Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: beginnings

New Beginnings

coverThe blog was silent this weekend for a couple of reasons. The main one was the weather. DFW and the surrounding area had not only rain — lots and lots of rain — this weekend but high winds and, in some areas, tornadoes. My thoughts and prayers are will all those in Van Zandt County, Denton County and the other areas where so much damage was done. As for here, well, there is one bedroom and bathroom that flood when we get a large amount of rain at once. Add in the fact that we have had multiple hard rains over the last few days and we have flooded three times so far in the last four days. That means my wet-vac has been well used as have the fans and other equipment used to try to dry out carpet, concrete, sheetrock and baseboards. It also means my allergies and asthma have been kicking up. So, there was no blog and very little writing done this weekend.

Nocturnal Interlude2But, there is one thing physical labor does for me and that is it lets my mind wander while I am busy doing something else. That is a good thing because it means Myrtle the Muse has time to figure out what needs to happen with which project. The really good part of this is that I now have the opening — after three failed tries — to Daggar of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), It also means I know what needs to be done in Nocturnal Challenge, the follow-up to Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives Book 3). I have a feeling that by the time I start putting the room back together — painting and stuff like that will have to wait until the weekend — I will have the plot worked out for Honor from Ashes, the sequel to Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2). Those are all good things.

The bad thing is that I also know pretty much where Skeletons in the Close is going. The reason this is a bad thing is that I cannot, absolutely CANNOT, even think about that book while writing anything else. The main character’s voice is so strong and loud and Southern that, if I were to try working on it while doing another project, that other project would wind up sounding like it had come straight out of a haunted version of Gone With the Wind — modern day version, of course.

So that brings me back to beginnings. As I said earlier, I had started Dagger of Elanna. I even know the basic plot. I’ve talked a little of it out with one of my first readers. The problem was actually starting the book in the right place. With it being the second book in a series — and one which builds on what happened in Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), it is important that I set things up so that those who haven’t read the first book can still figure out what’s going on. On the other hand, I don’t want to bore those who have read Sword by rehashing the events of that first book. And, no, I don’t do prologues or introductions. My experience is that most readers at best skim them. so the trick is to start the story and carefully drop the background in without info dumping on a huge scale.

I think I have that figured out now and hope to see it start to flow when I start writing in a few minutes (more coffee will be needed as will stepping away from the computer for a few minutes to clear my head. This is my second blog post this morning.) So, fingers crossed that this takes off the way I think it will. If it does, then I should have the rough draft finished by the end of the month — knock on wood. The others should be done shortly after that. Knock on wood again.

In the meantime, I have blogged over at According to Hoyt this morning. I’ll post a link once the piece goes live there.
And, if you are of a mind to support the kibble fund to keep Demon Kat and his counterpart, Thena, Queen of the Universe, fed and happy — well, as happy as any cat can be when there is a dog in the house — check out Sword of Arelion and my other titles. You can find a list of all my books at my author page on Amazon.

Thanks!

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If it’s Sunday . . . .

coverforvfaI’m continuing my Hugo-free posts until tomorrow. For one thing, I put myself in time out yesterday and refused to read anything Hugo related. For another, I have seen a couple of things this morning I want to look into further before commenting on them. I refuse to do what others have (mainly from the side of those opposing Sad Puppies but not exclusively) and misconstrue — or lie — about what someone else has said. So, I will do my homework and come back with a post tomorrow or Tuesday about these latest developments.

There is another reason I don’t want to wade back into the fray today. After spending the last week plus going back over Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) and Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2), I’m not only ready but excited to start the next book in the series, Honor from Ashes. I don’t want to lose the voice or the desire to write Honor since it, like my other books, is what pays my rent.

Over at Twisted Writers yesterday, I talked about beginnings. Not only how we begin to write — whether we are plotters or pantsers or a mix of both — but also where we choose to begin out story. What I didn’t talk about is why we write.

That’s a question with as many different answers as there are different writers. For some of us, it is a variation of something along the lines of “I have to write”. For others, it isn’t so much a need as a desire to create. Then there are those who do it because they think they will become the next Stephen King and get to live like Castle on TV. Whatever your reason — and please, don’t think the latter will be the case. To say it is the exception is one of the biggest understatements ever — the important thing is that you finish what you start.

I say this even though I have a number of projects started and stopped. Yes, I know that means I’m telling you to do as I say and not as I do but there is a caveat. Those projects were all started before I began looking seriously at my writing. Then, writing was an escape, not a way to pay my bills. Now that I’m looking at it differently, I plan to finish everything I start. Oh, some things may be put on the back burner for a bit but that is usually because I have something else I need to finish first. Sometimes, like with Nocturnal Challenge, it is because the story isn’t quite talking to me yet.

Then there are the stories that scare me. No, I don’t mean spooky scary. These are the stories that I start and then realize they are outside the sphere of what I’ve been doing. It may be that they are a different genre or that there is a different feel to them. I have one right now that I’ve been working on, off and on, for the past couple of years. People who have seen it have said they love what I’ve done so far. In fact, one of my crit group is threatening me with dire consequences if I don’t finish it.

I want to. I really do. But it is so far off from what I’ve done — with one exception — that I keep digging my heels in and screaming in protest. That is my problem. I have to get over it and sit down and write the story. I have a feeling when I finally give myself permission to do just that, I will be able to pound out the story in just a week or two — yes, the voice is that strong and that demanding.

So I have to get past my own hangups and just write the darned thing.

Anyway, here are a couple more book recommendations. The first is one of the best books on writing that I’ve ever seen. It isn’t new but it is well worth the price.

Techniques of the Selling Writer
Dwight V. Swain

Techniques of the Selling Writer provides solid instruction for people who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it. It gives the background, insights, and specific procedures needed by all beginning writers. Here one can learn how to group words into copy that moves, movement into scenes, and scenes into stories; how to develop characters, how to revise and polish, and finally, how to sell the product.

No one can teach talent, but the practical skills of the professional writer’s craft can certainly be taught. The correct and imaginative use of these kills can shorten any beginner’s apprenticeship by years.

This is the book for writers who want to turn rejection slips into cashable checks.

The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way is the seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. Still as vital todayor perhaps even more sothan it was when it was first published one decade ago, it is a powerfully provocative and inspiring work. In a new introduction to the book, Julia Cameron reflects upon the impact of The Artist’s Way and describes the work she has done during the last decade and the new insights into the creative process that she has gained. Updated and expanded, this anniversary edition reframes The Artist’s Way for a new century.

Words into Type

This is my go-to book when it comes to questions about copy editing, style and especially usage. Yes, I have the Chicago Manual of Style which I also use but there are things in Words into Type that CMS doesn’t cover. The downside to Words into Type is that it is an older book and that makes it more expensive. I’ve given you the Amazon link but I’ll be honest. I purchased my copy on Ebay. Check there as well.

Now, for some fiction links:

Pandora’s Memories (Usurper’s War) (Volume 1)
James Young

December 1943. Adolf Hitler is dead. Queen Elizabeth II reigns on the Commonwealth throne while a usurper sympathetic to the Nazis inhabits Buckingham Palace.

Having turned aside the Soviet Union’s initial assault into the Greater Reich, the Wehrmacht is now stymied at the gates of Moscow. With the Red Air Force bloodied, the Kremlin under steady blows from the Luftwaffe, and Joseph Stalin comatose, the desperate Soviet Triumvirate turns to the United States in a plea for aid against the mutual Nazi foe. Indifferently equipped, the young men of the American Air Expeditionary Force (AAEF) are thrown into action in order to keep the Soviet Union in the war.

December 1965. Tabitha Cobb, a Masters student at Berkley University, sets out to learn the truth about the AAEF and the scars it left on its survivors. Attempting to earn a scholarship, Tabitha quickly learns that sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.

Pandora’s Memories” is an alternate history short story that is the first in the Usurper’s War series. This updated edition now includes a short selection from the novel Acts of War, available on 11 November 2014.

Murder World: Kaiju Dawn
Jason Cordova

Captain Vincente Huerta and the crew of the Fancy have been hired to retrieve a valuable item from a downed research vessel at the edge of the enemy’s space.

It was going to be an easy payday.

But what Captain Huerta and the men, women and alien under his command didn’t know was that they were being sent to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy. Something large, ancient and most assuredly evil resides on the planet of Gorgon IV. Something so terrifying that man could barely fathom it with his puny mind. Captain Huerta must use every trick in the book, and possibly write an entirely new one, if he wants to escape Murder World.

Beginnings

It seems appropriate that on a Monday morning, the “beginning” of the work week, my thoughts turn to the beginnings of a novel. Part of the reason stems from a discussion in my critique group yesterday and part from a discussion LinkedIn thought I would be interested in. Anyway. . . .

Let’s face it, the start of a novel will determine whether or not someone continues reading your book or tosses it down, never to come back. The age old question has always been “How is the best way to start a novel?” I wish there was an easy answer that fit all categories but there isn’t. One thing that is true is that you have to hook your reader. But how you set that hook varies from author to author and from genre to genre.

The key is grabbing your readers’ interest and giving them a reason to turn the page and keep reading. You can do this through plot devices — mystery writers often do it by giving the reader an insight into the antagonist’s mind and letting the reader “see” him commit the crime. Or you can do it through characterization, something romance writers often do. They give you a character you can identify with. In either case, you are invested in the story and you want to know what happens next.

In other words, you have to get your readers to connect to the story. One way to determine if you’ve managed to do this is through workshopping your novel or through your beta readers. In both instances, you have to be willing to listen to the critiques — yes, it is difficult to hear someone say your baby isn’t as lovely as you think it is. I know. I’ve been in that position and it hurts. But it is necessary if you want to put out the best product you can — and you have to be willing to act on them if there appears to be a consensus of three or more people who are all saying the same thing.

The truth is that all too often we, as authors, think we have put enough information down on the page to pain the same picture for our readers that we have in our head. That’s natural, especially when you live with a set of characters as long as it takes to write a novel.  Unfortunately, reality is often something very different. Because we are so intimately familiar with our characters, their weaknesses and strengths, their motivations and their fears, we tend to forget to put them in. Or, if we do, we don’t put down enough information to explain why they act or believe the way they do.

That is true even at the beginning of a novel. You have to give the reader enough information, enough motivation to keep on reading.

Let’s face it, literature — especially genre fiction — has changed a lot over the years. There is more genre fiction than ever before, especially when you consider the sub-genres that have cropped up recently. Each genre has its own tropes and its readers expect a certain flow to the books. If you aren’t familiar with that flow, with how novels in that genre usually begin and end, you are facing an uphill battle. You have to know your genre and that means more than just reading the genre and being familiar with its tropes. It also means knowing where in the genre spectrum your novel falls because, whether you go traditional publishing or indie, you are going to have to slot it somewhere.

Anyway, back to openings.

If you are writing a character driven novel, then let us see your main character on the first page and give us a reason to identify with her. It doesn’t matter if the character is good or bad so long as we care that something happens to her. It doesn’t even matter if your point of view character is an unreliable narrator. What matters is that the reader connects and cares about what she does and why she does it. For that to happen, your reader has to understand the character and that means you have to give the reader the same insight into your character that you, the author, have.

Conversely, if you are writing an action driven novel, you need to start off with a bang. Place your readers at the top of the hill on a roller coaster and let them see that they are about to take that long plunge. Give them a glimpse of the promise of twists and turns ahead without revealing the entire plot in those first two pages. After all, if they know everything that is going to happen by page five, why are they going to keep reading?

The common characteristic in all of this is engaging the reader and making them care about what happens. You can write the most beautiful purple prose around but if the reader doesn’t care about what’s happening, they won’t finish the book.

So don’t be afraid to realize that you, as the author, are too close to your characters and story to know for sure if you have hit the mark on engaging the audience. (Authors are usually their own worst critics for one thing. For another, as noted above, we know the characters so intimately in our heads that it is hard to remember that the reader doesn’t already know everything we do. This is why you will hear so many of us say to step away from you novel once you’ve finished the first draft for at least a couple of weeks before starting to edit it. That distance will give you a fresh eye and let you see some of the problems you might not see if you go straight into your edits.)

Listen to your beta readers or, if you are workshopping a novel, to your critique group partners. Read in the genre you are writing in. It is research of sorts that will help you understand the expectations of the readers. Look at what is selling in your genre and subgenre, both traditionally and independently published. But most of all write. Finish your novel and then let fresh eyes look at it all at once.

And always remember, if you don’t engage your readers from the very beginning — within the first couple of pages if not sooner — you are going to lose them. So hook ’em and then give them the background and set dressing that wasn’t necessary for the initial catch.

(I am also blogging today over at According to Hoyt.)

Beginnings and more

Vengeance from Ashes last coverVengeance from Ashes has been out a month now and I have to admit I’m blown away by the response to the book. So let me start the week by thanking everyone who has purchased it, especially those of you who have left reviews. Your support and encouragement has been wonderful. As much as writing is something I have to do, it helps knowing there are people out there who enjoy my work and look forward to seeing what the next book will be.

I’ve been working on the second book in the series, Duty from Ashes. I have the plot pretty much figured out but have been struggling with finding just the right opening chapter. You see, I hate first chapters. I hate to read them and, in all too many instances, I hate to read them. Too often books begin two chapters too soon. Oh, the author might call that first chapter — you know the one I’m talking about. The page upon page of how the world was created, what happened in the previous books, etc. — a prologue. Or that chapter or two might tell us how the character got to situation he’s in when the book “really” begins — where it hooks you and has you wanting to keep reading to find out what happens next.

So, starting this second book in the series has been a bit angsty for me. I’ve started and stopped a dozen times. But I finally figured it out. At least I’ve figured it out enough for me to get a good head of steam going on the writing front which will, I hope, let me keep to my schedule of finishing the book in time to bring it out by July 4th.

Now that the dam has figuratively burst on the writing front, I’m hoping real life will decide to cut me a break as well. This past month has been a series of visits with the oral surgeon, getting my knee scoped — nothing major there. It’s something I have to do periodically and will continue to do as long as I don’t have to get the knee replaced. Then there was the bout of food poisoning and that served as a reminder of why I don’t do fast food as a general rule.

But that’s enough whining. It’s time to get breakfast and get back to work clearing my desk of NRP work and paying a few bills so I can get to writing. In the meantime, I’m figuring out the best way to drop Ash and company into the middle of a firefight, all the while having her deal not only with the battle in front of her but the one in her head. She really hasn’t accepted that things are back to normal quite as easily as she’d like everyone to think. There’s more than a touch of suspicion and concern that this mission could end just as badly as the one that landed her on Tarsus. How she handles that as well as the enemy onslaught is going to be fun — for me at least — to write.

Why yes, I like to torture my characters on occasion.

In the meantime, I have a guest post up at According to Hoyt where I talk about the space program, the promise it once held for us and where it’s gone to now, and more. Please check it out.

More later. Snippets to resume next week.

 

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