Monthly Archives: May 2012

Is This…Writing? How Does It Count?

A week for rhetorical question post titles, I see.

Right.  So I’m working toward the end of my novel in progress.  And, y’all, I am effing close.  I have about eight mini-arcs to bring in and wrap into the rest, including the climax and denouement. My outline is sketchy at twelve specific scenes, because it might still be more like fifteen scenes. It’s the never-ending outline! But all the same, the end is nigh.

I have about half of what’s left pre-written. Today I went through and bridged about three of those pre-written sections to my narrative text, so my forward progress kind of leapt exponentially with a very small outlay of mental effort. It felt…like cheating.

I mean, I know I wrote those words.  The effort to get them down had already been expended. But there was a weird sense of non-accomplishement even though I moved my narrative forward by so many scenes, just because the amount of words I had to write today to do it were so few.

I am glad that I don’t have the ending pre-written. I don’t actually know what the final scene of the book is going to be yet. I am glad about this because I want to feel like I accomplished something when I type the last word. I know I will feel like I accomplished a great deal, tomorrow, when I look at how far I got today. But today it feels…like the work was too easy.

Oh, well. Tomorrow it will be back to beating my muse into submission with a vague scene directive of “hero’s sister’s first ball.”

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Am I Trending? Two Months Is Enough to Be a Trend, Right?

In the interest of continuing to note my business trends for posterity, and anyone who might be interested, I thought I’d offer an update on how my sales are doing on the Twelfth Night stories post-revamping their descriptions.  

These are ebooks that have been available for about a year.  I do not bother tinkering with the price. I haven’t bothered requesting a review or Tweeting about either of them since last summer. They are out in the world, being bought or not, and read or not, as it please the digital consumers who stumble across them. 

My sales last summer were about 10 books a month every month (which by most standards is substantively 0). By fall they petered out to about 5 sales a month and stayed there through winter. I decided to re-write the descriptions and add a subtitle explaining length and genre to see if that might help.

Verdict is tentatively in that, yes, it has helped. Sales for April and May were about triple what they had been, and higher than my monthly averages right after the books came out (which was their peak until now). I feel good about these numbers as a trend.

I have had relatively little feedback from readers, so I have no idea if people are reading and enjoying the novellas, but I have to assume they are because often the sales between the two titles (which are connected) will invert, so one will sell one week and the other the next.

These numbers are all still with a grain of salt because my sample pool is so small, but I do think the change was sudden enough and drastic enough to be more than a statistically insignificant variance. I feel it’s safe to say the new descriptions really did help.

Up next will be a complete overhaul of the ebook formatting, including new covers, for these two, so I can work out the kinks of making beautiful ebooks before I need to do the formatting on my first novel later this summer. I am quite curious to see if a new look will boost interest, if I can make something a little more typically romance-y.  Much as I love my current covers…I’m not sure they’re catching eyes.

But that’s not going to happen right away. That’s a project for the period of waiting for beta readers to return the novel. Which comes after I finish the rough draft, then finish my rewrites for scenes I know need revision, and then finish my first rough-shod round of self-line-editing….

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The Element of Surprise

Probably one of the hardest aspects of writing is surprising your main character.  What I mean by this is tossing at them the tangential elements of life that affect all of us, every single day, in both large and small matters.  The large ones are actually easier for an author to build in, I think, because they are usually pieces of the story–plot points and conflicts and barriers to what the character wants to do.  The smaller ones are harder for an author to build in. Those would be things like…unexpected responses in a conversation. The tangential response is why humans love talking to each other…we never quite know what is going to be said.  We don’t get to decide what topics are included in a conversation and what aren’t; in conversation with another person we are constantly reacting to what they are saying and thinking. We can’t predict it. We can only respond in the moment, after they have responded to us. Conversation is inseparable action and reaction, simultaneous comprehension and creation.

That image that comes to my mind is of a billiard ball.  It has its own momentum, and it’s happy to keep travelling on that path (or staying at rest) but then some other ball on its own path with its own momentum bangs into it, and both of them leave the encounter on different paths than they had been on before.

I illustrated it:

This is a pretty simplistic notion, yes? This idea that, well, duh, life never goes according to plan but is always informed by these events that we have no control over and the behavior of other people which by necessity is always on some level irrational to us simply because someone else’s behavior is never quite exactly what our own would be.  Except…I hadn’t really thought of writing in those terms explicitly before. When I come up with a story, there are always elements that the character can’t see coming, because that’s life, and because those sudden changes are part of the story, and  it was fine.

But the other day I was trying to write a conversation. I was struggling with it, which is rare for me, because normally conversation is the one element I don’t struggle with.  The difference this time was that I wasn’t writing a conversation I could hear in my head between the characters; I was composing a conversation because the scene wasn’t over, the inspired conversation was in place already, I just had to take the characters to it. And the words would not come. I could literally think of nothing for either one of them to say in response to the point the conversation had just come to.

That’s when I realized: real conversations work because no one ever quite knows what the person they are talking to will say next. It’s so much easier to have something to say when all you have to do is respond to someone else’s prompt, even something inane that you later feel stupid for saying (versus the witty thing you think of after the fact) than it is to try and create both character’s reactions. If I can’t think of anything to say, neither can any of my characters, and that is patently different from the way conversation works in real life. There is a freedom in being able to just react to someone else’s creativity, and a danger of not having realistic conversations if your characters don’t experience the conversational blindsiding we are treated to basically every time we interact with another human being.

So in the end my solution was to just let my hero blindside the heroine and jump into the meat of the conversation without any further segue. In the context that actually felt more true to life.

But this existential epiphany adds yet another wrinkle to the way I examine scenes for flaws and missed opportunities.

Any of my fellow writers struggle with this, or have a great solution for it?

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The Epic Editorial List

Because I am a clinical Type A personality–that is, I panic and get paralyzed with indecision if I have no plan in place, even though I can roll with changing the plan on the fly–I have already begun to think about the editorial work on my novel, even though I am still 10 scenes away from being finished.  Specifically, I sat down and typed out a list of all the different editorial glasses I am going to need to examine my work through. I made the list so I don’t forget anything when the time comes to implement the plan.  I also made the list so I can clear those thoughts from my head, secure in the knowledge that I don’t have to remember those issues in order to examine them later, thereby freeing my mind to think more creatively, abstractly, macroeconomically, than it was if it was focused on trying to remember all the problem areas it had already identified.

Listing is ergonomical for me, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I ended up with a pretty long list of items to address.  Right now the part of the document that addresses editing–versus the revisions I know already need to be made and the ebook formatting section–is a full page (single-spaced).  Over thirty lines of uniqute tasks at present, and will probably approach forty by the time I am actually finished drafting and ready to edit. 

You see, I have already noticed a difference in how I consider revisions and editing since I started the list. I’m not thinking in terms of mechanics; those can be flushed from my mind, because I have them on the list. Now I’m looking at quirks of my personality and writing that might create problems in a novel, such as my tendency to belabor a point in conversation. I…definitely do that in writing, too. Bam. Item 33, the Don’t Belabor The Point Pass.

I’ll post the whole list when my editing on the novel is final.

In the meantime, ten more scenes and ten thousand more words to get down.

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Progressssssssssssssssss!

My document total crossed the 100K marker. 

My word count on the actual story (not inclusive of notes and research notes) is over 85,000.

The number of scenes to be written has finally stopped expanding to remain at 18 every time I recalibrated it and is definitively going down. Currently there are 15 to write; half of them have been sketched so going should be pretty quick from here.

I…do not see much of a possibility for finishing by first deadline goal of Monday the 21st, but there is considerable hope for being done by the end of May.

The momentum is definitely here. The story has finally gone from being a snowball I have to roll forward every couple feet to a snow boulder barreling down the mountain under the force of its own weight times gravity’s exertion.

I…may not be here much for the next week. This is why: I am writing.

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London, 1818

Or, Even The Google Isn’t Helping with These Details

One of the funnest (read: most annoying for a stickler short on time) parts of researching a historical period is having to extrapolate the details you need from a variety of sources.

In this case, I need the exact dates of the London social season for 1818. I have seen various references to the season starting after Easter, or running from May-July, or running from April-June, or coinciding with Parliament, which sat from January until sometime between June and August.  Almack’s was open for 12 weeks at the height of the formal season.

Here is what I know for sure:

  • The season (as defined by the 12 weeks of Almack’s) started no later than April 15, based on a letter dated April 16 that mentioned going to Almack’s the night before.
  • Parliament sat until June 10 that year.
  • Easter was about as early as it can ever be (March 22).

From all of this I am extrapolating that the season of 1818 was April through mid-June. It’s possible it started the last week of March (although doubtful, as ladies would need more than a couple days to travel down to London if they really didn’t leave the country until after Easter), and it’s possible that it kicked off mid-April (with the 15th being the first assembly) and ran to the end of June, Parliamentary sessions or no Parliamentary session. But, lacking any solid research to contradict my most educated guess, I’m calling it as getting into full swing in early April.

It’s not a big thing, really, because my heroine is not a debutante (or even part of polite society–she’s on the fringes), but she would be very aware of the season because it directly impacts what she is doing with her life, and it affects the hero, as well, because he is still part of le bon ton.  Still, it’s important for me not to be blatantly wrong, especially on things I could easily look up and ascertain. In this case, if I’m wrong, at least it won’t be by more than a couple weeks, and after making a legitmate effort to find out for sure….

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Point: Tipped

I’ve blogged before about the tipping point of writing a story, about getting lost in the middle third, about how hard it is to keep all the strands of a novel in my head at once, and about the “sophomore slump” that had to be conquered to get this first novel underway.

I am happy to report that I have finally, at long, long, long last, reached the tipping point for my novel. The one I’ve been writing since September, that I tried to finish for NaNoWriMo 2011, that has been novel-length since January, and from whose mushy middle I finally emerged triumphant back at the end of February. It has taken over eight months and 80,000 words for me to reach the point where this story has my full concentration whenever some other part of my life is not demanding it. And “demanding” is the right word there…till now it has been very easy for something else to seduce me away from working on this novel. Now I have to be forced away from my keyboard and Word doc.

I am so thrilled about this. I can’t even describe how exciting it is to be fired up everytime I sit down to write. Jimmy is back in my mind, convincing me to give another scene a go when I finish one and feel mentally drained. Worst case I go ahead and stop; best case I get another 300 or 500 words, another scene started or even finished.

I don’t know if I will meet my self-imposed deadline of finishing by May 21, but prognosis looks good for finishing by the end of the month at the latest. I hope I can keep my momentum going, that this is not a flash in the pan but the real tipping point where the finale is so close the words just spew forth at high velocity until the story is done and I have nothing left to say. It feels like I am at that point. And considering I am 10-20% of the way from the end, I am at the right point in the narrative for that to be so based on when it happened with my novellas.

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