Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The connection between music and writing

Writing and music are very intertwined in my storytelling process.  I struggle with this creatively because I realize music is much more subjective than any other sense I could use for description, but for me is often the best way for me to set a certain mood for a scene of understanding of how a character is feeling at a given time. 

Unfortunately, the chances that someone else gets the same reactions and feelings from a song is not only certain, but very unlikely.   When I hear the song Champagne Supernova, I immediately feel the hope and wonder that my fifteen-year-old self felt the first time I heard the song.

Here is a great example:

A close guy friend came up to me in orchestra class and pulled me into the cello room, promising me a life changing experience.  Most people might think this story is going in a different direction, I am a romance writer after all, but nothing that boring happened in that closet.  Instead he pulled out a CD from his bag and played Champagne Supernova by Oasis for me.  Ten seconds into the song, I was already in love.  Halfway through, I knew that I wanted to go to the Champagne Supernova in the sky.  By the end, I knew my life had been changed forever.  In the same way Strawberry Fields Forever had changed my life a year or two earlier, I now lived in a world where this song existed, and I now knew about the genius of the Gallagher brothers.  I felt like they GOT me and understood the relationships I had with my friends and that we’d be able to get through anything together.

My thirty-three year old self, well… she really appreciates the enthusiasm of her fifteen-year-old self, but feels those feelings right along with her.  Except I have no idea now what the song is trying to say, and am torn being wanting to be that idealistic person again and being happy to have the life experiences that have put me in a place where I don’t even get the song anymore.

You are probably asking, so what?   The point is, I could set an entire scene in a story where a character is listening to that song and it will totally work to tell me everything I need to know about how the character is feeling at that exact moment, but unless you had the same experience with the song nineteen years ago that I did (oh my God I’m old!), it’s not going to tell you the reader a damn thing.

So as a writer, I have to try and describe those feelings that song evokes in me.  What I find is that I’m just there as a writer yet.  I can get close.  I can start to set the scene with objects and thoughts.  But really describing the feeling I feel as I am writing still evades me.

I also struggle with how much to include the music in my writing.  This is particularly difficult when I’m writing characters that are musicians.  When they are performing, I know as a writer exactly what they are playing and what their entire set is.  But how much does the reader care?  I know I care when I read, but am I normal?  The answer to that question is obviously always no, but when it comes to music in writing I suspect most people care less than I do. 

I like the idea of including play-lists with the book, so that people who do care can listen with you, but I know I’ve never bothered to look-up the list on Spotfy to listen, so I doubt many others do.  I like a listing at the back of the book, both of the songs that are included in the book as well as songs that were influencing the book while it was written, and I fully intend to do that for my books.

Hopefully I’ll have my first book out in the early fall, and then I’ll really know exactly how people feel about music being included in the text of the book.  Until then, I’ll have to rely on my critique partners and writing friends to help me wade through this subject I’m so passionate about.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why E-Books Are Great For Readers and Writers Alike

Kindle Paperwhite

Obviously Indy Authors are grateful for the introduction of the e-reader since it has given us a platform for us to get our books out to our readers.  The technology available in most e-readers or tablets also make it easier for readers to find new authors.  This got me thinking though, I wonder just how much overall book readership has increased since its introduction. 

 I know I am certainly one of those people who "rediscovered" reading when I received my first Kindle.  I probably bought 4-5 books a year, usually when I was traveling, prior to its purchase.  However in the first year I owned my kindle I downloaded over 70 books and ready about 50 of them.  About a third of those were free books, which didn't monetarily help any authors, but many of those helped me discover many of my favorite authors that are on my auto-buy list now.  In the year since I downloaded over 100 books, again about a third were free, but again I discovered new authors that I love as a result.  I assume many other readers have similar stories to me.

The other thing about  e-readers and digital books in general is how easy it is to buy the next book in a series.  Instead of having to drive down the street to buy the next book in a series, or even go online to buy a paperback copy to be delivered in a couple of days, now all a reader has to do is click a link at the end of the book to take them to a site where they can purchase the copy right there and download it immediately.  I figure there has to be a significant increase in sales just due to the simplicity of buying the next book.  Not to mention that generally the cost is significantly less than that of the paper copy of the book. 

I did some research and was surprised to find out that more people still read traditional books over e-books, but the number of people reading e-books is increasing.  I was also surprised at how few people actually check digital books out from the library.  As I wrote about awhile back, I think the availability of e-books and audiobooks from the library is an amazing resource.  Sure the selection is mediocre right now, but the more people use the content the more books will become available there. 

Another reason I suspect that the number of people reading e-books is increasing is because of the popularity of Romance and thanks to Fifty Shades of Gray, Erotic Romance.  Although it is becoming increasingly common for women to talk about the genre of books, they are still not always comfortable carrying around books with half naked men on the covers when they are on an airplane or at the doctor's office, a problem easily remedied by e-readers.

All of this is great news for indie authors.  There are more people reading, more people buying, and it's easier to buy than ever before.   Right now it is a great time to be an indie author and a great time to be a reader.  How lucky for all of us!


Friday, November 15, 2013

Dust off your library card!

Do you have a library card?  If so, it is very likely that your library supports digital book lending.   It works a lot like checking out a regular library book.  The library has a limited number of titles they have the right to “check-out.”  If you are trying to check out a book that is very popular or a new release, the waiting list may be long (I've seen the number into the 50’s), however once it becomes available the library sends you an email letting you know it is available, and then you go to the website and download the book onto your e-reader.  Then you have the book available for you to read, usually for 7-21 days depending on your library’s lending rules. 

In a lot of ways, this is better than searching through the 1000’s of free titles available on Amazon because you now have access to a lot of the better known authors.  The flip side of this is, if there are lesser known authors you are a fan of, they probably are not available digitally through your library and you’ll still have to buy those books.  My thought is, I’d rather help the little guy out by paying for their stuff rather than George R.R. Martin or Dan Brown who have sold millions of books anyway.

This is also a good way to read some authors you've always thought about reading, but are popular enough that the cost commitment to buying a full book is just too much.  Much like the free books on Amazon, you can read a book and if you love it, either check out another by that author or go and buy it now that you know you like the authors writing style.  If you hate it, you just return it and you've lost nothing but the time you spent reading it.

So why am I writing about this?  Honestly it is because I’m constantly amazed at how many people do not know about this.  Nearly everyone I know has an e-reader, but almost none of them use this service.   It’s free!  I don’t understand why someone wouldn't go with free!  So go out and dust off your library card and log-in to your local library’s website to check this out!  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Short stories are hard!

I mentioned in my last post that my current novel started out as a short story, and has quickly grown into a fully fledged grown up novel.  This is all well and good, and I'm really enjoying the story -- isn't it great when you are enjoying the story as a reader as much as a writer as you go!  But the problem is, I really wanted it to be a short story.  Aside from the fact that before I began I didn't think enough "stuff" was happening to warrant a full book, I wanted to begin the series with a fun 30,000 word story, which I have since learned is actually considered a Novella, that I could put out for free on Amazon to get people introduced to my series.  Since this is that story, now I'm going to have to decide if I want to just make this novel available for free, or if I want to find another story to write a novella out of to introduce the series.  Part of this is marketing driven, but really it should just be story driven.  So for now, I do not have a story reason to have something come before this book, so the answer seems to be to just make this book free.  However by the time I finish writing book 3, I may have an idea that would work great as an intro novella that I haven't even thought about yet.  So while I do tend to be a planner and want to know what is going to happen, I need to try not to worry my pretty little head about things like marketing a book that I will not even be releasing for another 6-12 months.

And you heard it here first.  I hope to have my new series introduced the world sometime next spring or summer.  I don't have a title for the full series of 9(+?) books yet.  I'm thinking about keeping it simple and calling it the Stonebrook Romance Collection.  

What I have learned is that pacing a short story or novella takes a lot of planning, and since a novel length story seems to come fairly naturally to me, I imagine I'm going to struggle writing those more than I had thought I would.   A year ago, I would never have guessed I'd be having this problem, and would have put money on it being easier to write a short story.  I'll just add that to the list of about 500 other things I've learned about writing in the past year.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Just write the damn book already!

When I first sat down to write a book, trying to get to 75,000 words seemed like a daunting task.  I tried to plot and pace the story, but I had no idea how much "stuff" I'd even need to put into a book that long, so it was hard to estimate what I needed to do.  After doing some research and basic math, I found that if I had 28 chapters at 2,500 words each, I would make it to my word count goal.  Romance novels tend to hit a little lower than that in word count, so it gave me some room for editing and possibly just finding the end sooner without doing much damage to the overall structure. 

For weeks I tried to plan and plot and research how write it, the best ways to write it, and the accepted normal structure for a novel.  The one thing I ignored from my research was the obvious first step, which was to just sit down and write the damn book.

So finally I decided I needed to at least try and write the first chapter and see how it fit with my word estimates that I had come up with in order to give me an idea of how to plot it out.  It had been 10 years since I done any creative writing, beyond blogging, and even that would fall under the category of "non-fiction" so I wasn't even sure if I could write a piece of work that wasn't a literary critique or historical summary of some sort.

Finally one evening I sat down at my computer and just started writing.  I wrote what felt like a first chapter, and low and behold, I was within a hundred words of the 2,500 word estimate I had made that I'd need in each chapter to get me to my end goal.  The technical writing wasn't great, but the story was okay, and after a second day of writing I was up to nearly 4 chapters!  A this point, the story was really coming to me and I was having more trouble getting all of my ideas down on paper as I was actually writing the story.  I also found that while I was enjoying the story I was writing, I had more and more spin off stories coming to mind, with several of the same characters within that world, and as those stories became clearer in my mind I started writing those stories down too.

That leads me to where I am today.  I have several incomplete novels in the same series, and no true 1st draft.  That first story I started is the closest.  I am close to the 75,000 word mark on it and I've technically come to the conclusion of the book, so one could say it is finished.  Except I wouldn't even think of giving it to a beta reader yet.  My writing improved a great deal from chapter 1 to chapter 24, and after having written several other stories, my ability to write conflict and story has improved exponentially.  I truly believe that when I go back to edit this novel, I will only have about 30% of the content that I currently have remaining, which the rest will be thrown out and completely rewritten, which makes going back to this book such a scary task.

Currently  I have ideas for 3 sets of 3 novels (for those doing the math at home, a total of 9) in the series, plus a few short stories that I'd like to tell that do not lend themselves to full books.   I have also decided that the first book will probably be book 4, or the first book in the second set, giving me a bit more time before I have to come back to it.

I do not regret the path I took at all.  No, my first novel wasn't the brilliant work of art I had hoped it would be, but I learned so much more from actually writing it that I would have if I had not taken that first step.  No amount of planning or researching or even classes would have prepared me to be able to make it great on the first try and everyone has to start somewhere.

So where am I now?  I'm currently halfway through the first book in the series, which started out as a short story, but has become very much a full length novel.  More on that later.  However I am on target to finish the first draft in a few weeks, then my plan is to set it aside and start writing book 2.  Once I am finished with that one, I will go back to book one and do a thorough edit, hand it to The Husband to edit and beta read, then hand it off to my two friends who have agreed to do beta reading.

It feels like it has been a long journey the past six months to get to here, but I feel like I am finally making progress and starting to actually be a writer.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Whipping my WIP's into shape

I have a lot of WIP’s (Work in progress), but no full drafts.  I have one that is very close to being complete, and two that are close to halfway finished.  I've been trying to analyze why I have so many stories in progress at one time in an attempt to get better writing habits in the future, and all I can come up with is that the story that is in my head (usually the newest one) is the one that I want to be writing.  But something else usually pops in there before I finish, and I jump to that project without completing it.  I don’t want to lose the new ideas, but I need to be better at remaining focused on the old ones.

In an attempt to force myself to start finishing some of these projects I’ve set a goal for myself to have two WIP’s turned into drafts by the end of October, and at least one of these ready for my beta readers by then.  This should be an easily obtained goal, and honestly if I really focused I could probably make my goal by the end of this month, however I still have my day job that keeps me busy during the day, this blog to keep up (and keep me accountable!), as well as real life to keep on top of.

My next goal from there is to have one of these WIP’s edited by the end of December.  That should give me time to also work on one of my other WIP’s and get it near completion too.  And let’s be honest, probably start a new WIP along the way.  At least I’m not suffering from writers block!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Romance Writing Tropes that drive me crazy

I enjoy reading romance novels for a number of reasons, but the main one is because I know at the end, the heroine is going to live happily ever after.  Usually by the second page of the book I'm going to have a pretty good idea who she is going to live happily ever after with.  For a lot of readers, this is annoying and it takes out the mystery and suspense of the book, but for me it makes me feel like I am in my happy and safe place.  If I'm looking for mystery and suspense, I'll go to those genres to find it.  Recently a friend of mine mentioned she disliked the romance genre because at the end the guy gets the girl and they presumably live happily ever after, which is not the way real life works.  Of course that is exactly why I like the certainty that comes with genre because it is a break from real life and its unpredictability.  To each his own I guess. 

So this got me thinking about Tropes in the Romance genre that I do not care for, and I started making a list.

Pregnancy - Of course there is the obvious cliché where the woman gets pregnant and they have to get married.  There is also the secret baby plot, where the guy doesn't know she is pregnant and she comes back years later with his love child.  These plots aside, it really bothers me at the end of a book when part of the HEA (Happily Ever After) is that the woman is pregnant with their baby.  I bet this happens 80% of the time in romance novels.  This basically implies that women cannot be happy without a baby.  Obviously since I do not have kids, I have a bias on the subject, but I think it also alienates women who can't have kids, who chose not to have kids, or who are married to someone who does not want kids. 

Marriage - Couples can be happy and presumed to have their HEA without a marriage proposal.  I'm happily married and am often a marriage pusher with my own friends because it works for me, but it doesn't always work for everyone.  Especially since romance novels often take place over a shortened amount of time, I find it highly unlikely that many of these couples in the real world would be getting engaged after a few weeks or a few months of knowing each other. 

Virgins - If a woman makes it to her late 20's and 30's as a virgin, more power to her, but at that point I'd think it would be even more unlikely she is going to sleep with a man before she gets married.  This is one of the few times I'd actually buy a plot where they got married quickly.  On the reverse side of this, are there no men who are virgins at this age?  Basically, I'd like to read more books where the man is a virgin or at least only been with one or two other women, or that both the man and the woman have had several/many partners.  Often times authors try and "give back" virginity to the heroine by having their first orgasm or first oral sex experience with their HEA partner, which is a little better, but is still over done.

Rich characters - I get why this is done.  Work gets in the way of plot.  And just like life, being poor gets in the way of plot.  It's pretty hard to woo a girl in a book by renting a movie and making spaghetti, but somehow men are able to do it every day in real life.  But we are writers, we need to just figure it out.  There is a whole subset in the romance genre of billionaire books, which is fine, but I think we need to have more Contemporary Romance books that have real people with real jobs and real pay checks.