Archive for the 'Craft' Category

Friday, June 29th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Notes From an Editor Call

Since I know a lot of the readers here are aspiring authors who want to know what the process is like from the contracted side of the fence, I thought I’d share a little bit of process with you.

A week ago, I got at revision letter from my editor for my latest manuscript. Yesterday, I had a phone call with her to discuss the revision letter and my plan of action.

This is what I do when I get a revision letter (your mileage may vary).

  1. I open a bottle of wine and pour myself a glass.
  2. I read the revision letter, start to finish.
  3. I take a walk, mop the floors, fold the laundry, otherwise do some sort of busy work while I ruminate. Sometimes I have another glass of wine.
  4. I go back to the revision letter with a couple of highlighters and start in, highlighting bits that I need to concentrate on and leaving notes in the margins about possible solutions.
  5. I brainstorm with my husband and critique partners about ways to solve things.
  6. Once I have a plan of action in place, I call my editor to discuss it, as well as ask her advice about any sticky places or articles of disagreement.
  7. I do not drink wine before calling my editor.

So yesterday, I set up a phone call with my editor. This is my fourth book with her, so we know each other pretty well by this time. We talked for a few minutes about summer vacation plans, the deliciousness of heirloom tomatoes, what my toddler is up to, and my upcoming events for my latest book release (which is also one of hers). Then we segued into the letter. The Letter.

Just kidding. Editorial letters are actually pretty pleasant. Editors usually start out telling you how much they love the book, before they tell you about all the stuff they want you to change.

And here’s the thing I’ve learned — usually, editors stick to pointing out problems. They may offer solutions, and if they feel right to you, then you should use them, but you can also come up with something different that will solve the problem the editor’s having.

To give you an example, a few of the problems my editor pointed out in my latest manuscript (she was actually much more detailed and eloquent in pointing this out, but in the interest of simplicity and spoilers, I’ll be brief and generic):

  1. too many secondary characters with too little depth
  2. not enough focus on the heroine falling for the hero (the opposite was apparently fine)
  3. the hero’s little sister, who is an important part of the plot, is forgotten for big swaths.

I realized, during my planning sessions, that I might be able to solve all of these problems by combining the sister character with another secondary character, an associate of the heroine’s, who was in the story a lot more, but wasn’t intimately connected to the hero. This would help reduce the number of secondary characters that were crowding the story while deepening the role of the (combined) character that remained. Also, it would bring the sister to the forefront. Finally, because it would give the heroine more opportunities to interact with the hero’s sister, it would give me an opportunity to show how the heroine’s feelings toward the hero were evolving. (You can’t help but think of the guy you’re falling for when you’re hanging out with his beloved little sister).

So during the call, I laid out my plan to my editor, talking about the points in her letter hat I think this change would solve, and explaining how it would alter the story. She gave me some suggestions for scenes I hadn’t even thought of yet, and we decided to move forward with it.

We had similar discussions about other elements of the story. One of the problems I’m having with this story is landing on the perfect opening. (I’ve tried five.) We brainstormed yet another opening, and I offered to send it to her, prior to turning in the rest of the revision, to see if we were on the right track.

Since we’re both really well read in what’s going on in teen literature these days, we have a shared vocabulary of solutions. “Well what if I did something kind of like what Cassandra Clare did in this one scene in City of Ashes?” or “There’s that scene in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy that accomplishes something like that.” And of course, “I think we want to stay away from anything like in [REDACTED].”

After we went through the letter, we chatted a little bit about cover ideas. And then I had to go make dinner for my family. But now I’m diving into the revisions, happy that my editor and I are on the same page about where to go from here.

So that’s how it works for me. I know other writers who don’t get revisions letters at all, or have gotten manuscripts back with the equivalent of big red Xs on them, but I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have editors that are very involved and willing to work with me to make my manuscript the book we both know it can be.

Monday, June 18th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The First Basic Question

Here’s a tough question I get sometimes, one that I had to figure out how to really articulate clearly a couple of weeks ago when I taught a workshop for a roomful of teenagers:  How do you get started?  Not with outlining or telling a story or learning about craft or trying to get published.  I mean when someone wants to be a writer but has yet to put down words and isn’t sure where to start with even that very first step.  (I’ve been writing since I was eight.  This isn’t an issue I’ve had to deal with for awhile, so I really had to think about it.)

I wonder, sometimes, if writing can seem like such an arcane activity that some people need permission to start.  Or need to get over the hurdle and into believing that yes, anyone who is literate can write.  When someone asks, “I want to write but I don’t know how to start,” what can I tell them?  I’ve come up with a few ideas of how to get people there.

Brainstorming.  Write down ideas, and don’t worry about making them sentences, or making the words pretty.  Make a list if you have to.  You want to write, you’ve got ideas — write them down in whatever form you can.  The point is just to get words on a page, the first words that come into your mind.

Journaling.  Start small:  go outside, go to a park, go to the mall.  Bring a notepad and pen.  Sit quietly, just watching and listening.  Then, write what you see.  Time it, at first — spend ten minutes writing everything:  the people you see, the noises you hear, the kinds of activity going on around you.  Describe the trees, the clouds, the sky.  Again, this doesn’t even have to be prose.  Just make a list.  Describe as much as you can, in as much detail as you can.  This is why the timer helps — you have to force yourself to keep writing, and I can’t isn’t an excuse.  (I still keep a travel journal, which helps me get down my newest experiences and sights into concrete form.)

Personal Journaling.  Keep a diary of your day’s activities, and get in the habit of doing this for a few minutes every day.  Again, focus on details, senses, feelings.  Practice getting that storm of thoughts in your brain onto the page, a little bit at a time.

All these activities kickstart the practice of getting thoughts from your brain onto paper, and the more you do this the easier it will get.  No one will read any of this, it’s all for you, so like I said, don’t worry at all.  Just practice making marks on a page or typing words on the screen.  I think you’ll find that if you do this every day, it gets easier.  If you start by setting a timer and forcing yourself to write for five or ten minutes, you’ll get to a point where the timer bell goes off, and you’re still writing.  That ten minutes will turn into twenty, then a half an hour, and beyond.  Writing takes practice.  It’s a muscle you have to develop.  You might start with lists, but soon your thoughts will start flowing, one sentence into the next.

You may not even realize it when those random thoughts, lists, and ideas start flowing into a continuous narrative.  And the stories that have been living in your brain will start to find their way to the page.

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 by Sasha White
Flesh it out.

I’ve always been someone who struggles to meet my word counts. It seems like no matter how hard I try, how much I plan, or what length of story I’m striving to write I tend to come up short on my goal count. I’m not a fan of adding things like plenty of description, or even sex scenes, just for the sake of word counts. I prefer things that move the move the story forward, or at the very least, flesh it out a bit.

One of the things *I* look at when I’m short and know I have to add words is if there is any where I can develop a character more by turning something small into a bit more.

Example: When I first wrote TROUBLE this was how this part was written.

Bodies brushed against her as she walked, and Samair felt alive for the first time in a long while, almost as if she were wakeing from a deep sleep. Stepping up to the bar she smiled at the bartender and ordered a tequila and water. The sexy Goth chic made the drink and accepted the payment, winking at Samair when she was told to keep the change.

Glass in hand she started the stroll around the club. A tingle of awareness danced up her spine and she looked over her shoulder but saw no one following her. She continued to walk around the club, heading for the dance floor, unable to shake the feeling that someone was watching her in the packed crowd of the busy club.

That’s 127 words… Now, I tend to edit as I go, so the next day before I started writing I went over the day before’s work to edit, and changed it to this….

Bodies brushed against her as she walked, and Samair felt alive for the first time in a long while. Almost as if she were waking from a deep sleep.

She watched the couple behind the bar as they mixed drinks for the crowd. The male bartender was tall, slim and clean cut while the girl was the complete opposite with vivid purple streaks throughout her black hair, heavy eye make-up, and black lipstick.
Despite being the odd-couple, it was clear they got along as they worked well in a synchronized dance behind the bar. When she was up, Samair ordered her drink and decided to do things the easy way. “Is Joey Kent here tonight?”

“Joey’s here somewhere.” Purple and black curls bobbed as the bartender squeezed a lime in Samair’s drink. “If you can’t find her in the crowd, wait ten minutes and you’ll see her in one of the cages. She never breaks for long.”

That sounded like the Joey she knew. Full of fire and never far from a dance floor.

“Thanks.” Samair put a ten-dollar bill down and picked up her drink. “Keep the change.”
“Anytime, sweetness,” she replied with a wink and a grin that was completely at odds with her dark Goth look.

Glass in hand, Samair started the stroll around the club. A tingle of awareness danced up her spine and she looked over her shoulder, but saw nothing unusual. She continued her walk around the club, heading for the dance floor, unable to shake the feeling that someone was watching her through the packed crowd.

Now, it’s 266 words. Not a huge thing, but if you do something like this in a few places throughout the story, it makes a difference.

I did something like this again later in the story, using the bartender in a short scene with the hero (who owns the bar) to show a specific aspect of the hero. The funny thing, Kelsey, the bartender, ended up being the heroine in a later book. (MY PREROGATIVE) Which goes to show you that sometimes the little things not only improve your word count, and help round things out, but they can be a blessing later on. :)

Monday, May 21st, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
WIP Revision

I’m closing in on finishing my current Work In Progress, the twelfth Kitty novel.  I even have a title, but I need to run it by some folks first before I start advertising it.  I’m at the stage where I’m reading over and revising the whole thing to make it look like the book it’s supposed to be, and not the one I thought it was going to be when I started.  It’s kind of a slog, but also exciting to see it all come together.

I had a rough time starting on the read-through — because the opening paragraph sucked.  I mean really sucked.  I looked at it and thought, “Geez, I don’t want to read this, and it’s my own damn book!”  So I changed it.  Here’s the before and after.


I sat in my office at radio station KNOB waiting for the printer to finish spitting out the page I’d asked for.  I’d found the picture on a website, and I wanted a different perspective on it.  Hence, the printing.  The full-color image took longer than the usual couple of seconds a page usually took to spill out of the machine.

This is a terrible opening paragraph.  It’s not inherently a terrible paragraph — as part of a description in the middle of some other scene.  What’s going on here?  In the opening scene, I want to introduce a piece of folklore that’s going to be meaningful for Kitty as the book progresses.  She’s printing off information she found online.  But who wants to read about something as boring and mundane as waiting for the printer to print?  What the hell was I thinking, starting with this?  This paragraph is generic, dull, and delivers no important information for the story.  It doesn’t tell me anything about Kitty, what she’s like, or what the book is going to be about.  Let’s not even talk about whether or not it “hooks” the reader.

After the revision:

Online research was a mixed bag.  I could find the most insane conspiracy theories, essays, and propositions, which I could then use to incite heated debate on my radio show.  Not just flat earth but cubed earth, or aliens living at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, or a pseudo-scientific study claiming that vampire strippers make more in tips than mortal strippers because of their hypnotic powers.  (Vampire strippers?  Really?  Could I get one on the show for an interview?)  Or I could click through useless links for hours and feel like I’ve wasted a day.

Sometimes, I typed in my search request and found treasure.

Okay, this is interesting.  From this I learn that Kitty hosts a radio show of some kind (the first version was vague on that score), and by the topics she brings up I can guess the show is pretty wacky.  She deals with off-the-wall subjects — and the rest of the book probably will, too.  And that line about vampire strippers?  If that doesn’t make you smile, this probably isn’t your kind of book.  If it does — hey, you’ll probably be happy to keep reading.  And the last line, about treasure?  That’ll make you keep reading to learn what she found.

The first paragraph was a list of meaningless, contextless actions.  The second paragraph breaks some so-called rules of opening a novel — it doesn’t have any action, it doesn’t set a scene (I think I was trying to do it this way on the first paragraph, and failed).  But it gets the reader straight inside the head of my protagonist, which for the twelfth novel in a series is the important thing, I think.  People are reading for Kitty, not for printers.  More than anything, though, it captures Kitty’s voice, which the first version didn’t do.

A big part of writing is developing that gut feeling, that instinct that tells you, “You know, this just ain’t right.”  It can be tough — normal writer insecurity means that we often feel like it all sucks.  But there’s a difference between general insecurity, and a real problem.  When I’m revising, I try to read my work as if I’m coming to it for the first time, and noting the places I stumble or get bored.  Because that usually indicates a problem.

Monday, April 23rd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Writing For Yourself

I spent this past weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.  This was my very first full-on writer conference of this kind.  When I was a struggling/aspiring writer, I never went to anything other than science fiction conventions and small-scale workshops, so this was a whole new world for me.  I have some thoughts on what it was like to attend my first conference as an instructor and panelist rather than as an aspiring attendee, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was sitting on a panel with Jeffrey Deaver, Robert Crais, and Joe Lansdale.  I know, right?  Three veteran, accomplished, amazing writers — and me.  I confess to feeling a bit intimidated beforehand.  Fortunately, all three of them are gracious, thoughtful, and generally cool folk to hang out with, so I had a great time.  Plus, the topic of the panel was The Series Writer, which I happen to know something about, so I definitely had something to say.

One of the topics that came up, that we all agreed on, was how you have to be your own first reader.  You can’t listen to your readers.  I think I’ve talked about this before, that when you’re writing a series, you get to a point where your readers have ideas about what should happen next, and they’ll tell you, or write about it online, or whatever.  And you, the writer, simply can’t listen to any of it.

You have to have faith that your readers keep reading because they like what you’re doing, and you have to keep putting you into your books, not anyone else.  The minute you start listening to what people want to you do with the series and your characters, the series stops being yours, and you’ll lose what made your series unique in the first place.

For that reason, I’ve been grateful that I’m usually a couple of books ahead of my readers.  The Kitty novel coming out this summer, Kitty Steals the Show, is the tenth.  The rough draft I’m working on right now — number twelve.  It’s been like that pretty much the whole way through.  That means that I can’t possibly react to what my readers say.  I’ve done things my readers don’t like — but I’ve already moved the story along a book or two, and I can’t go back to change anything.  This ensures that the story I’m writing is mine, and not reactionary.  I think this has been all for the best.

As a corollary, I recommend, that when you sell your series, when you get that two-book contract, and the first book is written and on the publisher’s schedule for maybe six months to a year out — write the next book before the first one is released.  Get it done.  Get your vision on paper before you can possibly get a reaction from the general readership.  That way, you’ll never second guess yourself.

Monday, April 16th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
An excellent bit of characterization

I was on the ABC website, poking around for information about when the next new episode of Castle was going to air (must…have…Castle…fix…).  The site for the show has a lot of cool extras, the coolest of which may be this:  Castle’s Bucket List (opens as a PDF).

This is a list of 50 items, about 15 of which are crossed off.  I got to thinking what a clever document this is.  Not only is it an exercise in characterization, it tells stories.  Some of the items we know about from the show, some we don’t but they’re so true to the character I believe them.  Some items hint at stories that I can’t help but wonder about.  #39, Visit every IKEA, is crossed off?!?  Juggle chainsaws is crossed off?  Castle can juggle chainsaws?  This doesn’t surprise me, knowing Castle, but wow!  Now, I doubt we’ll ever see Castle actually juggle chainsaws on the show, and that’s okay.  It’s enough to believe the character has a life outside the show.  The list is funny, revealing, and poignant:  the last item, “Get married and make it last,” is not crossed off.

I love this, because it shows that even a simple piece of writing, like a list, can be a story, hinting at drama and conflict and possibly unreachable goals, leaving me, the reader, with a longing to know what’s going to happen to this character next.  Great stuff.

Would you be able to make a bucket list for your characters?  Would your character even be the kind of person to have a bucket list?

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 by Sasha White
Q & A with Sasha

I put out a call on Facebook and twitter yesterday for suggestions from people about what topics they’d like to see me write on. I got quite a few responses, so I decided to just do a Q & A post.

* * * * *

Robert asked “What and if there are, what are the rules when writing about sex?”
I’m not a big fan of “rules” when it comes to writing, so I’d like to say there aren’t any, however, that would be lying.
I guess the first rule is the one you see in almost every call for submissions. Basically don’t write it if it’s illegal. No bestiality, no incest, no rape, no under age sex. Things like that. Publishers, and readers tend to frown on them.

My own personal rule for writing sex is know your audience. If you’re target is a men’s magazine, don’t focus on romance or deep emotional aspects, focus on the physical aspects more-the pleasure, the fantasy aspect that would make it a one-handed read for the audience of that market. Ditto for erotic romance. Your main audience is made up of women, so when writing for that market you must develop the emotional aspects and keep the heat. Make sense?

Eden Bradley suggested. “Your take on self-publishing? 
I think self publishing can be a good thing, for some people. It all depends on the person. Not everyone likes to deal with covers, and finding editors, or formatting, and uploading…there’s a lot of work that goes into self-publishing something. It can be rewarding, but it’s not simple. The same can be said for sticking with just writing and submitting to a publisher (be it electronic or traditional). What is right for some is not right for others.
I enjoy self-publishing some of my stories, but I don’t want to do all of them that way. Sure the higher royalty is nice, but man, it is a lot of work, and it really does take time away from the actual job of writing.

All-in-all I think self-publishing is best thought of as a tool for writers building a career, and not a career in and of itself.

(For a post I did a short time ago on Real Number in self publishing, click here. )


Laura Lane had a couple suggestions for me. (thank you, Laura!)
1) How about the pitfalls of publishing & what u wish someone had told u b4 you started writing?

I wish someone had warned me to take care of myself better. That physical health does/can effect creativity. Maybe then I would’ve worked harder to stay in shape, and saved myself a lot of pain (mental and physical). I’ve tried to share bits of this before in posts like this one: Tips for being healthy & Productive.I also wished someone would’ve told me that everyone has doubts, and not to freak out when I have my own. One of my previous posts talking about this aspect of things is here: Doubt Demons.

2) How about why you write in the genre you do?

It’s gonna sound crass, but I started writing erotica because thats where I could make some money. I’ve been a fan of reading it for years, and when I took a writing course my mentor asked if I’d ever written it. I replied ‘No.’  I’d wanted to be a travel writer, and the thought of writing fiction, a novel, was in the back of my mind as a ‘someday’ sort of thing. He asked me to writ an erotic short story, so I gave it a shot. When he read it he told me that was where I was gonna make my money. He said I had a very ‘salacious imagination’, and it turns out he was right.

That said, i continue to write it because I enjoy it. The more I dug into writing it, the more I enjoyed it. Sex is such a basic need, one we all share, and human sexuality fascinates me.

Alex Van Tol asked How do you manage the constant flow of ideas? Do you force new ones away while you stick it out w/ the old? New ideas are so shiny…
Sadly, I’m not one of those authors who always has a ton of ideas for stories. I actually can get stuck pretty often. That said, there has been a time or three when I was working on something that another idea has popped into my head and done it’s damnedest to seduce me away for some fun times. When that happens I go. Yes, I willingly trail after the tantalizing sparkly new idea and indulge in the fun-for a time. I’ll give myself a day to get as much of the shiny new idea down (and it really is amazing what you can get done in a day when your focussed) and then I set it aside and get back to the work. Because the work needs to be done, and you can only play hooky for so long before the real world of deadlines comes around and kicks your ass.

I believe that there is magic in sparkly new ideas, and you should follow them and let the magic shine, but I don’t like getting my ass kicked. So… indulge, but only for a set time.

* * * * *

I really enjoyed doing this and would love to do it again, so if you have any questions for me send them in. You can do tweet it to me, post it on my wall on Facebook, or simply email me.