I love THAT

that

For the past few months, I’ve been engaged in the writerly task of editing four books. I do this full-time for about 14 hours a day, divvying the tasks up into four categories: 1) borderline boring, 2) terribly tedious, 3) downright dreary, and 4) mega mind-numbing. That way I can mix them up for a little variety.

One of the editing passes that I undertake is the arduous process of “enlivening my words.” I use the search function on Word to look up dull words and one by one swap them out for more interesting ones. At the tippity-top of the humdrum list is “was.” An exceedingly handy verb but not a writer’s best friend. I allow myself an average of one “wuz” per page. This means looking up about 600 wuzzes and switching 300 of them out. For 4 books, I’ll comb through approximately 2,400 wuzzes.  Ack!

I have 33 wimpy, weak, crutch words that I put through this process, none as dreadful as “was” though “had” ranks right up there in second place. It takes forever.

I’ve completed all my swaps except for the last – Word #33: THAT.

For some reason that I can’t explain, I just love that word. I could write that word in every sentence that I write. And that’s a problem. Plus that’s a word that’s hard to replace without completely changing the way that a sentence is written. I know that other writers can figure that out without that much trouble, but that’s easier said than done. For me, that’s an editing step that takes tons of time that I could use to make other changes that would improve my work.

Good Grief. Ha ha.

Okay, I gotta cut this out so I can cut that out. Wish me luck – only about 3,000 to go.

Are you Book Club ready?

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have your book selected by a book club?

Well, yeah.

The main thing that makes a book “book club ready” is the presence of questions that invite discussion. For each of my books, I have 10 questions that I compiled specifically around the themes, characters, and reader experience of the book.

Book club questions (also called Discussion Guides) are common in many academic books and are often located at the ends of chapters or in the back matter. When it comes to general fiction, placing your book club questions in the back matter is the best way to get them noticed, but not the only way. You can also direct readers to your website where a separate page or pretty pdf is linked to your book’s info.

At the end of this post is a list of potential book club questions that you can customize for your book. I collected these over the years from multiple sources and separated them by topic (ie. characters, setting, themes). When compiling my lists, I try to mix it up so that book club participants have a variety of topics to choose from.

For example, here are the 10 questions for The Bone Wall. Some questions were altered to specifically fit the book, but they’re all derived from the generic list.

Book Club Questions – The Bone Wall

  1. the-bone-wall-ebookSeveral cultures occur in the book – Heaven, the Riverwalkers, the Colony, and the Fortress. Did the cultures feel authentic? Could you see such cultures rising in a post-apocalyptic world?
  2. What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?
  3. Why do you think the author wrote this? What is this book’s message?
  4. Two characters tell the story alternating chapters. How did this structure work for you? Were both narrators interesting to read or did you prefer one over the other?
  5. How realistic was the characterization? Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  6. What moral/ethical choices did the characters make? What did you think of those choices? How would you have chosen?
  7. Rimma and Angel see themselves as twins. What do you think about their relationship? What was the real relationship between them?
  8. Rimma made a number of choices, good and bad. What choices were the most significant in bringing about the conclusion? Would you have made some of the same choices as she?
  9. How did the book affect you? Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?
  10. Are you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?

Book Club Generic Questions

Setting

  • What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or detract from the story?
  • How does the setting figure as a character in the story?
  • How authentic is the culture or era represented in the book?
  • How would the book have been different if it had taken place in a different time or place?
  • Is the setting of the story important to the book? In what ways?
  • If it’s set in the past, is this a period you know anything about? Would you have liked to live in this time? What would be the advantages/disadvantages?
  • If set in the future – do you think it’s a credible view of the future? Is it one that you’d wish on future generations?
  • If it’s set in the current time, what current events, if any, color the story?
  • Do the location and environment of the book color the telling of the story or are they merely a backdrop? Does the location change during the book or stay the same? If it changes, does this have any effect on the central characters?

Themes

  • What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?
  • In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of the author’s worldview?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this? What is this book’s message?
  • What are some of the book’s themes? How important were they?

Character Realism

  • Who are the key characters? Do one or more of the characters tell the story? If so, how do their own circumstances color the telling?
  • How realistic was the characterization? Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  • Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
  • Who was your favorite character? Why? Would you want to meet him or her?
  • Who was your least favorite character?
  • If questions…e.g. If the characters had done this instead, how would the story have changed?
  • Think about one of the minor characters in the story. Why did the author include him/her?
  • What effects do the events  (crisis, nationality, culture) have on the character’s self or personality?

Character Choices

  • What moral/ethical choices did the characters make? What did you think of those choices? How would you have chosen?
  • How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
  • Are any of the characters’ actions troubling? How would you act in a similar situation? Do their experiences cause them to grow? If so, how?
  • Are the characters’ actions the result of free will or of destiny?
  • Is there any moral responsibility that was abdicated?

Construction

  • What did you think of the plot line development? How credible did the author make it?
  • Are there any symbols that may have cultural, political, or religious reference?
  • How are the book’s images symbolically significant? Do the images help to develop the plot, or help to define characters?
  • What type of tone does the author create with his or her world choices? Is it optimistic, pessimistic, prophetic, cautionary, humorous, satirical, venomous, cathartic?
  • Did the author seem to appear in the book? How? Why? Was the presence of the author disruptive? Or did it seem appropriate/fitting?

Reactions to the Book

  • How did the book affect you? Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?
  • Did the book lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
  • Did the book expand your range of experience or challenge your assumptions?
  • Did you feel that the book fulfilled your expectations?
  • Are you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?

Other Questions

  • If this book was made into a movie, who would you cast in the title roles?
  • What do you think will happen to the characters beyond the end of the book?
  • Have you read other similar books? Perhaps books by the same author or with a similar theme, or set in the same time period?

I hope these are helpful. Have fun getting your books ready for the next Book Club.

Creating Rich Characters – Prompts

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While my days are spent grinding out my WIP, I thought I’d share an old post about writing character bios, specifically about using prompts to expedite the process.

The prompt-list below looks more complicated than it is (a result of explanations and examples). For some prompts, a word or two is sufficient, while others require some contemplation. Unsurprisingly, I force my main characters to endure the entire process; incidental players get a pass with a mere smattering of details, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Ultimately, I believe that this pre-work pays off, not only in rich characters. To me, the process of writing flows with greater ease. My characters are immensely cooperative in telling their own stories when they know who they are.

The External Character

woman-1801830_640Physical Description: Appearance goes without saying, but add at least one remarkable feature: glass eye, cleft chin, crooked teeth, chewed nails, scars, moles, beady eyes, or rumbling voice. Remember, even beautiful people are imperfect.

Gestures, Mannerisms:  A distinguishing physical habit not only defines a character but makes him memorable. A character may habitually pick his teeth, clear his throat, rub his jaw, trace an old scar, purse his lips, fidget with a button, wink, spit, raise one eyebrow, stroke a beard, belch…

Quirk: A distinctive behavior that goes beyond a gesture: Won’t eat anything green, corrects improper speech, loves bad puns, doesn’t like to be touched, is afraid of heights, always misses the bus. There are numerous lists of quirks on the web.

Attribute, Trait: People have a blend of traits. Pick one or two for your character that stand out. Maybe she’s stubborn, lucky, picky, impatient, naïve, or flippant. Lists of attributes are also readily available on the web.

Skills, Abilities, and Interests: No real person is great at everything, and neither is your well-rounded character. Does your character have an education or special training? In what skills does he excel? Where is he lacking? What does your character do for a living? What does he do during down time?

Mix it Up: People are multi-dimensional. Villains can have redeemable qualities. They may rescue animals, love old movies, grow roses, or play chess in the park. Likewise, heroes have their flaws. They drink too much, have hot tempers, always run late, get easily flustered, or are slobs.

Don’t Overdo It: Creating a one-eyed, belly-scratching, kind-hearted, hypochondriac swordsmen with a penchant for chocolate is fun, but most characters will require much more subtlety.

The Internal Character

woman-1596954_960_720Backstory: Each character has a formative life that shaped him. What was the character’s childhood like? How strong were/are his family ties? Where are his parents and/or siblings? What significant event of the past shaped who the character is today? What was the character doing before the first page opened?

Secrets: A secret impacts a character’s attitudes and behaviors. It adds interest to the story because it can create tension or mystery in interpersonal dynamics. What is the character’s secret that no one else knows?

Goals: What does your character desperately desire? A protagonist’s overarching goal will often drive the story, and conflicting goals between characters may be a major source of tension. Consider that the main characters will have goals related not only to the main plot but to subplots.

Obstacles: What is the main obstacle that stands in the way of the character reaching her goal. This may be a nemesis, a personal flaw, or a condition of the culture or world. Remember that villains aren’t the only ones that can stand in a character’s way. Obstacles can be large and small and there are usually lots of them in the protagonist’s path.

Active Pursuit of Goals: At some point in the story, the character moves into an active role in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. What triggers the change for the character? How does the character take or attempt to take active control?

posing-1022162_640The Big Fear: This is the one that terrifies – betrayal, loss of control, inability to protect loved ones, failure, death, aloneness, disgrace, insignificance, poverty, aging. It may drive the character’s goal or be an obstacle he must overcome. Fears have a basis in experience – where did this fear come from?

The Mask: A character’s mask is directly related to his fear. The mask describes how a character compensates for the Big Fear, or hides it from the world. For example, a character fearful of betrayal, may act overly independent or refuse to get close to others. Often the mask comes undone during the course of a story and the character is forced to face and perhaps overcome her fear.

Cross-Character Relationships: Another way to add interest and tension is by creating similarities between conflicting characters, and differences between companionable characters. What might the protagonist and villain have in common? Perhaps they both love horses, appreciate fine wines, or fear water. Along the same lines, how might the protagonist and his cohorts clash? One curses constantly and the other finds it offensive; one might play an instrument poorly while his companions cover their ears.

There you have it – my prompts. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if there’s something I missed!

 

**Images from Pixabay**

Emotional Writing

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The first book that ever made me cry was Charlotte’s Web. At age ten, I wept for a dead spider, my tender initiation into literary grief. I still remember the cathartic feeling of those tears and the sense that I’d touched something profound and mysterious to the human experience. Did E.B. White intend to change the course of a little girl’s life? Hmm…the power of books…

As an adult, I earned a degree in pastoral counseling and volunteered in several capacities as a grief counselor. I journeyed alongside children and families who’d suffered the death of a parent or sibling, and the elderly who would soon embark on their own profound and mysterious transitions. The unsolved murder of my youngest brother in 2003 brought the whole experience home, up close and personal.

So, what does this have to do with writing? As a reader, emotional authenticity is key to my immersion in a story. I swear I can tell if a writer is baring his heart on the page, or regurgitating sentiment witnessed on a movie screen. This doesn’t mean that we as writers must personally endure every painful loss that our characters’ experience. Loss is loss, fear is fear, and they’re often transferable with a little imagination (of which we artists have plenty).

What it means to me is that we have to be willing to fully travel those paths when they present themselves, in life, and yes, in those great books (and movies) that strum our heartstrings. We need to be explorers of our emotional pain, brave enough to embrace it, to pick it apart and feel its sting. We need to dig into the fear that underlies our emotional wounds and speaks ultimately to the human condition—that each of us is here only temporarily. That we matter immensely and matter not at all.

There are days of writing and crying, snot-nosed and puffy-eyed, breathing through my mouth with a roll of toilet paper at my elbow. When I write about loss or pain or a main character’s death, I know where my tears originate. I hope that if someday you read such a scene, you’ll be genuinely moved. Then I’ll have done my job.

Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie – Results

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enwikimedia.org

Eight months ago, I started the process of canceling my traditional publishing contracts and re-releasing all my books as an indie author. My reasons for the switch were detailed in two posts Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I) and (Part II).

The process went more smoothly than I could have imagined, and I wanted to share the results:

1. I left myself 8 months to convert 6 books. Two months per book would have been easier as I was reproofing as part of the process. The advice: Create a schedule and then give yourself extra time.

2. New covers had an instantaneous sales response. Covers do matter whether traditional or indie publishing.

3. My old reviews ALL carried over to the new books. All I had to do was ask Amazon to combine the old (publisher) and new (indie) editions leaving only the new editions visible. The same phone call also combined the kindle and paperback editions so that they’d show as one “tile” (the standard Amazon presentation).

4. Though I priced my ebooks significantly lower than my publisher did, I’m earning a greater per-book royalty. The healthier royalties now support further promotion, while the lower prices encourage more readers to try my books.

5. Promotions conducted on 3 converted books generated about 7,5oo downloads that kick-started a series of paid sales. As a traditionally published author, I couldn’t take advantage of promotions as I had no control over pricing and discounts.

6. I bundled my Dragon Soul series as another purchasing option. The books are available singly and as a bundled kindle download.  I priced the first book in the series at $.99 (versus $4.99 through the publisher). This series sold 1 copy the whole year it was with a publisher and is now my best performer.

7. I am now able to track my sales with a great deal of detail. This wasn’t an option when my books were under contract with a publisher. The publisher received complete data, and I only received sales volume data when I received my royalty checks.

As a traditionally published author, the most effective way I had of seeing how I was doing was to keep an eye on my Amazon Author’s Ranking, which looked at my sales performance as a whole versus individually. Here’s a look at how my ranking changed when I started the self-publishing journey. Numbers don’t lie!

sales

My writing journey started with a traditional publisher, but I haven’t one regret regarding the switch to indie publishing. The industry continues to change and who knows what’s ahead. For now, being an indie author works for me.

I hope this series of posts is helpful to anyone deciding which way to go. Happy Writing.

#SciFi Women Interview: D. Wallace Peach

scifiwomen-interviews-2

Back in August, I had the great honor of being featured on Natacha Guyot’s blog as part of her series SciFi Women Interviews. Thank you, Natacha! I love talking about writing, and when it’s scifi and fantasy, it’s particularly fun. Here it is!

#SciFi Women Interview: D. Wallace Peach

It is a pleasure to introduce July 2016’s guest for Sci-Fi Women Interviews: D. Wallace Peach. I met her through WordPress and/or Twitter when networking with fellow writers. I am glad she accepted the invitation to join fellow authors and Science Fiction enthusiasts in this series.

I will let her introduce herself in her own words:

I didn’t start writing until later in life, once the kids had moved out and the temporary relocation of my husband’s job left me unemployed. The hubby suggested that I write a book (I hadn’t written anything since college). I took him up on the offer, and that, shall we say, was the end of that.

I love writing and have the privilege to pursue my passion full time. I’m still exploring the fantasy genre, trying out new points of view, playing with tense, creating optimistic works with light-hearted endings, and delving into the grim and gritty what-ifs of a post-apocalyptic world. Forgive me if I seem unfocused in my offering of reads. Perhaps one day, I’ll settle into something more reliable. For now, it’s simply an uncharted journey, and I hope you enjoy the adventure as much as I.

 


NG: How were you first introduced to Science Fiction?

PEACH: First of all, thank you, Natacha, for inviting me to participate in the Sci-Fi Women Interviews. It’s an honor!

My family loved camping. We had a rustic 10’ x 16’ cabin in Vermont without electricity but loaded with hundreds of books, most of them purchased used by my father and many from the local church attic where we bought them for a nickel each. He was and still is a voracious reader and loves science fiction. When we weren’t fishing, hiking, and playing board games, we were reading sci-fi.

(Continued on Natacha Guyot’s blog)

Omniscient POV versus Head-Hopping

Omniscient

Today, I’m going a little techie for all the writers out there. This is another one of my “learn by failure” posts.

When we write, we strive for stories that will grip our readers. We want an emotional investment, and the best way to do that is to immerse our readers inside our character’s head, heart, and skin, the deeper the better. The reader sees, hears, smells, and experiences what the character does, up close and personal.

When I started writing, I was a point-of-view “head-hopper.” I wanted to share every character’s thoughts and feelings in every scene. My writer’s group rolled their eyes and eventually critiqued it out of me. I learned the hard way – by rewriting my entire book!

Head-hopping is a common glitch in early writing as authors learn the ropes. It’s often confused with a Third Person Omniscient Point of View. So, what’s the difference?

There are 3 types of point of view:

FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW:
In first person, the main character is narrating the story in his or her “voice” and will use I, me, we, and us. The reader experiences the story through this character’s senses, thoughts, and feelings. A few considerations:

  • The character doesn’t know anything about the people, places, or events that he or she hasn’t personally experienced.
  • Other characters’ thoughts and feelings have to be communicated verbally or interpreted through the POV character’s observations.
  • The POV character has to be in every scene.

SECOND PERSON POINT OF VIEW:
In second person, the story is told from the perspective of you. This POV is tough to master and is used most frequently in instructional writing.

THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW:
In third person, the narrator is not one of the characters. Third person uses he/she, they, them and is the most common POV in writing. There are 3 main types of Third Person POV:

Third Person Limited: This POV is limited to only one character and the narrator sits “inside” the character’s skin, sharing the story in the character’s distinctive “voice.”

Similar to first person, this means that the narrator only knows what that POV character knows, only has access to that character’s thoughts and feelings, and the character must be present in every scene.

Third Person Multiple: This POV is the same as Third person Limited, but the narrator is “inside” more than one character in the story. Switching POV from one character to another usually occurs at a chapter or scene break.

Third Person Omniscient: This point of view still uses the “he/she/they” perspective but now the narrator does not sit “inside” a character but hovers overhead. Instead of using the character’s voice, the narrator uses the author’s or storyteller’s voice (the “God” voice). The narrator is telling the story from the “outside,” can make comments about what’s occurring, knows things that the characters don’t, and can see the thoughts and feelings of ALL the characters. Think of the narrator as having his/her own personality separate from the characters.

Because the narrator’s voice is “outside” the story, the greatest challenge of this point-of-view is eliciting an emotional investment in the characters. Unless a writer is highly skilled, the distance can result in a “telling” style of writing and fail to grip the reader.

So what is Head Hopping?:  It comes down to “voice.” Head-hopping acts like an omniscient POV in that the narrator has access to all the character’s thoughts and feelings in a scene.

But instead of sharing them in the outside narrator’s voice, in head-hopping, the story hops from one character’s distinctive inner “voice” to another. The result can be disorienting, jarring, or confusing.

Here are a few POV “Rules” that will prevent head-hopping:

  • Don’t switch points of view in the middle of a scene.
  • When writing a scene from Mary’s perspective, don’t include information that only John knows.
  • When writing a scene in John’s POV, don’t relate Mary’s thoughts or feelings. Mary can express her thoughts or feelings verbally or John can infer them from Mary’s behavior.

And, naturally, every rule has exceptions:

  • If for some reason a scene break just won’t work and you need to shift a POV, prep for it carefully so the reader isn’t confused or jarred by the switch. A love scene is an example where a well-prepared head-hop may be appropriate. The writer may want to describe both characters’ internal thoughts and feelings, but can’t stop in the middle of sex for a scene break!
  • As you might imagine, romance novels tend to have more head-hopping than other genres. This is partly due to the genre’s focus on the characters’ relationship and how both participants respond to it. Romance readers are more used to the style, though writers should still limit head-hopping to those scenes where it can’t be avoided.

Writing without head-hopping requires a writer to “show” everyone’s state of mind through one character’s perspective. It isn’t always easy, but your reader will appreciate the clarity and the deeper immersion in one point of view.

Hope this is helpful. Happy Writing!