GENREALITY

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Monday, February 14th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Synopsis Part 2

I’ve got some more concrete things to say about synopses this time.

First, I asked my agents what they thought.  The question I asked, specifically:  “Will a really good synopsis make you say “yes” when you wouldn’t have, otherwise?  Will a bad synopsis make you say “no”?”

Here’s what I got in answer:  “I’m more interested in the storytelling as expressed in the writing, than the synopsis. If I request a manuscript, I will begin with page one and read, either to the end if the book is that good, or until the the manuscript falters and requires me to assess it externally. At this point, an effective synopsis may encourage me to read on, or a bad one confirm that the author has lost their way.”

This follows my own instinct:  the book is the most important thing.  The synopsis is a tool that helps the agent or editor make a decision, but the book clinches the deal.

I found my old synopsis for Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  And you know what?  I’m not going to post it because I don’t think it’s very good.  It’s four pages, and mostly a sequence of events that introduces all the characters.  I think I’ve gotten better at writing these since then.  But this should give you hope — I landed an agent with that synopsis and sold the novel anyway.  Rather, based on what my agent said, the novel was good enough to sell itself.

So I’m going to post the synopsis I wrote for Voices of Dragons instead.  (It should go without saying that spoilers lie ahead, yes?)  A couple of things  I want to point out:  I wrote this before completing the novel; the title and names of two main characters, as well as the name of the town, changed from the synopsis; rather than listing a sequence of events, this synopsis focuses on the main character’s state of mind, the instigating action, the background, and the most important events of the novel — the plane crash, learning to ride the dragon, her father’s death, and saving the world.  Half the characters don’t get a mention.  A lot of what I think are important character points don’t get a mention.  But does this synopsis, three double-spaced pages long, get the basic concept of the novel across?  I think it does.

This, along with sample chapters, was part of the pitch that landed my two-book deal with HarperTeen.

Dracopolis – Synopsis

by Carrie Vaughn

Even among her friends Kris Wyatt is something of a rebel.  Jim has been her best friend since they were kids, and now that they’re almost not, he wants to be something more.  All their friends are dating, even sleeping together.  It’s the thing to do, but she’s not ready, and has been putting Jim off.  Which must make her the only virgin at Silverfork High.

When she needs to get away to think about things like Jim and whether she wants to be more than friends, she goes rock climbing, and finds a prime, undiscovered site.  Undiscovered because it’s close to the border with the Dragon Territory, the region carved out of the northern Rocky Mountains and arctic swathes of Canada at the end of World War II, maintained by a treaty that has prevented war between humans and dragons for sixty years now.  Crossing the border is illegal, but she’s lived in the Silverfork area her whole life, and knows how to get around without being spotted.  She takes a chance, goes to climb — alone, breaking every rule of common sense she knows.  Makes it to the top just fine, returns to the ground to return to her Jeep and home.  Then slips and falls in the creek.

Something fishes her out.  Something with scales, claws, and wings that blot out the sun.  She feels herself pulled to shore — on the wrong side of the creek.  And there’s a dragon, who fished her out and saved her life, looking down on her.

Kris and the dragon Artegal strike up a friendship.  Artegal was drawn to the border out of curiosity, and Kris’s fear quickly fades in the face of his personable manner.  Because crossing the border is against the law — and Kris’s parents are both in law enforcement — Kris keeps her forays into Dragon secret.

Rumblings have been growing on both sides of the border.  Then, an Air Force jet crashes on the Dragon side of the border.  The pilot ejects, and Kris and Artegal go to find him before other dragons do.  Using her climbing ropes and gear, she builds herself a harness for Artegal, and the two of them go flying for the first time.  When they find him, Captain Will Conner is astonished — and Kris realizes their game may finally be up, if he decides to give them away.

She wonders, though:  was the crash an accident — or an intentional crossing of the border to test the dragons’ reaction?  When the military moves in with a well-planned rescue operation to secure the crash site, she wonders if this isn’t meant to be an invasion.  The dragons seem to think so, and launch a retaliatory attack against Silverfork.  Kris’s father, Sheriff Jack Wyatt, is killed in a dragon-spawned firestorm.

Uncovering the ancient stories of wars between humans and dragons and hoping to prevent all-out war, Kris offers herself as a virgin sacrifice to the dragons.  She does this with the help of her friends, behind the back of the military brass.  This appalls everyone, but the legends are there, and maybe it will prevent more deaths.  She has faith, which pays off, because it’s Artegal who arrives to accept the sacrifice.

There are rumors on both sides of the border of a place, dating back to at least medieval times, where dragons and people live peacefully together:  Dracopolis.  It’s supposed to be in a corner of Greenland, warmed by hot springs and currents and hidden from modern eyes by caverns.  Flying away from Silverfork, Kris and Artegal seek this country.

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by Sasha White
A plus for social sites…

Usually when I see a blog post by an author about social networking sites it focusses on the promotional angle of things. And there is no denying that places like Facebook and Twitter are handy tools in that area. However, I want to mention that there is another plus to being apart of those places. Support.

We all have our support network,friends,family and so on.(or we should have a support network), but sometimes that isn’t enough. Especially if/when you’re in the middle of a meltdown and everyone you know is too busy watching the superbowl to listen to you whine about your story issues.

I want to share an example. In case the superbowl comment didn’t give you a hint, I had a bit of a meltdown on SUnday when trying to write a story. The same story I’ve been trying to write for over a week. Okay, so a week of trying to start a story doesn’t really warrant a meltdown,. But what if I’d just spent the past 3 months trying to start another story-never getting past the first 500 words? So with that in mind I switched ideas, and started from scratch so I could make the deadline that had been set (Feb 10th) That gave me 10 days to write a 12k short story.Not that bad really,1k a day. As long as I could get started. Only I couldn’t. My new idea that had felt so exciting last week petered out and I was left with nothing but dread inside me.

so I posted on Twitter (and Facebook, as my twitter feeds into my Facebook) about thinking I was crazy to think I could ever write again.
That got a few comments, and on Facebook the comments turned into a discussion which led me to write this in the notes section to explain what I was feeling and why I was in such a mood.

Someone please kick me in the head….
maybe if you rattle my brains something creative will shake loose.

Here’s a couple of ideas…maybe you can help…:)

The story theme needs to be centered around a Rock somehow…and I want to connect it with my previous contemporaries…
so..Idea 1)
Straight -up Simon Banks (can either be cop or DR..was originally thought to be Dr, but then I felt lazy with research…I already know lots about cops..lol and it would work) is in a bad place in his life because his little sisiter is in a coma, and he feels like it’s his fault. (Big Brother guilt, no real reason)

He walks into her hospital room to find some freinds (other characters from my other stories) had brought in a holistic healer to work on her since there is no medical reason for her to be in a coma. As a traditional Dr,(or just a set in reality cop) he ofcourse derides the holistic, and so on. But really, that it’s. I have no plot for the other 8k. LOL and there needs to be more than the relationship and it’s oppsites attract thing or it will be just a rewrite of THE DEVIL INSIDE from Sexy Devil.

I could go stalker angle with how the sister got hurt,head trauma, and that could add something, but it doesn’t excite me as I can’t thnkof anything new to bring to that to make it so not cliche.

I have another idea about revisiting Karl and Lara from WICKED, but it would be no real story, just sort of their HEA with hot sex… and really, is that enough?

Same goes for Kelsey and Harlan from My Prerogative…

So, keeping in mind Carrie post from a couple weeks ago on Pretty Good v good v Sellable , and Charlene’s post las week on Being Special. I was in a pickle.

It would be easy to blame those posts on my block, but in reality it was me. I’ve always been better under pressure, when I have to think on my feet and not think too much, and over the last couple years, during my break from writing I’d convinced myself that a new writing process would work for me. Then reality hits, and guess what?That new process, the whole plot, just a little, didn’t work for me.
I’ve always known I’d never be a full on plotter, but I thought “Hey, if I have an outline, that would work.” Yeah, not so much. All I see when I try to think past the first scene in a story is holes. And the more I look, the bigger the holes get, then the tighter my chest gets, and the harder it is to breath until I just want to quit. And I hate quitters, so I get mad at myself, and yeah, that really helps. *snort*

Anyway, the point is, when iI put it out there that I was feeling like I should just give up and move on with something else (something non-writing) I got a response-from more than one person. Other writers,, and readers responded to alternately cheer me on, give me advice, or kick me in the butt. Maybe because it wasn’t my normal support network, but those responses somehow seemed more honest and heartfelt because these people really had no reason to lie to me. They also had no real reason to support me. They just did it because I’d put it out in the open, and they understood. They showed me the love, and it helped.

After being online for some tim, I took a nap for an hour,woke up refreshed, with a new idea, and I started in on it immediately. I’m going back to my old process -Don’t think too far ahead – because it works for me. Just like reaching out into cyberspace for some psychological support did.

Just something to think about the next time you hear someone say Facebook or twitter or blogging is a waste of time if you’ve got nothing to promote. Making friends, sharing yourself, and finding support is never a waste of time.

Monday, January 24th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Pretty Good v. Great — and Sellable

Today I want to talk about someone else’s blog post, because she nails it (and not just ’cause she mentions me):  Christie Yant, Assistant Editor at Lightspeed Magazine, writes about what she’s learned in a year of working on the magazine.  And what she’s learned is the difference between “pretty good” and “great.”

I think she’s right, and I’ve been there myself.

The most frustrating phase of my career came when I had sold my first couple of stories, but I wasn’t selling consistently and I hadn’t sold a novel at all.  I was almost there.  But I wasn’t there yet.  I was pretty good, but not great.  I’d reached a plateau.  I couldn’t see how to improve.  I joked that my progress resembled Zeno’s Paradox:  I was always covering half the distance to the goal, which I would therefore never actually reach, and the strides I did make kept getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller.  (I think this still holds true — if the goal is to write the perfect story, I’ll never get there, but I’m always making progress, however little it seems.)

It’s a tough spot.  Once you’ve eliminated all the mistakes from your writing, and you’re still not selling, you need to consider — what are you missing?  What separates competent stories from great, sellable stories?  This may be the hardest hurdle to overcome on the road to getting published and establishing a career.  Because once you’ve internalized the concrete skills, what’s left is intangible.  Things like voice, theme, meaning.  The “so what?” factor.  Why did you write this story and how do you get that across in a meaningful way?

Christie Yant identifies three points that separate pretty good from great: structure, voice, and something to say.  Here’s how I see those three things:

Structure:  Can you identify the beats in your story?  The important scenes and pivotal moments?  Are they building toward a climax?  Or do things just happen?  Have you trimmed everything that doesn’t contribute to the story’s meaning?  Can you identify a reason for every single element of the story to be there?

Voice:  Is every word is in the story there for a reason?  Does every image reflect the story and evoke meaning, or is the prose dependent on clichés?  Can you tell who is narrating the story just by the words used?  Are the words you use, the phrasing, the way they’re put together, appropriate for the character and setting?  Does the prose evoke confidence and personality?  Does it convince the reader that the author knows what she’s doing?

Something to say:  Take a stand in your story.  I’ve seen “pretty good” stories that are so careful to remain neutral and inoffensive that they have no power, no punch.  I read them and think, “So what?”  Don’t be afraid to express an opinion, to dramatize that opinion in the story.  If the story’s about war, it should say something about it:  bad, good, necessary, pointless, or what.  Am I supposed to like or hate the main character by the end of the story?  Does it make me laugh or cry?  Am I still going to be thinking about the story a day after I’ve read it?  Do I, the author, really care about the topics in the story?  If I’m writing about something that makes me angry, happy, sad, frustrated, whatever — does that come through?  Because it should.

These are tough areas to work on.  They involve risk — putting yourself out there.  Not playing it safe.  It’s a whole lot tougher to think about your emotional attachment to a story than whether or not you’ve got a decent character arc.  But in the end, I think the risk is worth it.

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by Candace Havens
Continuing Eduction

I don’t care how great a writer you are, there is always room to learn more. I’ve been at this for almost 8 years and I’m 10 books in, and I still take classes. A couple of months ago I went to the Dallas Area Romance Writer’s meeting and took a class from Lori Wilde about themes. What she taught me that day helped me to sell a proposal two days later to my editor. I couldn’t seem to get the synopsis right. When my editor called me I told her about each character’s theme and it was a done deal. Thinking about theme and how it applies to the book and each character is only going to make my books stronger.

Yesterday I was doing some research for the online writing class I’m teaching (more about this in a bit) and I ran across an old blog by Jim Butcher that deals primarily with writing. What I loved is you could almost hear him talking and there was a wealth of information on that blog, even though I don’t think it had been updated since 2008. (http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/) I was reading about his characters and the rules they have as well as archetypes.

I devised this new class I’m teaching to fill in the gaps most writers have. I don’t know about you but the first two years of writing I had a tough time understanding why cars made from GMC were showing up in books. I had two books published before I ever heard the phrase Goal, Motivation, Conflict. It’s something I did naturally evidently or the books wouldn’t have sold, but now I know that every character must have their own GMC if the book is going to be a strong one.

You should continue your education no matter how good you think you are. If you’re having trouble getting published, it may be what you don’t know that is killing you. I’m trying to make this class comprehensive so we fill in those gaps. In the first week we’re talking about everything from brainstorming and the creative thought process to character arcs and plotting. The second week will focus on things such as scene and sequel, texture, wasings, info dumping and synopses. It’s a six week course and I’m cramming as much into my students’ brains as I can.

There’s also the fact that you are investing in yourself and your career when you take these classes. Most businesses there has to be some training, which usually continues throughout your career. Writing is no different. We need the opportunity to learn new things, as well as refresher courses about things we should know but have perhaps forgotten.

I encourage you to go out and learn more about your craft. There’s never a time when you know too much.Find a good critique group. Attend writing workshops and conventions. But use your money wisely. Do your research and make sure there are great instructors with “real” experience in the business.

If you’re interested in the online class I’m teaching you can get to it through this link http://www.candacehavens.com/index.php/workshops/

Oh, and tell me about some writing classes that have rocked your world! :)

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Ideas vs. Execution

I’ve had a couple of encounters/conversations recently that I wanted to share, because they let me emphasize something important.  In one conversation, a writer wanted me to discuss which of her ideas for future stories was the most marketable, so she could concentrate on those and not on ideas that wouldn’t sell.  In another, a person tried to explain to me that publishing was dominated by big names because they got to the best, most original ideas before anyone else.

Now, this last one is flat-out wrong for a variety of reasons — the big-name authors are big because of name recognition, branding, and sheer reliability in writing on a regular schedule the kinds of books that people want to read.  As to the previous conversation, I responded that she would do better not to worry about the ideas and spend her time actually writing, and improving her writing, so that her stories are solid no matter what the ideas are.  You can have the best idea in the world, but if the story as a whole doesn’t convey the idea in an interesting and engaging manner, it still isn’t going to sell.

Publishers buy stories, not ideas.  They buy completed manuscripts (at least they do from previously unpublished writers).  Same thing with copyright:  you can’t copyright ideas.  You copyright completed literary, artistic works.  It’s all in the execution.

Good ideas and lots of them are definitely important.  Pushing the envelope, putting new twists on old tropes, and creating that character or plot twist that no one’s ever seen before, are definitely things I strive for.  They’ll make your writing more publishable, definitely.

But unless you can back it up with a good strong manuscript that someone actually wants to read, those great ideas won’t do you any good.  This is why putting in the time, going through all that effort of sitting at your keyboard day after day, getting feedback, and learning to revise, is so very important, because that’s what gives you the tools to be able to do justice to your brilliant ideas.

Nothing can substitute just doing the work.

Thursday, January 6th, 2011 by Candace Havens
Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The lovely Kristen Lamb is back with more helpful hints! Please make her feel welcome.

It feels so great to be invited back to post on Genreality. Today we are going to talk about that hot hot hot topic….social media for writers.

I recently contributed in an open forum discussing book marketing using social media. There was a weird glitch that hindered me participating and it seemed that out of the woodwork all of these other experts swarmed in to take my place. I know they are excited and mean well, but it brought up an interesting point.

When it comes to social media, we need to always consider who is doing the selling.

Social media people love what? Social media! They know every gidget and gadget and whats-it and gizmo and they are awesome at what they do. But what do they do? They do social media. I think this can become a huge problem for a writer trying to learn social media in order to build a platform.

Think of it this way. Most social media experts are like people who do personal training for a living. They live to work out because it is what they do and how they make a living. They are tan, with six-pack abs and 6% body fat. Can we be that way too? Sure. A personal trainer would be happy to show you her lifestyle. All we have to do is get up at 4:00 every morning and hit the gym. Then after work go for a run and do some yoga. Oh and we need to pre-make all of our meals so we aren’t tempted to eat anything other than egg whites, tuna fish and broccoli. Oh and here is a list of supplements and powders and drinks and gels and….

AAAAGHHHHHHH!!!!!

Okay, maybe we would just like to be able to wear something other than stretchy pants.

Personal trainers are a happy energetic lot, and they will tell you all the benefits of eating algae and tofu and getting detoxed with the latest cleanse. They want us to be just as happy and healthy as they are. But there is often a huge problem. We might desire to be 6% body fat and a size -0, but we have jobs and families and need to sleep.

A person who makes her living as a personal trainer can live this way because it is already in sync with her goals and her life. For the mother of two who works as a teacher, becoming fitness model thin is a HUGE time commitment with a lot of sacrifice. Can she do it? Of course. But for most women, just being a healthy weight is already a struggle. If we shoot for fitness model fitness, we likely will give up before we ever see real benefit.

Social media experts do social media for a living. So to advise a writer that they need to be on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkdIn, Flikr, YouTube, del.ici.ous., Squidoo, Digg It, and on and on and on is natural for them. Why? Because that is their life and what they DO. They do social media because they love it and like the fitness trainer, they want us to love it that much, too.

So the host of the Q & A asked me what sites I recommended most for writers and before I could answer, an expert swooped in to do it for me. He eagerly suggested that a writer needed to blog and be on Facebook and Twitter and then eventually add LinkdIn…

WHAT?

I finally managed to eek in a “Why would a paranormal romance author benefit from a site dedicated to business professionals?”

It stopped him dead in his tracks.

When I suggested an author stick to two main platforms (FB and Twitter) and a blog, it was like I had committed social media sacrilege. I recommended the author profile the readers she wanted to reach and then gain a solid footing on those platforms.

Don’t get me wrong, he was very nice, but the thought hadn’t occurred to him. Why?

Is it because social media people sit up all night thinking of ways to make life difficult for writers? Of course not! These guys are great, but they are coming from the perspective of social media expert, not the perspective of a writer who needs to have time and energy left over to write more books. This really nice social media guy didn’t get why writers wouldn’t love to be on a zillion sites, because for him social media is the means and the ends.

I am a writer first. I love social media and I love teaching writers how to use it in a way that doesn’t totally disrupt their lives. I think that there are a lot of cool sites out there and if you love social media then ROCK ON! But like working out, we have to be careful. Social media works best when we forge relationships, when we create networks of people who know us, support us, and are emotionally vested in us. How can we achieve that across 9 different platforms?

So 3 Tips:

1.)    Be very careful not to mistake traditional marketing with social marketing.

Having a “presence” on 20 different sites so you and your book can get “exposure” is traditional marketing. I would be careful about relying too much on that. People are gravitating to social media, in part, to escape the constant bombardment. You will, in my opinion, be better off interacting on one or two platforms consistently so others can get to know you and be vested in your future.

2.)    Use logic to calculate ROI.

What’s ROI? Return on Investment. What is your time worth? Focus on what will eventually translate into sales. Don’t get on a site just to claim you are on it. If you write NF, then LinkdIn is useful, but if you write YA is it really worth time you could be spending on FB?

For example, I was asked about how I felt about Goodreads. Goodreads is a site where people share what they have read, get recommendations about what to read, etc. A cool site and, if, you have the time, sally forth. But let’s get perspective. Great. A bazillion people put you in their “To Read List.” Okay, cool. Doesn’t mean a thing until they purchase a book. Handing out a bunch of free books can work against you, and that is a blog for another day. Just take it for what it is…potential. Focus where you are likely to get results….relationships.

3.)    Make small consistent deposits.

Writers are an excitable bunch. When we find out about social media, we are notorious for running out and joining every site on the web. We blog every day and tweet until we wear out our tweeter…then we crash and DIE. Hey, I’ve been there. I am a writer too, remember? I once had a Flikr account, four Twitter accounts, two MySpace pages, 2 FB pages, three blogs, a LinkdIn account, a Goodreads account…and a prescription for Zanex.

Part of why I wrote We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media was to help other writers learn from my mistakes. Practice the principle of parsimony. Less is often more.

Small, consistent deposits. Like working out. We don’t have to work out four hours a day to be healthy. If we want to do a bit more than the average bear, we can hire a personal trainer. Ah, same with social media. We can’t write great books and be on every single social media site….but we can hire these super enthusiastic social media experts to build it bigger for us ;) .

What are some concerns you guys have? Any tips? Suggestions? Questions? Does social media feel liberating or more like one more chore to check off the list?

Please check out Kristen’s book “We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.” And visit her at  http://kristenlamb.org/

Monday, December 13th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Books as Gifts

I’ve finished most of my Christmas shopping, and I have acquired many books for my friends and family.  I hesitate to list them, because I’m not quite sure who among them reads Genreality and who doesn’t, and I don’t want to give anything away.  But this seems like a great year for books as gifts.  Lots of favorite authors have new offerings, lots of favorite blogs are producing gift and humor books (so much for the internet killing the print industry, eh?), lots of “gift sets” of favorite series are available.  A quick survey of what I got:  for my former-pilot dad, a non-fiction book on experimental aircraft; for a steampunk friend, a gift book on archaic customs and gadgets; for that extra emergency gift, a favorite novel by a favorite author.

This is another thing I miss from working in the bookstore — I did my Christmas shopping on the clock.  I knew all the great books we had in stock, and I could match them to everyone on my list.  I also loved doing this for other people — I only had to ask a couple of questions (What kind of books do they like? What are their hobbies?) and I could usually come up with great gifts for someone else, too.

If you’ve never tried this — walking into a bookstore (preferably your local independent) and asking an employee to help you find the perfect gift — give it a whirl.  The knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff will most likely astound you.  I especially loved Christmas Eve — which sounds insane, doesn’t it?  Working retail on Christmas Eve, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, ought to be horrific.  But it wasn’t, because it went so fast, and I spent all day helping desperate people who’d rush into the store looking for the perfect gift, and 99% of the time they were ecstatic when they left, because I’d been able to help them.  And we had free gift wrapping.

On a completely different topic, Tor Books revealed the cover to my next stand alone novel, After the Golden Age, due out in April 2011.  In this post, art director Irene Gallo discusses the cover, and also shows off several different versions of it that they considered.  It’s a bit of a window into how book covers get made.  For the record, I absolutely love the cover that won out:

golden age