each. Instead of worrying about shortchanging one or the other, you can focus on the one who has something at stake.

2 ) – Avoid writing about strangers. It’s so much easier to write a short piece if your characters don’t have to do the Getting To Know You dance. If possible, give your characters a shared history. They don’t have to have known each other well, but having some sort of common ground makes for a much easier launch pad. In romance, friends to lovers is a perennial favorite and makes for great novella fodder. My novella in the Mother, Please! anthology was such a story.

3 ) – Stick to one plot. In the shorter length work, there is really no room to adequately develop a subplot, and this is coming from someone who has written subplots in almost all of her category length romances. I love, love, love subplots but for a novella, a single focus is your best bet. One plot allows for the full word count to be used to flesh out and add the necessary color every story deserves. Don’t cheat your main story because a shiny tangent has caught your eye.

4 ) – Limit secondary characters. My novella UNBROKEN is set on a ranch populated by several hands who work there for the hero, Wyatt Crowe. None of them have their own story, their own viewpoint, or do more than facilitate the main characters’ involvement. They work for the hero, but are there to supply information my heroine needs for a newspaper article. Whether in novels or novellas, secondary characters must serve more of a purpose than window dressing.

5 ) – The fewer viewpoints the better. I was going to suggest using only the hero and heroine, but in longer novellas, I can see a third viewpoint working. With a caveat. If a third is used, it would need to enhance the main plot, not add that character’s personal story to the mix. Too many viewpoints will split the focus and lessen the intensity of the scenes and the depth achieved. Readers want the story of the main couple. Use their points of view to deliver it.

Anyone have other suggestions?

Monday, June 29th, 2009 by Alison Kent
Why I’m Not Blogging Today

Today’s my day to blog. I didn’t forget, I just never got around to it. I started a couple of times this last week to put together a thoughtful post but was interrupted by life.

Instead of being thoughtful, I’m going to give you the Top Ten Reasons I’m Not Blogging Today.

1 ) ::cough:: ::sneeze:: ::sniffle:: My allergies are making my head a fuzzy blob. ::cough:: ::sneeze:: ::sniffle:

2 ) I’m reading copy edits for my December Brava WITH EXTREME PLEASURE.

3 ) I haven’t slept worth a crap all week, making my head a fuzzy blob.

4 ) I’ve had more paying web work than usual to do recently.

5 ) It’s been 100+ degrees for a week, it hasn’t rained for a month, and the heat and humidity are making my head a fuzzy blob.

6 ) We’re a four adult household now, and there’s always something going on that has to come before blogging.

7 ) I have Internet lethargy. I barely manage to get my business email read every day.

8 ) I have a new story idea percolating, and what brain cells inside my fuzzy blob of a head are working are focused on that.

9 ) I’ve been in a cleaning, organizing, shredding frenzy and haven’t wanted to stop.

10 ) Did I mention I have a fuzzy head? I look for words and lose them. I find myself staring off into space, thinking of story twists and turns. Maybe this fuzzy head thing is more about living in my story worlds instead of in real time!

There. My excuses. Lame, huh? Anyone have any questions? About writing? The biz? Anything? I’m happy to give you some fuzzy answers!

Monday, June 22nd, 2009 by Alison Kent
Friends as Secondary Characters

Edited from original post written at Blah Blog, February 8, 2005, and all I could manage today!

Annoying friends. We’ve all had them. Friends who get on our nerves one moment and to whom we’re pouring out our hearts the next. They exist. How close we are to them depends on a lot of personal factors. How long we’ve known them. The basis for the friendship. If we annoy them in equal measures. What part they play in our lives. What deep dark secrets they hold over our heads.

So what happens when we create characters like this? Are fictional heroes or heroines not allowed to have annoying friends, too? Or should these friends be written so that they annoy the characters only and not the readers as well? Is that even possible? Aren’t readers supposed to be experiencing the protagonist’s world – the ups and downs, the better and the worse, the good, the bad, and the ugly?

I’ve written story people who act in ways I don’t. They don’t even act in a way that I find particularly admirable. But they act appropriately within the boundaries of the fictional world in which they exist – and the book’s protagonist still considers them friends, puts up with their idiosyncracies, their occasional bouts of selfishness or wrongheaded decisions for any or all of the reasons listed above.

What’s wrong with that? Are authors only supposed to write admirable characters? Are we only supposed to arouse positive emotions? If a reader gets irritated by a character’s actions, does that mean the book is a failure? Can we not write real life people, complete with faults, quirks, annoying habits, and frustrating ways, and still have the book be a success?

Monday, June 15th, 2009 by Alison Kent
Headline Storks and Idea Fairies

Where do ideas come from?

That has to be the number one questions published authors are asked by readers, non-readers, aspiring authors, and anyone who is not a creative and doesn’t understand the nature of the ether. Or of the power of headlines, of people-watching, of tidbits gleaned during research turning into monsters with lives of their own. Let me show you how to come up with a half dozen ideas simply by cruising the web or picking a story element with potential and going from there.

1) Seven Civil War stories your teacher never told you

I often scan CNN.com’s headlines just to see if I’m missing anything good. (Since I’m married to @cuppacafe, I miss little.) Anyhow, #7 on that list: The armies weren’t all-male.

Hundreds of women on both sides pulled a Mulan, assuming male identities and appearances so that they might fight for their respective nations.

Some of them did it for adventure, but many did it for monetary reasons: the pay for a male soldier was about $13 month, which was close to double what a woman could make in any profession at the time.

Also, being a man gave someone a lot more freedoms than just being able to wear pants. Remember, this was still more than half a century away from women’s suffrage and being a man meant that you could manage your monthly $13 wages independently.

So it should come as no surprise that many of these women kept up their aliases long after the war had ended, some even to the grave.

You don’t even have to be a history buff to think, whoa! What an amazing idea for a story. A woman in man’s clothing fighting in the Civil War. It could be a historical romance, or a history based novel focusing on the journey of a single woman who found herself in such a position. Why was she there? What were her goals? What drove her? Money to support her family? Patriotism? Was she a spy? Now your book is a historical thriller. See how easy that was?

2) Galveston seeks grants to buy damaged homes

I follow the Houston Chronicle on Twitter. They tweet headlines throughout the day, just enough of a tease to make their followers want to click on the link to the story (or not). Now that it’s hurricane season, and with our part of the Texas Gulf Coast still remembering the devastation of last year’s Hurricane Ike, a story on Galveston’s damaged homes easily perks up my storytelling ears. I’d embellish, sure, and have a heroine holding onto the home that’s been in her family since the 1900 hurricane descimated the city. Since conflict is two dogs with one bone, I’d then have a hero who wants the property for a park to memorialize those who lost their lives in 2008 on the Bolivar Peninsula during Ike. It’s the perfect character driven romance.

3) A fun family voyage

Our ship hadn’t quite left port when I handed my teenager a present: a lovely leather-bound notebook with lined pages and a variety of colorful pens. His mission was to keep a cruise journal, a tell-all, remember-the-moments account of his days (and nights) on the high seas.

In the story, the parent goes on to explain that the kid, of course, was too busy having fun to record anything . . . but what if he did? What if he found a hideaway on deck and watched an elegantly dressed man and woman toss a heavy bundle overboard in the middle of the night? Or what if he witnessed two cruise ship employees purposefully sabotage the ship’s lifeboats? Why would they have done that? What’s their story? And what did the kid do? How much danger was he in as a witness? See? A YA mystery right there.

Now, notice something about each of those quick examples? The one thing they have in common? Yep, characters at the root of the plot – but then doesn’t story always come back to character? It does. And it should. What would Star Wars be without Han Solo? Twilight without Edward Cullen? Casablanca without Rick Blaine? As PBW says, Who are you? What do you want? What’s the worst thing that I can do to you? So let’s go from there. What next?

    You’ve concocted a heinous crime and want to write a thriller. Okay, who would commit such a crime? Why? Who was the victim, and what is his story – because here’s another thing about character. Every person in a book has their own reason for being there. The security guard who gets taken hostage by the bank robber in a police stand off might’ve had the day off. His co-worker buddy needed to drive his mother to the doctor, or meet the a/c repairman and let him into his house. Having nothing better to do, the security guard decided to pick up a few overtime bucks. Or maybe the security guard gig is simply holding him over until the plant where he’s worked for twenty years starts production again. So, who is the perpetrator, who is the victim? What FBI agent will get the case and what will it mean to her career? Your main story is your crime story, but each character has his own goals and motivations for being there, too. You’re writing more than a thriller. You’re writing studies of all the characters involved. Like a solar system, where the characters are the planets circling the plot of the sun.
    You want to write for Silhouette Special Edition. You’ve read the works of Karen Templeton, Crystal Green, Christine Rimmer. You’ve read the SSE writing guidelines at eHarlequin and listened to the editors’ podcast. Now it’s time to put your idea together. You like ranchers. You like babies. You come up with one of each and figure out a way to get them together by playing What If? What if your rancher’s teenage sweetheart returned to town with a child he’d never known he fathered and now might lose if their blood types don’t match? What if your rancher returned to his truck after dinner at a local diner to find a baby left in his front seat? Just don’t forget the mothers of these children have stories, too. It’s not just about the rancher!
    You want to write a space opera a la Firefly. You loved Firefly and Serenity. You mourn the cancellation of the series, as do I. Since the best plots are based in character, who are your characters? Do you have a six-shooting spaceman, a pilot savant, a cosmic hooker, a girl in a box, a man named Jayne? Okay, you don’t have to have all those, but you do have to populate your story with characters who will take the wheel of the plot and put the pedal to the metal of the forward motion. What year is it? What technological advances allowed your characters to colonize space? What is their history? Much of this is backstory you won’t necessarily give to your readers, but developing it for yourself will give your book a true authenticity.

In answer to the question, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ most authors will tell you that ideas are everywhere. In the news, in day to day life, in research, in dreams. Once you realize there’s almost nothing that can’t be turned into a viable story idea, your eyes and ears will be constantly keeping watch, and you’ll be hunting down pens and used napkins to jot notes so you won’t forget. And then there’s New York Magazine, the only mag I subscribe to. I mean, who can read this recent headline (not to mention the story) and not have all sorts of ideas: Secrets of the Deep: What lies beneath the surface of New York Harbor? For starters, a 350-foot steamship, 1,600 bars of silver, a freight train, and four-foot-long cement-eating worms. And, yeah. Ugh on the worms.

Ruby Fairy duster photo courtesy of John-Morgan

Monday, June 8th, 2009 by Alison Kent
Miracle-Gro(w)

I used to have this routine. I would get up, get coffee that was hot and fresh thanks to a coffeemaker with a timer, get in the shower WITH the coffee, and steam myself awake. Then I’d sit down at my desk to do my makeup for work, blow my hair dry, and read blogs while I did so. Since I hit the alarm clock’s snooze button as often as I could get away with, I didn’t have much time for this routine, and I was late to work a lot, getting caught up in a compelling discussion about a craft topic, or rubber necking at a trainwreck of an author or a reader or an industry type behaving badly. Once I was laid off permanently (both times, same place) I continued the routine, though I slept in later, not bothering with an alarm clock, so need for the snooze. Coffee and blogs it was, and since I owned my schedule, shower whenever, makeup never. In fact, I had to buy mascara for my son’s wedding a few years ago.

But a funny thing happened along the way. I’d realize riding into work on the bus, my notebook in my lap, my pen poised to write, that I wasn’t writing. I was mentally rebutting the blog comments that had riled me up. Or I was seething over something I’d read that I knew wasn’t true, but had no way of proving without betraying a confidence.distractions Those feelings ate at me, gnawing and vicious, and I didn’t write. Other times, I found that I wasn’t writing because I was, instead, thinking about the “new way” to develop characters or outline a plot that I’d read about. I wasn’t using my precious quiet time to keep my head focused on my way, my characters, my plot. I’d written how many books by then? I knew what I was doing, knew what worked for me. Yet I was letting the abundance of information out there get in the way of what I was doing. Both good information and bad. Encouraging words and vitriolic. And, yes, some of them mine. Many of those mornings riding to work on the bus, I wrote blog posts instead of pages. My head was busy digesting what I had fed it first thing, and what I had fed it was not nutritional. It was garbage. Tasty, but not the protein and vitamins and minerals and leafy greens and fiber my head needed. Hard to be productive when starting the day with junk food. So I stopped. Not then. Not even after my second lay-off when I knew I was home for good. I still spent countless hours each week cruising blogs and message boards, rarely commenting but seeing what was being said. What did readers like. What did they dislike. What authors had made sales. What houses were buying what genres. It was an information overload of the worst sort. It wormed its way into the synapses of my brain and refused to let the good stuff fire.

So I stopped . . . late last year, maybe. Or earlier this one. I had a book to finish, a lot of research to do for it, and found that I was spending my online time reading about forensic hypnosis instead of gawking at flame wars or wondering why I had never considered that particular way to write a synopsis. I was busy, I lost track of what was going on in the blogosphere. And I never went back. Biggest shocker of all? I don’t miss it. Not a bit. I still check two or three blogs daily, more as I have the time. I have good friends whose thoughts I enjoy reading, but I know it’s going to be a fun time when I go there. Like limerick reviews. Or storytelling insights. I also visit other blogs where I know I’ll enjoy the happy dog moments and never have to worry that my ire will rise.

When my ire doesn’t rise, when I don’t spend time wondering about what anyone but my editors like, when I pay no attention to the way others write and do my own thing, guess what happens? I have ideas. I have words. I get struck by the inspiration that had given up trying to sow seeds in the detritus of my head, unable to find even the smallest patch of fertile ground in which to send down roots. No, I don’t know what’s going on out there in the blogosphere half the time. In the industry, even. Emails from friends are the only way I get word of this news or that. And I’m okay with it. Maybe one day I’ll get back to making rounds.

Maybe I’ll even get back to blogging regularly at my own site, rather than throwing up (Freduian, much?) the occasional post, but my new routine suits me just fine. I sleep late. I visit with whatever family members are still at home, I drink my coffee while checking my business email, then I get down to the work. It’s a good life. Think I’ll keep it. What about you? Do you find you’re spending too much time reading about writing, or talking about writing, or studying writing, and not writing?

Day 133 – D is for Distractions photo courtesy of gotplaid?

Monday, June 1st, 2009 by Alison Kent
A Need To Know Basis

Last Monday on Twitter, I had a short conversation with Jim Duncan.

Me: Trying to decide if WAY complicated backstory / history is going to be worth all this frackin’ WORK, argh!
Jim: I’ve had the issue with my epic fantasy. Soooo much material that could be fleshed out, but then how much do you really need?
Me: *I* need to know it all, but how much goes into the synopsis for my agent, and how much into the book for the reader?
Jim: Good question. My fantasy story is very suspense/thriller oriented, and goes light on the immersion, so worried it’ll throw folk
Jim: as a reader, I only need to know enough to explain things in the presented story. Do I want more? probably. Put it on ur site.

So here I am, putting it on my site. *g* How much backstory / history does an author need to know before writing, while writing, and how much of that needs to go into the book for the reader?

Simple answer? That depends. And it actually depends on two things: the book and the author.

It’s easiest to give examples from my own experience, so here are three. The first is the project I mentioned in this post. The second is a project my agent will be shopping as soon as I get it tweaked and back to her! The third is the project I will tackle next in my never to be thwarted efforts to be published well!

The “Letting Go” project is the most traditional in its use of backstory. It’s set in the present day. Circumstances bring a 17 year old “incident” into the lives of my story people. Each member of the affected family has to deal with what is essentially a betrayal by someone dear to all of them. Each has to rethink how much they allowed this person to impact their lives. Do they continue on as they have been? Or does this new information negate everything they thought they knew about themselves?

For this story, all I need to know of the past is what inspired this incident, what about the characters involved evoked their flaws, their weaknesses, that they allowed this to happen? Would they have considered the affect on their families should the betrayal be discovered? Most of that is for me only. The two main characters involved died before the story opened. They won’t be on the page to show any of this, but as the author, *I* need to know in order to make their motivations believable.

The third example (yes, I’m skipping around) has a backstory element that occurred in 1950 but drove everything one of the characters would do for the rest of her life. She’s already passed on when the story opens, but the mystery surrounding her life is a a major part of the plot. The husband and I were dicussing this idea, as we do with most of my books (he is the best story sounding board ever, no matter how often we fight our way through), and he disagreed with a direction I’d gone. He said it wasn’t in character. He was wrong. *g*

The character was born in 1922. She grew up during the depression, saw WWII, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, the women’s rights movement. She started her family in the 1940s, and would have been a traditional homemaker, not a woman of the world. The backstory had everything to do with who she was, the choices she made through the years before her death at 86. To portray her honestly, *I* had to know what she experienced, how societal changes shaped her.

Not all of those things will make it onto the page as the story takes place in the present day, but as the author, *I* must be aware of them. This character would not ring true if I used my own world view to create her. I wasn’t born in 1922. I haven’t lived through the things she did, so it’s important I take all of those influences into consideration when writing her.

However, I don’t need to give readers a history lesson, explaining the depression or women’s rights. Those things are part of our culture. We’ve studied them in school and know (or once did) names and dates and other facts. They’re in our collective subconsious. They don’t need to be infodumped into the book.

Example #2 (yeah, yeah) is a bit different. I’ve gone back to 1540s Chile and the invasion of the Spanish for my backstory. I have learned more about the Mapuche people of Chile and Argentina than anyone will ever need to know. (The colors of their flag each have meaning: red – blood drained in the wars: green – nature, earth: blue – sky, hope: yellow – sun, light: white – the Mountains of the Mapuche Land. See? No one needs to know that!) What all this research has done, however, is given me a firm foundation on which to build.

The Mapuche mythology will be born out in my characters, but readers won’t necessarily know that. Or what bits I reveal will be enough to answer their questions about why something has happened, or what a certain tradition means. Much more of this project’s backstory will be given to the reader than the backstory in the other two proposals. Or at least given directly as opposed to just being used to shape the characters. Wherein readers don’t need a refresher course on WWII or Vietnam, most won’t know that the Mapuche vice toqui Lautaro, once a captive of the Spaniards, used their own weapons against them and led his indigenous army to victory. If I find when writing that I need to give that bit of history to readers, I’ll need to find a non-Dan-Brown-infodump way to do so. Honestly, I won’t know that until I get there. But when I do get there, it’ll come naturally because it’s something I’ve already learned and used in my world-building.

Now, I know that a lot of authors only do research as they need it. They don’t pour over Websites about the Mapuche people unless they find a place in their stories where the information needs to be inserted for the reader to understand the plot or the character development. I’m of the other school. I need to know as much as possible before writing because I won’t know I need something if it’s not there waiting for me to use. The devil is in the details. Make sense? And, yes, when I put together a proposal, I do include all of my research with my pitch package so my agent will see that I know what I’m doing. *g*

What about the rest of you? Do you create monstrous backstories before you settle in to work, or do you put your characters’ histories together as you write? Do you find all or little of what you develop making its way into your story?

detail of a life history photo courtesy of *madalena-pestana* – half of me