Yep, we got back from Oregon a little earlier today. Kids and dogs are quite relieved. The puppies did very well on their first long journey, though the return trip had them looking very despondent. At least until they got home. For those interested, here’s a report of the trip, as best as I can recall.
I am slightly better. Have managed some writing. Had to take a puppy to the vet today. He’s okay, but his foot’s sore. In a week we start heading for Oregon for our annual camping trip. Looking forward to it. Hope my neck/shoulder is better, and I hope i get all the work done that I need to before then. But in the meantime . . .
How well do you know your characters before you write? Do you do any kind of character study or discover them as you go?
I used to start out with some basics–characteristics, jobs, background, appearances, etc. The basics. And then I would usually have an image or idea for the opening, and I would have the plot sketched out. But to be honest, I was never all that familiar with the characters. I needed to write about them to know them and I wouldn’t really feel like I knew them until about 30K in. That meant a lot of time rewriting the beginning of the book, and a lot of time make false jets into various directions and feeling my way through.
Then with The Turning Tide I had to change that. I did a bunch of character interviews so that I could get acquainted better with my main three. Otherwise, I couldn’t even begin. I knew a whole lot more about them at that point and was able to jump in and hit the ground running. Because so much depended on character relationships in that book, I had to really know them and how they got along and what made them tick right from the beginning.
What about secondary characters? How do you know when there are too many?
So I’m not GRRM. I can’t manage a cast of thousands. Nor am I Charles Dickens. So here’s a story about Bitter Night. I had too many characters. So many that my beta readers and my editor couldn’t keep track of them all. Part of the problem was that I didn’t’ differentiate them enough. Part of it was that I made them all too visible. Sometimes a walk on character can be nameless and generally faceless. Stock characters–the butler, the servant, and so forth. So I cut a few characters, but more importantly, I cut names and individuality for some of them. That made the others stand out more and their individuality become more noticeable.
So I guess the answer to too many is this–do they serve a useful purpose–preferably more than one? Are they well differentiated? Do they pile up on one another and fade together? Can you remember which one is which if they walk off the scene for half a page? Could you have one do the work of three?
My feeling is to reduce them wherever you can and make the ones you keep as important as you can.
What’s the average length of a chapter? Is there an average length? How do you know when to stop?
I used to try to keep all the chapter lengths the same. I worked hard at it. And it was pointless and stupid. I mean, why? The chapters have to be as long as they have to be. I’ll admit I tend to avoid short chapters. As a reader, I don’t like the choppiness of reading them. But now for the hard question. How do you know when to stop? I have to admit that for me it’s more of a feeling. My chapters revolve around moments/scenes. There’s an action component in each chapter and an emotional component. When I feel that both have been satisfied, I move on. I try to have pithy endings or slightly clifhangerish endings to lead people on to the next scene. I have a tendency to use one point of view per chapter so if I need to change points of view, I’ll change chapters.
In the end, there’s a feeling when things are done and adding anything else will be too much. I guess that’s something I’ve learned about my own stories and probably the doneness factor is peculiar to me. Everybody’s doneness is peculiar to themselves. It’s a feeling you have to learn to trust, as well as a skill you have develop so that you can trust it. If that’s not too circular in the land of logic.
What was the best advice you received that’s helped you become a successful writer?
I’m not sure I can remember anything specific. But I think the main thing is to write. Don’t stop. Persevere. I think I’ve seen that in example from successful writers. They write through thick and thin, bad and worse, ups and downs. Keep writing. And keep learning. Keep developing your craft. You can always be better. Keep striving.
Right now I’m working on some FAQs for the new website–you’ll have noticed that things are getting added and developed quite a bit. My list of resource links will be back eventually and the maps will be posted and all sorts of things besides all the new fiction–has anybody poked at that? Cause I thought for sure you’d be liking my love story: Blood on the Knife.
So anyhow, one of the FAQ questions is this:
What should readers know about your books before they buy them?
And you know, I think you guys are a whole lot better judge of that question than I am. So would you mind giving me your thoughts? That would be very helpful.
So first, last night we went to a friend’s house and ate ribs cooked in a smoker. Delicious. And excellent company and the kids had huge fun. But my husband baked one of his specialties. He invented the recipe. It was dubbed Chocolate Peanut Butter Orgasm by a friend and so that is its name. Anyhow, the bottom is a peanut butter chocolate cookie thing with a layer of brownie on top with cinnamon chips. It’s soooooo good.
Today I went into physical therapy. She prodded my trigger points and made me hurt a lot. But it was amazing how the pain let up after awhile of the prodding. Then we did some traction. She loaned me a home traction machine thing which I will be trying out shortly. Unfortunately, the afternoon was full of pain. So I’m still eating lots of pain pills and still not getting a lot of writing done. Slid write into a coma this afternoon for awhile. Bleh. Hopefully the traction helps. I go back to PT on Thursday.
I’m also currently without wheels. The truck went into the shop for some repair work today and so I am walking. Which I was doing anyhow since, oh, there’s that whole don’t operate heavy machinery caveat on my drug bottles.
Also watched the made for TV “Impact.” Putting aside all the problems and badness of the movie, in the end the moon was split into two pieces. One was about 2/3 the original moon, the other was the other 1/3. Now here’s my question for any of you who know of science at all. What would happen if our moon was split into pieces? Would they move apart? Would one move closer to the earth or the sun? What would happen to tidal pulls? Other stuff? Anybody know?
Keep asking questions and I’ll keep answering. Anything you want to know about me, the writing, the books, and so forth. So here’s the next one, from newguydave: what do you most love to write about that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
I’d really like the chance to pursue my ugly vampire story. (if you go to the tab on my main website under stories, it’s the one called All Things Being Not Quite Equal). And I’d like to write Soka’s story–what became of him after the end of Path of Blood. Same with Juhrnus. I’ve got some ideas that are starting to poke at me a whole lot that I haven’t had time to write yet and I hope I get to write them at some point.
More answers to questions coming later . . .
So [info]cathschaffstump asks: Do you identify with any of your characters? In what ways? Has that changed as you’ve continued on your writing journey?
I suppose I identify in some ways with them. For instance, with Reisil I made her dreadfully afraid of heights (which I am). Course she gets over it and that’s just wishful thinking for me. I’ve also used some of my experiences to give flavor to the characters. For instance knowledge about horseback riding or what it feels like to get saddle sores (which I did when I spent time riding bareback in a saddle one time). I know what it’s like to be in dreadful pain and that goes into the stories. But as far as idenitifying with them in terms of being close to them and feeling what they feel and really being attached . . . not so much. I’m always aware I may have to kill them. Or torture them. Plus I worry about the whole Mary Sue problem. So I try to make them different from me and people that I don’t too closely idenitfy with.
[info]mtlawson asks: What’s your most memorable college experience? And for something writing related…. What sort of novel do you not like?
Most memorable college experience. Well. It was about my third day into college my freshman year. I broke my contact that morning and so was wearing my glasses. I was riding my bike to class. Now you have to understand, first, I was going to my calculus class (engineering calculus and it was both hard and terrifiying). Second, at any given time at Davis there was about 17,000 bikes on campus. The had traffic circles. Well, I got into the traffic circle and couldn’t get out. These people ride FAST. So finally I was coming out of the circled and Moe Howared clipped my back tire (okay, he had Moe’s haircut.) My bike flipped and I landed on my face. I had a swelling the size of a golf ball on my chin and it looked like a cougar had scratched my glasses. My bike was fracked. So I got up, walked it down to the class (a good 1/4 of a mile) and turned my homework in. My instructor looked at me and told me to go to the med center and don’t pass go.
As for novel’s I don’t like: I don’t like novels that don’t have compelling characters, that don’t have a plot, and that don’t have a satisfying resolution. I hate boring novels (and I like Dickens and Victorian novels so boring simply means that if you are going to go slow and meander, that you’d better make the trip interesting). I hate books that are too cliche. Again, I can take a good cliche if you can find a way to make it different or entertaining. Good dialog, good characters–something. I don’t much care for Hemingway or Steinbeck. The first is too minimalist and the second too heavy-handed. They just bore me. And neither seems to come to any real point.
This question by Chris:
It’s fascinating to read about the twists and turns. So after you had written the novel, after the approx 7 month period, how long until you managed to get it published?
So I finished PoF sometime in the spring of 2002. Early in spring, like around January or February. I sent it out to a couple of published friends and asked for feedback. Armed with that feedback, I spent months revising and polishing. Then I started working on the plot sysnopsis and cover letter for the proposal pakage. I spent a couple of months on those. I wanted to get them right and I got feedback from several people to get there. So around August I started sending out queries to editors and to agents. Roc asked for a full. A friend had recommended that I go to World Fantasy Con–a lot of editors, agents and other pros attend. So I decided to go and I contacted the Roc editor and asked if she’d be free to meet with me at some point in the con. She said yes. So at WFC we met for about 1/2 an hour in the bar and talked about the book and my idea for a seriesis and all that sort of thing. About three weeks later she made an offer. i then contacted my top agent choice and she read the mansuscript and agreed ot take me on. And that is the story.
This one comes from Tyler:
And here’s a question–if it has been asked before, I’m sorry; I missed it—–
When and how did you get the idea for PATH OF FATE, and after getting the idea and after beginning to write it, how long did it take you complete the first draft of the book?
So the answer to that one requires me to take a step back a little to what was happening before writing Path of Fate.
Way back when when I was working on my dissertation, I was also working on a novel. A long, sprawling novel that I still have a fondness for, but which will likely never be pulled out of the trunk for various reasons. Whenever I got stuck on my diss, I’d switch to writing my novle and vice versa. I was around 185K when I stopped working on it and it wasn’t quite done yet.
So I get my PhD and I get a job and I moved to Montana. I jumped into working and didn’t have a lot of time to write at that point. But what I did do was get pregnant. And then on top of that, i had one of my short stories “All Things Being Not Quite Equal” picked up for The Best of Dreams of Decadence antho (this is my ugly vampire story and anybody who wants to read it can go to my website and have gander). So it was 2001 and my son wasn’t a year old yet and I decided to head off to Wiscon to participate in the writers workshop there with the first chapters of the novel I’d been workinig on during my dissertation years–short title Errand.
Now first you have to know that I’d had a major editor tell me at an academic conference that now that I was having a baby, I wouldn’t be writing anything for years and years. That pissed me off. The other thing to know was that I got to be in Nancy Kress’ group at the Wiscon writers workshop. Dream come true. So she had nice things to say about my writing and offered some suggestions. When I was done, I was all pumped to go home and finish and revise Errand and get it submitted out.
So I’d been home less than a month when a friend called me up and asked, How’d you like to do a book in a week? Um, huh what?
Basically a book in a week is this idea that you try to write as much of a book as you possibly can in a week. The idea is that most people can carve out a week of their lives when they can get rid of work, housecleaning, and whatever obligations, and just write. Will you finish a book in a week? Probably not. But in that time you’ll have a substantial draft and you’ll know whether it’s worth pursuing or not.
So I’d been kicking around the idea for Path of Fate for a litle while, and thought, sure! I’ll do it. And at the end of the week I was about 30K into the book and knew I wanted to keep going.After that, It took me about 7 months to write the novel. Then I wanted to send it out and instead managed to control myself and send it out to a coupl of beta readers who gave me excellent advice and I revised and revised. Then I spent time working on the synopsis and cover letter and figuring out who to submit to. About the same time I finished the book, Rock published the antho The Best of Dreams of Decadence, which gave me a slight ‘in’ when submitting to them.
The idea for Path of Fate is hard to pin down. I had this idea of the goshawk connected to Reisil and that Reisil would be afraid of heights. I also am fascinated by people who sacrifice themselves for others–who will give up everything for strangers. I also like the idea of someone who is “chosen” and doesn’t care to be. The rest of it sort of gelled up around those ideas. They’d been rummaging around loose in my head for awhile–a lot of my ideas do that. They are looking for other ideas to glom on to and create a story. I ended up using a goshawk for Saljane because a friend of mine does research on goshawks and I could ask a lot of questions and go out into the field and observe.
Any more that you want to know about that? Or other questions? Keep ’em coming!
So here we go with answers to questions. Remember if you want to know something about me, the writing, particular books or what have you, post a question in the comments here
So first up:
That’s really a terrific question and I’m not sure I know the answer to it. I like books with strong heroes and heroines. I don’t like books with stupid people. I like plots that twist and turn, where there is a point to the things that happen. Smart books make me happy. I like smart dialog and wit to the stories. I like description that is evocative and not just there for ornamentation. i like reasonably happy endings. I like for there to be payoff. I like emotional depth to the characters and between characters. I like some romance in there, as long as it feels real and reasonable.
As for plots and characters I can’t get enough of . . . . Hmmm. I think I really like strong characters who end up in trouble because of strong morals of their own–which is to say, not because they are stupid, but because they won’t let some bad deed go unpunished. I don’t mind people doing stupid things out of some flaw of their character–like they know they shouldn’t run into the burning building but they need to get the dog out or some such. It’s the stupid where s/he goes out alone into the darkness when there is a serial killer hanging about that bothers me.
I don’t care much for tearjerking stories or stories of unredeemed darkness. I like romance because I think that’s natural and normal, but I don’t know that I want it taking over the story. I don’t really care for anti-hero stories, like the Thomas the Covenant stories, though I do like the Elric stories. I’m not sure why.
I like stories of heroism and I don’t like stories where women are idiot wimps. I hate stories where the man is so Alpha that the woman is dragged around by the hair and thinks that’s just the most wonderful thing ever because the man is so very very very handsome and his meanness is only a cover for some deeply hidden scars and angst. Deeply hidden. So far hidden that you just want to kick him in the balls most of the time.
I also like romping adventure.
What about all of you? What kinds of books do you find irresistable?
So wrote over 3K today. This is good, because I also got the copy edits for Bitter Night. So have to work on them. And write an acknowledgements page. And I have to make sure I don’t forget people, especially since a number of you have been terribly important to this book. My in-laws are coming to visit tomorrow for a few days also, so I’ll have to get some serious work done in the early a.m. every day.
So this is where I stand on The Traitor King:
43132 / 120000 words. 36% done!
I’m not actually sure it’s going to be 120K. I actually have taken to shooting for 100K, since I inevitably go longer. And since I usually add a lot in revision. If ‘m already at 120K and add a bunch, then I have to also cut a bunch. But since the revision process means that I probably already cut all the fat AND added in new stuff, it leaves me with a lean manuscript and little to cut. This is crazy-making. So the long and the short of it is that I’m actually further along than that looks. But most importantly, I’m on track to have a draft by my birthday, which will give me time to revise before the deadline.
On the subject of movie kisses: Six Days, Seven Nights: Blech. Doesn’t work. Charlotte Gray–nope, and all the more disappointing for an earlier, more emotional scene. The kiss was flat as paper. REviewing movie kisses will be an ongoing fetish for me. So feel free to join in (TV kisses too). Who does good kisses?
And on the subject of the Criminal Minds season finale: WTF? Anybody want to comment on that?