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Monday, June 20th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Evolution of an Ongoing Series Part 1: The Kitty Books

Putting my notes for this post together, I decided I’d better break it up into two parts.  The first will be about the evolution of the Kitty series specifically:  how I set it up, what I was thinking, how it turned into the ongoing series it is today, what my process is for continuing.  The second post will be more general:  what I’ve learned about writing a series, what I think is important in building an ongoing series.

I’ve mentioned before, Kitty and The Midnight Hour was the fourth book I tried to sell, and I didn’t have an indication it would generate any more interest than the three books I tried to sell before that.  So I wrote it to be complete on its own, just for my own satisfaction if nothing else.  That said, I’d already written four short stories featuring the character and had an outline for the second novel ready to go.  But while I was shopping it around, I went to work on a completely different novel that turned into Discord’s Apple.

Well, Kitty and The Midnight Hour sold, and so did its sequel.  The first book was successful enough my agent and I anticipated getting an offer for two more books, and we did.  I was still working on the assumption that I couldn’t count on writing any more books, and I needed to not get too ambitious.  I had the ideas for the next two books nailed down.  More than that, though, they formed a series arc — the four books together would tell a satisfying story of Kitty learning, growing, leaving her pack, then coming home a stronger, more confident person ready to take charge.  The end of Kitty and The Silver Bullet (Kitty #4) doesn’t leave any serious loose threads hanging. Except I had a few more ideas. . .

Then Kitty and The Silver Bullet hit the New York Times list, and I knew that I’d be writing more books in the series.  By this time I’d quit my day job and Kitty was paying my bills.  Makes me sound really mercenary, doesn’t it?

But I kept getting more ideas, and I don’t think I would have been able to keep up with the series if I hadn’t.  This was also the point when I realized I could conceivably keep writing Kitty books as long as I wanted to, and what was I going to do about it?  I really started thinking hard about what makes a good ongoing series, and what makes series fail.  I had examples of both, in books and TV, and so I made a list of what a good series needs.  I wrote about what I learned in an earlier post.

It’s the last point on that list — creating an overall series arc and ongoing goal for my main character — that I suddenly had to confront.  For Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan, the series arc was him finding his place in his conservative patriarchal society — would he ever find respect among his own people?  Would he find someone he could marry and start a family with?  For most of the series, those questions are always on his mind and drive many of his decisions.

I came up with a couple of things to drive the Kitty series, and they both show up in Silver Bullet.  First, the personal:  her conflict with her werewolf self and whether or not she’ll ever be able to have a “normal,” stable life, including having children.  Second, the external:  a huge, save-the-world type conflict in the concept of the Long Game, a political conspiracy among the world’s vampires.  By this time I had also come up with a big bad guy to go along with the conspiracy, but Roman doesn’t make his first appearance until #6, Kitty Raises Hell.  I’ve purposefully left both these story threads open ended, because I can fit any number of different plots into them.  And when I need an antagonist, I have one built into the series.  I know where I’d like the series to end up — that gives me a direction, a guideline, and will hopefully prevent any X-Files Season 5-type stumbles where I’m juggling so many balls that they all drop.

I’m now almost a quarter of the way into writing Kitty #11.  No one is more shocked than I am, because I had no idea the character would take me this far when I was shopping Midnight Hour around back in 2003.  I still have that last book in mind — I know what happens to Kitty, I know what happens to Roman, I know how that conflict resolves (mostly).  But I gotta tell you, I’m not sure I’m any closer to that ending than I was when I wrote #6.  I think this comes from really wanting each book to stand alone, and wanting to write a different book every time.  This is what got me Kitty’s House of Horrors and Kitty Goes to War — ideas I really wanted to deal with, that are perfect fits for Kitty, and they work because the plots grow out of Kitty’s reactions to the ideas.  When I start to get lost, I think:  Go back to the arc.  Go back to the Long Game and Kitty’s place in the world.  How can I fit that in?  I’m hoping that when it’s all said and done, the series-long story will look like I planned it from the start.

Where I’m at now:  #10 is in copy edits, I’m working on #11, and I have the idea seeds for #12 and #13.  I have a couple of other ideas brewing that I don’t want to say too much about until they become sure things.  So, the pattern I’ve followed so far is holding steady.

Some things I’m noticing:  the books feel more episodic, in that I’m dealing with several smaller stories in each one instead of one big story.  The earlier books feel more cohesive to me, because they had such a strong, single arc; but that may just be my perception.  At this point, I have dozens of secondary characters and lots of past stories I can revisit, and those are always on the table.  It’s a blessing and a curse — if I need a temporary ally or villain, chances are I already have one set up.  At the same time, I can’t touch on all the possibilities in every book.  I really can tell that I’m juggling more balls than I was when I wrote #3.

I once said that I imagined 4-5 Kitty books and no more.  The trouble is, I keep getting ideas.  Every book has had a plot line that didn’t fit, that’s formed the basis of the next book.  If the pattern holds, the series may never reach the natural end I have in mind for it.  All I can do right now is keep thinking two books ahead and see where the road takes me.

It’s worked so far, so I can’t complain.

Next week:  Lessons Learned

Saturday, June 18th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
So You Wanna Write Your First Novel, Part 3: Post-Draft

Saturday again!

As you read this, I’m getting ready for my impromptu Little Sister Van Recovery Road Trip Book Tour.  Me and my little sis driving her van from Denver back to the Pacific Northwest.  So if you’re in Denver, Salt Lake City or Boise, you should come out and see me.  Check my Facebook wall for details.

For those of you who are joining us, I’ve spent the last few weeks talking about writing the first novel.  Ultimately, we all have to find our own way as writers but this is a combination of what I did and/or what I learned when I wrote mine.  I hope it’s helpful for you.

So, we’ve finished the first draft of our novel.  Woot!  This is a big deal.  You’ve been out there, I’m sure, to the workshops and conventions.  Everyone is working on a novel.  But very few have finished a first draft, much less completed revisions and put it out to market.  So finishing is a big deal. 

Save and close your file.  Create adequate backups (in addition to this, I send frequent emails of the file throughout the drafting process to some trusted friends so that the .doc can easily be found in my Sent Items and their Inboxes.)

You’ve closed the file.  Now, you leave it closed for a few weeks, maybe longer.  What next?

Well, this is a huge accomplishment.  It’s time to celebrate a milestone. 

First, there are the people in your close inner circle who lived with less of you while you wrote this book – or lived with the version of you that mumbled, muttered and moved throughout the house in a detached way while the Real You lived in another world populated by imaginary people and problems.  That person who lived with that version of you deserves a date.  A nice one.  And if you chose wisely in the partnership department, they’ll be wanting to reciprocate and find some nice way to memorialize and celebrate this occasion. 

If you’re like me, you thought about how you wanted to celebrate before you sat down to start — it gives you a great incentive for finishing.  And hopefully, you’ve thought of other places along the way to celebrate and positively reinforce you’re diligence and persistence. 

Hell, have a little party.  It takes a village to write a novel.  Invite some friends over, break open some bottles of something.   

Do your celebrating soon, though, because within a few days the euphoria of finishing will lighten up a bit and you may find yourself utterly exhausted.  Most of my friends who write novels (including me) get a bit of post partum depression with the birth of our paper children.  It doesn’t typically last long but there’s a distinct bit of ”down” that shows up for most of us.  During this time, beware the resurgence of the Chattering Head Monkeys!  Also resist the urge to open that file and start tinkering.  Or despairing.  You just worked your ass off.  You need a break. 

So be good to yourself those first two weeks after.  Take naps.  Go for walks.  Resume a comfortable intake of Someone Else’s Story.  I don’t care if it’s a stack of books or a Netflix On Demand binge of movies and TV series or twenty hours of Fallout 3 on the Xbox 360.  You need Story…not yours…to get that well filled up again.  And to cleanse your palate.  Typically, I go outside of the genre I write in for this when it comes to books.  Otherwise, I’m reading like a writer instead of like a reader.  And both are fine but after a writing a novel, it’s good to have something engagingly different from what you just got done building yourself.

So binge on Story. 

Do some writing after a few days — jot down the things you learned.  If you’re a blogger, this is a great time to blog your experience.  You never know when it might benefit someone else.

And, after you’ve had a few weeks off from fiction, roll up your sleeves and go write something short.  Let your well-rested brain play in a short story.  Give yourself a week to draft something and then put it away and go find your file. 

It’s time for you to make some decisions about how you’re going to proceed.

Next week, we’ll talk about those decisions in Part 4:  Pre-Revision.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by Sasha White
Know when to walk away.

It’s crucial to the success of an authors career to understand that writing a great story is work. Some ideas will flow and grow naturally, and some will take every ounce of heart you’ve got, along with some blood, sweat and tears. That does not mean you don’t try them out…it just means that you need to learn when to call it quits.

Not every idea you have is going to be an easy one, and it’s imperative you realize this. Sometimes, an idea seems perfect and magical until you actually start working it out. Then holes pop up and characters become unbelievable, or worse yet, turn to cardboard.

Knowing when to push through and make a story work, and when to walk away and leave it for another time is a big thing.

Some author friends tell me they’ve never run into an idea that they haven’t been able to make work, but a couple of  others have let me know that I’m not alone because I, for one, don’t always get it right. There are times when pushing and pushing has worked, and times when it hasn’t, and I’ve sat down and tried to work only to stare blankly for a couple of hours before forcing myself to actually get words on the page, then hate those words and trash those pages forever.

I wish I could tell you how to know the difference, but I’m still working on that myself. What I can tell you is that it’s my belief that as long as you honestly put everything into each and every idea you try to make work, you won’t regret it when you realize that one of them isn’t working. It’s important not to give up or walk away too early, because that can become a bad habit.  So instead of giving advice this week, I’m asking for advice. Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever walked away from an idea, and if you have, how did you know it was time?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by Sasha White
Start your engines

I often here writers talk about ‘the sagging middle” of a story. How they struggle to get through it, some writers struggle with how to tie things up at the end. Me…it’s the beginning. The first one thousand words of a short story or five thousand of a novel kill me.

I know it’s because I have that damn internal editor inside me questioning every word I put on the page, but knowing it’s a process does not make it any easier to get through. With that in mind I’ve put together a little list of things that help me start my creative engine and get over the hump.

1) A Challenge.
While I’ll often challenge friend to write 1k in 1 hour or see who can write the most in 20 minute sprints, It’s not good to depend on others to get myself started, so I’ve been known to use Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die program, or simply hermit away and use the the Neo with no internet access.

2) Do something.
When I find myself either staring at the screen for too long, or surfing the net too much I get up and walk away from the computer and do something else.e ANything else that isn;t writing oriented. Walk around the block, do the dishes, take a shower, bakes some cookies. Getting away from the computer and DOING something often helps me focus when I do sit back down.

3) Take a nap.
Yes, this is just the opposite of number 2, but at the same time it helps. I lie down with the story idea or problem in mind, and often the solution comes to me when half away. The key to this is that I have to start writing again as soon as I wake up though, or I forget whatever it was that came to me and start thinking too hard and questioning myself again.

What do you do when you need to get past a hurdle?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 by Sasha White
The core of it.

“Sex acts don’t drive erotica, the people who engage in them do.”
Hanne Blank, Some Frank Tips For The Aspiring Author

In my opinion, the main key to building a writing career is being able to see your problems for yourself, and to fix them. An agent or an editor will only help you so much because it’s not their job to create a great story. That is the authors job, and an author needs to know enough about story structure and the craft of writing to spot the weaknesses, in a story, and how to fix it. I know, strange advice coming from me, the queen of ‘winging it’, but it’s true. I might not be a huge reader of craft books, but I talk about it a lot with others, and I learn not only from reading my favorite books and analyzing, but from my own mistakes.

In my mind there are two core elements of storytelling. Character and Plot. There are a ton of sub-elements like setting, conflict, atmosphere, theme….but in my mind those are all sub-parts, and they don’t really matter if you don’t get the top two right. .

So let’s start with Characters.
You have to know your character in order to be able to share them with the world via a story, and you have to know them WELL in order to share them completely. If you don’t know them, how is the reader going to?

There are a few different ways to get ot know your characters better.
Me? I like the FREEWRITE method. This means I sit down in front of a blank screen, set a timer for 20 minutes, and write something, anything, in that characters POV.
You can do it for any amount of time, but I suggest you don’t try it for shorter than fifteen minutes, as it often takes at least five to actually get in to the flow of writing. I like this method for a couple of reasons.

*I always learn something surprising about the character because once I get going it almost becomes like I’m channeling them instead of creating them.

*Nine times out of ten I can use what I come up with in my actual story.

Another way to get to know your characters and get in their head is to do a CHARACTER SKETCH, or to INTERVIEW them. Just be sure that these things cover more than basics like hair and eye color. Be sure to ask not just what they do for a living, but who they are, who their best friend is, do they have friends? If no, why not? What does your character want, and why can’t they have what they want?
Which leads us to Obstacles and Conflict, two things that are key to a good plot.

OBSTACLES can be things in the way of what they want, or things they might lose if they go after what they want.

The best CONFLICT in a story is one that gives the character a choice where there is no right or wrong, but instead where there is a difficult choice-one where the reader can not predict exactly what the character will do, and one where the final choice can change the characters as a person.

Our characters come from our imagination, we give them names, jobs, desires and foibles. They have good traits and bad, they are not flat, or one dimensional – at least we don’t want them to be! We want them to be three-dimensional. In order to accomplish that they have to grow and change, the same way we do.

“Let them live. Let them breathe,” Dr.Lyle says when talking about character at last years Novelist Inc Confernce. “Then pressure them into changing.”

Why should we pressure them into change? Because people don’t change unless they have to. Pressure makes things move and people change, which is why we throw obstacles in front of our characters.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing erotica, or young adult, thrillers or science-fiction, the core basics of a good story are the same. Character, and Plot. The two elements work together, and if you want to be a successful author, you have to find a way to understand how, so you can always strive to write a better story without depending on others to tell you where you’re going right, and where you’re going wrong.

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by Candace Havens
It’s never the same

I’ve talked about this before, but every time I write a book it’s different. I never seem to come at it the same way twice. When I wrote my first book, Charmed & Dangerous, the majority of it was done long hand and then transferred to a computer. Everything was chronological. The second book in that series, Charmed & Ready, was chronological too but all on the computer. It was The Demon King and I where I discovered that I could write the end first if I wanted to. It seemed like such a crazy idea, but it worked. Dragons Prefer Blondes I wrote scenes that came to me, and then I had to put them all together.

With She Who Dares, Wins (In Stores Now), it was more or less chronological. Though, I would occasionally skip around. That book I wrote down the bones really fast, which I usually do, then then I went back and layered and layered. Not just revisions, adding depth and really fleshing out the characters.

Truth and Dare, the book that is coming up in May, I wrote their first love scene. Patience and Cade were so vivid in my head and they just couldn’t wait to get at one another.

My November release, The Model Marine, that I’m working on now began with the idea of a runway show and took off from there. I couldn’t quite seem to figure out chapter two. It was driving me crazy. So I skipped to the next thing I did know. Well, not really. Hannah was taking Will to a club. I didn’t know until they arrived that it was a blues club. I also didn’t know until well into that chapter that Will played the blues and he was damn good at it. Once I had that scene, the whole book seemed to solidify for me and flew out of my head and to my fingers almost faster than I could type.

I’d never really plotted until the last year or so. It isn’t really plotting. I use Jim Butcher’s arch, and basically have tics with scenes I know need to go in the book and the major turning points. But it does help. Still, I like not knowing much about my characters and discovering them as I go along.

My point is, never be afraid to shake things up a little. Try something new you learn in a class. Or follow a train of thought that might sound a little crazy at first.

Have you tried something new and it worked? Doesn’t have to be just about writing. :)

Tell me, I really want to know.

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 by Charlene Teglia
When the Words Don’t Flow

I know, there are people who claim that writer’s block is like the Easter Bunny, it doesn’t really exist. (Although how do they explain where Marshmallow Peeps come from?) But writing is work, and sometimes the writing muscles tire, the brain gets dull, the words do not flow. Also, writers are people and people do not always perform at peak all the time. So here are ten tricks to turn to when the words don’t flow:

1. Accept that you have bad days. Accept that the words you produce might be utter crap. Lower expectations and write those crappy words anyway.

2. Set a timer. Even on your worst day you can write for five minutes, right? Set the timer and go, writing nonstop. When time’s up, you can go eat a brownie or read a comic book and feel virtuous because you wrote. Then come back for another five.

3. Warm up with a read and polish of what you’ve written so far, or re-read your outline or synopsis to ease your brain into the story. Then begin writing new words.

4. Make a list of five things you could put in the story that would make it fun and exciting. Then try to use as many of them as possible in the scene you’re writing.

5. Get up and move. Take a five minute yoga break, run up and down the stairs, walk around your neighborhood. Get the blood pumping and oxygen moving to your brain. Sometimes this is all it takes to shake words loose.

6. Take a shower. The ions in the water help creative thinking. I came up with a missing piece of a scene today when I put away my laptop and got under the spray.

7. Think grounding details. If your brain feels gray and the words seem equally colorless, try to get very, very specific on sensory details. The creak of the leather seat, the bright red strawberry, the tart lemon, the groaning hinge; specific details make the scene vivid.

8. Write a character interview. Ask him or her what’s wrong. The answers might surprise you.

9. Read poetry. It’ll infuse your prose with new life.

10. Make sure work isn’t all you do. If words aren’t coming and everything is gray, ask yourself; when was the last time you did something fun?