Saturday, May 21, 2022

Can You Start Writing Before Knowing the End of a Story?

The short answer is "sure," but the longer one would be, "Start if your characters and their motives are known, as well as the setting and how it contributes to the story."

If you write series, these items would be clear, but that's not a green light to meander as you write. My suggestion would be that you know at least these four things:

1) The main characters' regular routine(s) -- because you are about to disrupt their lives. How do they spend their time? What matters to them? Who do they love or especially dislike?

2) Understanding of what will disturb their daily life. It doesn't have to shatter their routines, but it has to spur them to action of some sort. Action does not have to be dramatic -- the outcome it generates does have to matter to readers.

3) The ability to plan ahead at least a few chapters. 

4) Options for how the main characters can resolve the situation/tragedy/romantic break-up so they can get back to their routines -- even if those will be altered.

I've adapted a phrase I learned when writing nonfiction reports. It is: If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? 

In fiction, if you don't have an idea of where you are heading, how can you prepare the characters and readers for what they need to know as the book progresses? For example, you could add foreshadowing later, but that can result in choppy writing. 

I usually do these things and have at least a couple pages of notes about where I want the story to go. Sometimes an idea seems so good I jump in and start writing. That usually results in a stall after 15 or 20,000 words. Then I do some more heavy thinking.

Leaping into an idea can also lead you to think that's where the story should start. That's not necessarily so. It's where you needed to start writing, but it could end up as the middle of the book after you figure out more aspects of the story. 

I'm somewhere in the middle of the panster/outliner equation. I write a better book when I do more planning, but I'm not capable of doing a full outline. Too impatient.

When I do a post, I look for outside resources to refer readers to. K.M. Weiland's comprehensive blog and writings often have something. Lo and behold, this week she has Six Ways to Find Your Best Ideas Before You Start Writing.

It's a good approach. Most writers have lots of ideas pinging around in their brain. Weiland offers a thought process to filter through them.

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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Mobi is Mosey'n On

I often encourage readers do download MOBI files from Smashwords and email them (via Amazon's Kindle email) to their Kindle to read. I can thus easily give away free books even if they aren't on Kindle Unlimited.

That will be a no-no by the end of 2022. 

New Kindle ereaders will only support epub, which has become the gold standard for ebook formats. I'll have to tell readers to send themselves epub files, which they can download from Smashwords.

MOBI, which has been unique to Kindle, has been the platform's software since I started publishing in late 2009 and early 2010. It feels a bit like losing a notebook that has all the information you need for a test.

For authors uploading books in MS Word (as I do), there will be no difference. And I can still mail myself long grocery lists as PDF files (they arrive as documents, not books).

This is the email I received from Amazon. It's geared to customers who email things to their Kindle, not authors.

Dear Kindle Customer,

Thank you for using the Send to Kindle service to send personal documents to your Kindle library. We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your library. Any MOBI files already in your Kindle library will not be affected by this change.

MOBI is an older file format and won’t support the newest Kindle features for documents. Any existing MOBI files you want to read with our most up-to-date features for documents will need to be re-sent in a compatible file format.

Also, compatible formats now include EPUB (.epub), which you can send to your library using your Send to Kindle email address. We’ll also be adding EPUB support to the free Kindle app for iOS and Android devices and the Send to Kindle desktop app for PC and Mac.

If you have any questions, please visit our help page or contact our Customer Service team.

The Kindle Team

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

You Can't Write Well if You Don't Read

 "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

--Stephen King

I wish there were a way to place that thought in the mind of every three-year-old. It's a time before the instant gratification of online and other digital games replace the love of stories to be savored. 

When adults or older siblings read to them, younger kids learn words -- stories -- go beyond the confines of their home and can be shared. I've never met a young child who didn't enjoy being read to. 

All of this leads to the ability to think about the world around them and someday helps foment critical thinking. It can start early -- watch a child's face as they try to figure out how to unlock a door or place blocks on top of each other. Eventually they find out that if they put the big blocks on the bottom, blocks can be stacked.

We don't all have to write fiction, but we have to convey our ideas whether we paint houses, build medical devices, or play the guitar. The key to doing any of this well is reading.

I have little time for pleasure reading now, so I play audiobooks in the car. I'm just getting into using earbuds to listen to books via apps on my phone.  

I feel sorry for people who don't care whether they find ways to discover new books. They won't learn to write well. And if they can't do that, it will be hard to succeed (defined in whatever way feels right) in any endeavor.

Every time you hear a child dismiss the idea of reading, ask them what they'll do if the power is out for a few days. If they have books, they'll never be bored.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Subscription Services and Libraries Can Save Money for Readers

 Everyone is trying to squeeze an extra quarter from a dollar these days. For me that means nearly all books have to come from the library or the used books in my library's small cafe-bookstore. I make exceptions for reading for my book club (if I can't get a book another way) and books of close friends.

Someone may say, "But why don't you want the new book by [insert name such as Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, Daniel Silva, or Carolyn Haines). I do want them. But do I need them right this minute? Probably not.

In fact, some terrific authors make their ebooks available through subscriptions services such as Kindle Unlimited or Scribd. For a fee of $9.99 (Kindle) or $11.99 (Scribd) a reader has access to millions of books at no added charge. 

The sign-up and selection processes are simple. Scribd includes audiobooks.

These services have fees, but the ebooks borrowed from your library are free -- for the cost of a (free) library card. Local librarians can guide you through their processes. For background information, head to Overdrive, one of the best-known services. 

Libraries have access to some of the more popular authors who don't place books on commercial services. As with paper copies, libraries have a certain number of each ebook or audiobook, so you may encounter a waiting list. Isn't that better than paying $28.99 for a paper copy?

Subscription or library services don't keep income from authors. For example, Kindle Unlimited (KU) pays authors by pages read. Via Smashwords, my books are available through Overdrive and Scribd and I'm paid monthly.

I keep certain box sets and a few other books on KU, and all my books can be borrowed via Scribd and Overdrive.

Mostly, I read audiobooks. I have to be in the car at least 45 minutes per day, and that's a lot of reading. I save money by borrowing library CD books or getting ebooks via CHIRP, which always has a few for $1.99 and $2.99.

You may be saying, "But what if I want books not available through a service." You can buy them or go to the library. The big question, for me, is "How many books can you read in a year?" I bet the various bargain or free services can keep you in books for a lifetime.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Words Matter

I put this on Twitter this morning.

Mean humor is an oxymoron and has no place at the Oscars or anywhere else. People like #ChrisRock and #RickyGervais should try FUNNY jokes. We could all ask ourselves why we laugh at mean 'jokes.'

I certainly don't think we should hit one another when we disagree. But I get standing up for someone who is pained by an illness or disability. It is never humorous to mock someone. Ask any kid who's been bullied.

Largely in America, mean and mocking humor has been more popular than true humor, but the Internet has helped spread the habit.

As long as we laugh at meanness, people will continue to tell those 'jokes.'

To be clear, Chris Rock was not paying a compliment to Demi Moore, who was gorgeous in GI Jane -- as she always is. He was saying something unkind about Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, an auto-immune disease that makes hair growth difficult and spotty. You had only to watch Jada's face as he said it to know it was mean.

Some may say it's political correctness to object to mocking people with an illness. I disagree, as many did a few years ago when a presidential candidate made fun of a reporter with cerebral palsy. Why is Chris Rock's mockery of Jada Pinkett Smith any different?

Think about it. Words matter.

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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Getting to the Point

I've been told that at times my writing is too sparse. A reader won't want to know only that a sleuth walked into a large room with antiques from several eras, they'll think I should describe several of them. 

I can see doing that if it relates to the plot. I think it was one of John Sandford's Virgil Flowers books that featured a large antique desk. Fortunately, someone knew the design well enough to know that if you pushed a button, it could reveal a secret compartment. Thus, the detailed description of the desk was very relevant. Otherwise (to my way of thinking) who cares how many drawers were on the left or right?

Readers. Especially in historical fiction. How else can one know about a style of carriage or what a Victorian house looks like?

I like to let readers know things that reach the point-of-view character's senses. Are there odors in a house? Do the dead flies seen on a windowsill say something about how long a house has been vacant? If it's really cold out, it matters if the sleuth wears a sweater or a parka.

It matters if a character is tall or short, black or white, or if they speak with an accent. And many other things. If someone is a fastidious dresser, then they'd never pair a brown purse with blue shoes or a patterned tie with a striped suit. But if fashion choices aren't integral to the plot, how much does a reader need to know about an outfit?

I do mention a character's clothes some because color gives a good image. Also, the ghost in the Family History Mystery Series (books 2 and forward) can change clothes by thinking about it. His wardrobe choices add humor or occasionally let a reader know something before the sleuth (Digger) knows.

For the genre fiction I write now, I think I'll stick with more minimal description. More may come later...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Start a Book -- Even if You Don't Know How

Authors can be asked what got them to take the idea of being an author to the reality of a published book. My standard answer is that you have to stop thinking about it and start writing -- write anything related to the story.

What does "write anything" mean?

You may have ideas for scenes, a conversation, or even the ending -- the latter is good to know, but not necessary when you start a book. What stops many writers is seeing how to build from scene to scene to something cohesive. 

Just write the scenes. They don't need to connect, you can change a character's name later, and you can reorder scenes. You can't do any of that until words go on the page.

The one thing you need be certain of is whose story you are telling. If you write mysteries, is it the sleuth's story or that of the murderer? You may have both points of view, but one is likely more prominent, and that determines a lot.

Do remember you aren't writing a screenplay in which the camera bounces from person to person. If you think you need ten points of view, you likely don't. It does depend on the story, but keep in mind that the more points of view you express the less there is to reveal over time. After all, the reader knows what most of the characters are thinking.

Here's a helpful article by Angela Ackerman on K.M. Weiland's blog. Ms. Ackerman tackles writing when you have no idea where to start. We've all been there and may stray back to that position from time to time.  

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