My Juggler Hat

Ceil Boyles

 

By Ceil Boyles

I’ve come to the realization that writers wear many hats:  storyteller, historian, comedian, investigator, to name a few.  In my most recent manuscript, I donned my juggler hat.  That’s what happens when you tackle a contemporary paranormal romance with ties to a historical event, and throw mystery into the mix.  To guarantee I wasn’t making it too easy on myself, I wrote the story from two points of view, something I hadn’t done before.   I quickly learned that I needed to keep close tabs on who was talking, where the scene was leading me, where I’d left off when I switched POV’s, and my historical facts.   Of course, as in any mystery, the clues needed to make sense and the tension needed to build appropriately.   Before I knew it, I could have sworn I’d thrown twenty balls in the air at one time and was about to get clobbered on the head by at least half of them.

I’m generally pretty good at organization, but this story showed me I needed to be better.  My simple chart of timelines, POV, characters and scenes had to be greatly expanded to account for mystery clues, historical events, and mounting tension. It has definitely been a challenging, sometimes hair-pulling project, but I’ve also found it exciting and fun.  I’ve finished the first draft and am partway through the first revision.  I did the easy revisions first because the tougher revisions are going to involve more balls and more juggling, but I have a little more confidence that I can keep those balls in the air…at least, most of them.

The key is organization.  By knowing what it is you’re going to need to keep track of, and developing a strategy to do it, you can avoid mistakes and pitfalls, not to mention quite a bit of hair-pulling.  The Rocky Mountain Chapter’s SCBWI fall conference, LETTERS AND LINES, offers a workshop on Scrivener which is supposed to be an excellent organizational tool for writers.  Definitely sounds more promising than my juggler hat.

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Fear of Finishing

Jane Bigelow photo

 

By Jane Bigelow

If only life worked as it does in some TV shows, where a character realizes his or her self-sabotaging moves (with or without counseling) and, zppity-pop, achieves instant reformation. If it did, then I wouldn’t still be struggling with Fear of Finishing.

There I sit, revising a short story that has already taken longer than any short story ought. I replace [brief notes in square brackets] with actual names. I check to make sure I haven’t described the same scene twice. (This is all too easy to do if you move scenes around.) Or, perhaps I’ve reached the point of using my crit group’s admirable suggestions. It’s close to being done. Just a little more polishing. 

Suddenly progress slows. Choosing one version of the duplicated scene causes prolonged dithering. Combining the two is worse. Searching for a name for a secondary character leads me off down fascinating avenues, and meandering side streets, and claustrophobic alleyways of historical research. Ideas for other stories occur. Oh, I think that one’s worth a whole novel. Where’s my historical atlas of the Bronze Age? Or, in a more modern vein, why do I know so little about Versailles? The Princess of the Blood has a corpse to conceal. I must learn the floor plan, now.

I know this pattern well. Once I declare the story finished, the next logical step is to send it off. Other eyes will see it. They will judge. That’s what the editor is supposed to do, right? And maybe he or she as the case may be will snort incredulously, “She thinks this one’s ready?”

One advantage to re-fighting the same old battles is that I do know a few things that work for me. Maybe one or more will help you.

  • Make notes of future projects. Short notes. Save and close the file. Step back from that bookcase. Copy that link, and save-and-close the blasted file, already.
  • Lie to self about how close this is to being done. Pretend that finishing is still somewhere off in next week. No need to panic. There’s lots of work left to do before anyone else sees this.
  • Do not let self wander off into wondering whether anal-retentive has a hyphen or not. Stay away from grammar blogs.
  • Bribe self with promises of chocolate or binge-watching an old Buffy season. Maybe both at once.
  • Bribe self with the thought of that file of new ideas. They’re all shiny and infinitely possible, but I can’t open any of them until I finish this project.

 If you’re reading this, then I did manage to finish one thing.

3 comments to Fear of Finishing

  • Denise

    This was great, Jane! I can so relate. Thanks for the awesome tips.

  • Jane B.

    Hilari,

    I’m glad it’s useful to you, too; maybe it will be for others who are free of this somewhat perverse problem! I do hope I’m not alone, though.

  • Interesting…I can’t wait to have a revision finished and off my desk, so I don’t prolong it at all. And yet your list of techniques would also work for me, to convince me to get all the things I have to do on it done. I particularly like the idea of binge watching Buffy with chocolate–though I think I’d go for Firefly with carmel corn.

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Leave ‘em Flapping! Jacket copy for Whiney’s zombie romance

Whiney Writer

 

By Whiney Writer

Remember when, way back over a year ago, I decided to self-publish my SF/zombie/romance/mystery/thriller? And I decided that, since I wasn’t going to have a publisher, I could skip over all the boring publishing bits, like editing? Well, I may have been a teeny bit hasty about that—not the editing part. But looking at my statistics, after a year and a month, there may be a problem with the “not paying attention to the cover and jacket copy” part.

I even had good online reviews. I knew that if you didn’t have a publisher you had to be smart about advertising, so I told everyone in my family that if they bought my book and posted a nice review online they wouldn’t have to buy me a Christmas present. Smart, right? It even got me out of having to tell Aunt Gertrude how much I like those sweaters she knits for everyone—and she sews jingle bells onto the reindeer’s antlers.

But online booksellers give you statistics about how many books you’ve sold, and after I subtracted the books my family bought there weren’t many sales. In fact, it seems you can “return” an ebook, and according to my statistics I had more copies returned than were sold in the first place. I don’t see how that’s possible…unless cousin Morrey, who actually understands computers, found a way to game the system. I’m thinking about killing Morrey in some horrible way in my next book…but I’m also beginning to think that all those “tips” about creating a good blurb and a good cover might have been right after all. And since I AM a writer, I figure I’ll start with the easy part—the jacket copy, which people also call a blurb, which is weird because it sounds like blub, which sounds like flub—and I’m not going to flub this up again!

So I went to one of the people in my critique group, who’s been writing her own jacket copy lately, and showed her the synopsis I’d put on the back of my book. I mean, the jacket copy is supposed to tell you about the story, and what better way to do that than with a synopsis?

Once my critique friend got over that terrible coughing fit, she told me that jacket copy is only supposed to reveal the central conflict of the story, and not give away the ending. Who knew? But that was really useful, since my detailed description of the final battle between the zombies and the aliens put the synopsis over three pages, and in the print version I had to put some of it on the back pages of the book because it ran off the cover.

But my friend said that just leaving the ending off the synopsis isn’t enough. She said you have to reveal the protagonist’s central conflict or story problem, in a way that makes the book sound interesting, and that it shouldn’t be longer than a few paragraphs.

Well, that was the easiest thing ever, because my protagonist’s main problem is that she’s in love with a zombie! I can say it in one sentence, and who wouldn’t find that interesting? She coughed some more—she really should get some lozenges—but she said I might want to say a bit more than that, and advised me to go to a library and read the flap copy on a whole bunch of books that were similar to mine.

That was hard advice to follow, because it turns out there are NO books like my SF/zombie/romance/mystery/thriller. In fact, the librarian said it sounded so “unusual” they wouldn’t even know what section to put it in! This is one of the nicest compliments I’ve had for my book, outside of my family’s reviews, and it encouraged me so much I went to the new books section and read some flaps. It turns out there are all kinds of different ways to write jacket copy, but the first thing I noticed was that most of them told you something to make you like the protagonist. The second thing I noticed was that some of them were a lot shorter than others, and instead of big dense paragraphs they had just a few short, punchy, interesting sentences…sometimes in the form of questions, sometimes not.

Writing the short kind of jacket copy would clearly be easier than the long kind, so I went back to my computer and begin to brainstorm, and a lot of thunder and lightning later….

A heroine with spunk and pulchritude. (Because women like heroines with spunk, men like beauty, and I like the word pulchritude, which is very writerly and also shows off my style.)

A zombie apocalypse AND an alien invasion. (Two plots in one book—and who wouldn’t find that interesting?)

Mystery, thrills and romance abound—and humor too! (Because how will readers know this if I don’t tell them? Besides, my critique group said they laughed like crazy when they read the love scene where all those body parts fall off.)

I have to admit this is a lot catchier, and quicker to read, than my original jacket copy…so maybe they’re right about the cover too. I suppose that’s going to be the haaaard part.

 

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