While my first round of edits for my upcoming release, Blue Violet, revealed the need to bring tension forward in the story as well as the need to show instead of tell (see previous blog about my new love of editing), round two of the edits has revealed my bad habit of writing talking heads.
Talking heads happen when your characters are in conversation but make no movement – unless absolutely necessary to the story line. In my case, my characters had a lot of facial expressions to go along with their talking, but nothing else.
This is something that makes complete sense to me now that Wendy, my editor, has pointed it out, but I honestly don’t think I would have noticed this issue on my own. And it makes such a huge difference – in a very subtle way – to the narrative.
People move. Think about conversations in which you’ve engaged. Don’t you think you’d be incredibly creeped out if you both stood stock-still only changing facial expressions while you chat. Next time you’re in the middle of a conversation pay attention to the body movements the participants make. Even if you’re not engaged in an activity like eating, you still will see actions like shifting from foot to foot, crossing or uncrossing of arms, scratching, biting nails, looking around the room, etc.
I’ve actually had a lot of fun (I’m a geek I know) going back through the conversation scenes in Blue Violet and adding small physical actions in between the dialogue, and sometimes even supporting the dialogue. I’ve had to answer questions like: Why would they do this at this moment? Is this is just a “getting comfortable” action? Or should they do something that reveals an emotion? Is this an action this character does habitually?
I love that with this very small addition to the dialogue sequences I have a chance to make my characters more human, to enhance the display of their emotions and reactions, and sometimes even add to who the character is by supplying mannerisms.
Huge thanks to Wendy for this piece of editing and advice! I will absolutely be incorporating this into my writing from here on out – although I’m sure it’ll take practice putting it in automatically.
Who doesn’t love a good super power? Let’s be honest… super powers are awesome! They rock! The are totally cool! They are, for lack of a better term, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious… and a bag of chips! Clearly I geek out on this topic.
I’m not going to get into the psychology of the mass appeal of this concept (although I’d bet the data is pretty interesting). But personally, as an author, I adore creating characters with supernatural powers because of the limitless options available. You are able to – temporarily at least – suspend reality and allow your character the ability to do anything within the realms of your imagination.
Super powers can come in all sort of forms and packages. Because imagination is the only limiting factor, there’s always room for more out there. There is no way that every possible power or variation on a power has been accounted for. And since the powers themselves are limitless, the interaction between powers, use of powers, battles with powers, etc. are also fairly limitless.
As a broad example – through comic books, movies, mythology, etc. there have been a lot of fire-based superheros (or villains) out there: Firestarter, The Human Torch, Pyro, Apollo, Ghost Rider, etc. I could go on. But I guarantee that with a little ingenuity and a healthy imagination you can come up with a subtle variation on a fire-based superpower that hasn’t been done yet and is hella-rad. (Oh yeah… I said it.)
What I find to be trickiest about writing books with powers is the interaction between them. Making sure that in any situation, I’m not only accounting for all the powers present but also for how the characters would use them. It’s easy to be concentrating only on your main character and forget a side-character could do something totally kick-ass in that scene, or would negate your main character’s actions in some way.
In case you’re curious… yes, my upcoming release – Blue Violet – has a ton of super powers in it. Hopefully, there are a few that you haven’t’ seen before – at least not quite like this. SPOILER ALERT: Here are a few just to whet your curiosity: a few “typical” powers frequently seen – teleporter, telepathy, firestarter; a few on the different side – an ability to sense relationships (past, present, and future), a power manipulator, an ability to freeze anything in motion. There’s more, but I won’t give it all away.
I’m currently thinking I will release Blue Violet in August. I can’t wait to share these powers and characters with you and see what you think!
As I travel down this path of publishing my first book – Blue Violet – I now find myself at the point of creating a book cover.
Every blog post, article, and website I’ve seen so far has stressed the importance of a good book cover. According to a Taleist report, authors who got outside help with issues such as editing and cover design earned 34% more than the average, although 70% of respondents did not seek help. Of those who got professional help in these areas, more got help on the book cover versus the editing.
I’m already getting professional help with the editing piece. At this point I’m more than happy to shop out my book cover as well. Creating the book cover for Blue Violet has turned into a five stage process: 1- research book covers, 2- hire an artist, 3- communicate with my artist, 4- review and edit the proofs, and 5- decide on the final cover.
Stage 1 – Research
During the first stage, I found an abundance of data, opinions, and options available for the enterprising self-publisher. Here are some points and articles that I found particularly appropriate or helpful:
Size/Image Requirements (Amazon)
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has a page that details the requirements for the are for upload for eBooks:
- Minimum of 1000 pixels on the longest side
- Recommend that images be 2500 pixels on the longest side.
- Ideal height/width ratio of 1.6
- Use RGB color mode
- If the cover is white or a very light color, add a very narrow (3-4 pixel) medium grey border to help show the edges when it shows on the white background of the Amazon website
Several blogs and articles listed out the key elements of an effective book cover. Most of them agreed on the same major pieces including:
- Large title (biggest font on the cover)
- Author’s name clear
- Words stand out well (both color and font)
- Art that fits the “norm” for the genre
- Less is more – only 1-2 colors and fontsLooks good in thumbnail form (especially important for us eBook publishers)
- Relevant to the story
Young Adult Cover Stats
Kate Hart researched YA (young adult) book covers in 2011 resulting in a ton of data on averages and typical covers in this genre. Most relevant to me were the following 2 stats:
- Specific colors or light vs. dark are fairly well distributed across 2011 YA books.
- If an image on the cover is not a person then it is most likely to be a filigree or a flower.
Stage 2 – Hire an Artist
I did very briefly consider using one of the many cover designers easily located on the Internet. This service seems to cost anywhere from $400-$4000. However, having worked for five years at a web design company, I have my own contacts. I am working with a very talented graphic artist – Jason Vines – to do my cover. I decided to go this route because I know him, I’m comfortable with him, I trust him and his work, and he’s reasonably priced.
Stage 3 – Communicate with My Artist
Once I’d hired Jason, the next step was to let him know the important information about the book in an effort to help him generate ideas. This part is tricky. I didn’t want to make him read the entire book. I also didn’t want to restrict his creativity by giving him rigid guidelines. But I wanted to make sure he’s got all the elements he needs to create my perfect cover. Below is what I ended up communicating to him:
- Book Title: Blue Violet
- My initial idea is something really simple like a blue violet flower on a black or white background.
- The follow-on book is titled Hyacinth (and ideas for 2 more books in the series likely titled Nightshade and Snapdragon). The book covers for each of those would be the title flowers – setting a theme for the series.
- The first page of the book will read: All flowers have a meaning. In the Victorian era, people used flowers as a symbol to express their feelings. Blue Violet: watchfulness, faithfulness, I’ll always be true.
- Genre: YA (young adult) paranormal romance
- Setting: Rocky Mountains in Colorado / Estes Park
- SPOILER ALERT: I won’t give you details I gave Jason, but I let him know some of the powers for my main character and antagonist (which may or may not involve wolves). I gave him details that would potentially render well in graphic form.
Stage 4 & 5 – Edit the Proofs / Decide on a Cover (Coming Soon!)
Jason is in the process now of creating the first pass at my book cover. I should receive several options to select from sometime in the next few weeks. After I’ve completed my work with him I’ll post on the options he provided, the edits we went through, and the final book cover design! I am extremely excited and curious to see what he comes up with!
Writing romance scenes is possibly one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer. So this blog entry is not a “how to” by any stretch of the imagination. This is more of a “come commiserate with me” moment.
The ironic thing is that romance books were my first love when it comes to what I prefer to read. My mom had an entire bookshelf filled with them and I was introduced early. For the longest time I didn’t really think that the romance and paranormal genres could blend all that well. Boy howdy was I wrong about that. There are a ton of excellent paranormal romance stories out there that prove these genres can mix very well. And what could be better than a mix of my two favorite genres.
I am still developing my techniques for dealing with the romance scenes. These tend to be my favorite scenes in books that I read, but I find that writing them – or more specifically writing them without a ton of cheese – is much harder than I anticipated. Given how much romance I read, you would think that I have a plethora of material in my head to pull from. But nope. Somehow when I get to writing these scenes I draw a blank.
Here are my top 3 mistakes in writing romance (so far – I’m sure I’ll find more) and how I’ve learned from them:
1. Forgetting to set the scene
I have found that romantic scenes are much easier to write if you can picture them actually happening. Part of this is leading in to a believable scene, and making the scene something that would inspire passion. In this, I find that it does help to draw from some personal experience. But all those romance novels do help as well as I’ve gone back to read my favorite scenes and figure out what it was about them that I liked and try to build on those ideas.
2. Jumping into the relationship too fast
When I start my book I know exactly what relationship my characters are going to have (even several books out). Unfortunately this makes it too easy for me to skip the “setting up the connection between the characters” build up that is necessary. I jump right in to “insta-love.” Luckily I have my awesome editor Wendy to help me catch this mistake and go back and build some connection first. Believe it or not, in writing the “connection” scenes I actually felt my characters grow closer together. Perhaps a life lesson that the connection is potentially more important than the passion.
3. Who am I writing for?
Since I write YA – young adult – there is a very fine line to walk with how close to the racy edge you get. I originally tried to keep the idea of “my dad and my father-in-law are going to read this” in the back of my mind. But I found that thought somehow sucked all the passion right out of my writing. Go figure. So now I’m writing romance with two thoughts in mind. My first thought is “What would I like to read in these scenes?” I tend to prefer pretty hot n’ heavy stuff, so I write the scenes first with that. Then I think, “What would I want my daughter to read when she gets older?” I then go back through the scene with that in mind and rework it from that point of view, although I’m very careful to try to still keep the original feel to the scene.
I’m still developing my methods for writing romance, and hope that I’ll continue to get better and so will my writing. You’ll have to be the judge when Blue Violet comes out soon!
As a wife and mother of two, a full-time business analyst, an EMBA student, and an aspiring author, a question I am frequently asked is… how do I balance my life and manage to fit it all in? The answer is… I don’t. Every single day something gets missed, gets neglected, gets left until tomorrow, or falls off the “to do” list entirely.
Take today for example… We just got home late last night from an awesome family vacation to St. Louis. I am relaxed, happy, ready to hop back into my daily life. And then I take a look at what that means just for today…
I start the day with my house in complete chaos. We had my son’s 5th birthday party just before leaving for vacation, so we left the house in a bit of a wreck, and then there’s the unpacking to do. But all of that gets placed on hold. This morning I need to get me ready and then get the kids up, dressed, and to school – with a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up brownie bites for my son’s class to celebrate his birthday. But wait a sec! First I need to make sure my son is in (clean and matching) PJs because today is PJ day for his class. Luckily it’s pancake day at school – so breakfast for the kids is handled.
Then it’s on to work where I have 200 emails waiting for me (not an exaggeration) and a week’s worth of catching up to do. The work “to do” list also includes a Q3 finalized forecast for my account, and a communication package on the current supply outlook, among about ten other things. Of course I squeeze this all in the morning hours since I’m in meetings from 1pm to 4:30pm. Lunch at the desk today. The good news is I finished everything that absolutely had to get done for work today, so no after-hours required.
After work I make a trip over to my friend Krista’s house to pick up dinner. She cooks dinner for us three nights a week (bless her). It’s a HUGE time savings for us. Then it’s home to pop it in the oven. While it cooks and I wait for my husband to get home with the kids, I start trying to make a small dent on the mess that is my house. I multi-task by calling Mom and filling her in on our vacation while I pick up.
Hubby’s playing volleyball tonight. I feed the kids – a bite-by-bite battle, and then it’s the bedtime routine. I squeeze the writing of this blog post in while snuggling with my kids during the TV-watching portion of bedtime. After the kids are in bed, I settle on the couch with my computer (husband’s night to clean the kitchen) and work while I catch up on my missed TV shows. We have a quick chat about his job and our current weekly schedule of “duties.”
Then I get down to it. First I work on EMBA stuff. I’ve been lucky this week because the 4th of July holiday meant a week-long break between classes at school. But the next class starts this Friday and I have some pre-work to get through. I divide up all the reading for the week to spread it out over the next few days, and spend an hour reading two of the articles.
After that, I pop open another forecast for work (I just can’t help myself – it’s a good time to get ahead of some things for later in the week) and knock that out for the next hour. Once that’s done, I open up Hyacinth – the follow-on book to Blue Violet. At the moment I’m waiting on the next round of Blue Violet edits from Wendy, so it’s a perfect time to get some more of book two written. I try to get about three pages a night in when I can. Tonight, one page is all I have time for.
Finally I hit on my social media “to dos” for self-publishing. A tweet here, a facebook post there, publish this blog post. I am categorically NOT a late-night person, so it’s upstairs, get out my gear for my early morning run, get ready for bed, read for about twenty minutes to clear my mind, and try to fall asleep.
You’ll notice that the house, while it got a tiny bit more picked up, is still a disaster area. Unpacked luggage is strewn throughout, contents spilled haphazardly on the floor. I would have preferred to knock out 10 pages of the new book, but only got to 1. I didn’t get my Tuesday evening run in. Still need to pay some bills, make a dentist appointment, get my passport application process started, and get some cash to pay my friend Janice $20. My very patient mother-in-law has been waiting for dimensions of the windows in my daughter’s room for about three months now (she’s making us curtains).
But all of that will have to wait until tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. I consider today to be a very successful day. I spent what time I had with my family with them. I got most everything done that I wanted to. What’s left over is not urgent. If your life is anything as crazy as mine is, I’d love to hear what techniques you use to keep on top of it. I believe (cliche alert) the trick is to realize you are not a failure, to live your life every day to the fullest, and to not sweat the small stuff (and sometimes not sweat the big stuff too).
My first full round of editing with Wendy is complete (wahoo!) – received, applied, and full post-application read through – check, check, and check. The updated manuscript for Blue Violet is now in her capable hands for round two of the editing process. I’ve already blogged about some of the more frequent and favorite edits and comments I received from Wendy during round one. I thought it might also be interesting to share some examples of some small portions of the manuscript that got reworked a bit based on the feedback received.
Original Text: She and Griffin were extraordinary even by the standards of other people born with these types of abilities. According to their mother, the abilities they had were genetic, passed down from parent to child. It didn’t always happen that a child would inherit the power, but it was a dominant trait, and therefore any parent with a power would usually pass it on to any child he or she had. If the child did inherit the ability, they would have the same power as the parent, although often with a subtle twist or variation on it. Of course, people with these abilities were so rare that most only had one power because they’d only had one parent with a power to pass on.
Original Text: Another complication she had discovered while listening in on the various thoughts at the table was that Adelaide, Addison, and Nate were clearly a part of this high school clique.
SPOILER ALERT: This excerpt gives away a little something about my main character that you don’t know immediately in the book. Read at your own discretion.
A bit of background. My main character, Ellie, has the ability to control other people’s powers when she’s touching them. In this scene, Ramsey is a firestarter. They’re very rare because they can’t control their power and it ends up killing them eventually. She’s testing out his power to see if she can teach him how to control it, and therefore survive it.
I have finished my first round of edits with Wendy (Yay!). During the editing process I added enough stuff, moved enough stuff, and changed enough stuff that I am doing one full read through of the entire manuscript before I send it back to Wendy for round two.
Now… I have to admit, that I’ve always wondered how storytellers could get details, sometimes just small ones, so wrong. For example, in Star Wars – my all time favorite movies – there are some details that are contradictory or just don’t make sense. (Sorry George – but let’s be honest here.)
However, I now have to admit that I absolutely understand how this can happen. As readers we have to keep in mind that what takes us hours to read (and therefore the details stay fresh in our minds) the author works on over weeks, months, or even years. In addition – and this was a big “ah-ha” moment for me – the author has many iterations of the book/screenplay before it ever gets to print (or e-ink).
As an example… here’s a very small change in detail that happened during the editing process on Blue Violet. In one of my first passes at the book, I had a scene that gave a decent amount of detail about what classes Ellie (my main character) was taking at the high school. It included mentioning that a fairly minor character, Brian, was in her economics class. Later in the book you discover he’s also in her physics class.
If you’ve read my blog post about editing, then you’ll understand why, during editing, Wendy suggested I cut down the descriptions of Ellie’s classes – as that came under the heading of “boring filler stuff.” However, when doing my fast read through, now it looks like in one scene I say that Ellie and Brian are in physics together, and then later in the book I get it wrong and call it economics.
Now that’s a fairly tiny example of a detail that could get changed and then missed as things move around and shift during the editing process. Sadly, large details can also get missed. For example, I accidentally changed the physical description of one of my main characters through my various versions. Even more so, I can see how these detail issues happen when there’s multiple episodes (like Star Wars) or a series of books.
I intend for Blue Violet to be the first of a series. I’m already in the process of writing the second book. In this process I managed to completely change the powers of one of the main characters in my first book. Seriously. This change is so integral to my second book that I’ve had to go back and rework that character and their impact on various scenes in Blue Violet so that it makes sense. I was lucky I hadn’t published Blue Violet yet because if I had, I would have been stuck.
My key learnings out of this process:
1. Keep a separate document that has details about your characters, situations, and future impacts – and update it when you make changes
2. Do at least one fast read through after you’ve finished the editing to catch and fix as many detail issues as possible (hell – do several fast read throughs).
3. Give those poor authors and screenwriters a break. This writing process is a complicated thing. (Mr. Lucas, you have my sincere apology for every detail issue I ever pointed out in Star Wars).
As I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote my debut book, Blue Violet, two years ago. It was the first time I’d finished a full book. I’d taken a whack at writing a book about ten times before. With Blue Violet I finally found the method that works best for me!
In previous attempts, I tried to write in a linear fashion. In other words, I tried to write everything in order. And that’s exactly why I never finished one of those attempts. As soon as I wasn’t sure how to move a scene forward, or connect one scene to another, or plod through creating the “boring filler” parts, I would get stuck. Total writers block. I’d stall out and that was the end of that book.
I took a completely different approach for Blue Violet. I wrote separate scenes in chunks, regardless of how they fit together at the time. If I got stuck on one scene I’d highlight where I got stuck in yellow and come back to it later. If I didn’t have a scene to connect it to yet, or didn’t know how to connect it, I highlighted the words “come back to this” in yellow. Frequently I would be in the middle of one scene and get an idea for a scene that was going to be in a completely different section of the book, and I’d be writing both scenes at once.
I liken it to the way I watch TV. I simply can not watch one show at a time. I flip through all my favorite channels and find two, often three, different channels to watch. As soon as a commercial comes on or I get bored with the scene on the current show, I flip to the next show. DVRs are horrible for me for this reason. It’s a habit that drives my husband absolutely nuts.
Once I had all of the main chunks of the book written, I started connecting the dots, so to speak. Add a section here, put some filler there, and wham, I finally finished writing a full book. I can not express enough to you how thrilled I am about this fact (sad given that I’m a writer and should be able to express these things in flowing words.)
It makes it a little tricky to keep track of all the details as I go. So I’ve started keeping a separate document to track the details: characters (even minor ones that get a one-sentence mention), powers, and story lines. I now understand how writers of series – books or movies – sometimes get minor details in there that are contradictory or make no sense.
As soon as I found my incredible editor, Wendy, I had my second ah-ha moment. She pinpointed the boring filler that had been added late in the processes in about two seconds. And she was so right. It was boring. And that’s when I learned that you don’t always need the filler – especially if it’s boring or doesn’t move the story along in some way.
So here’s my formula: write the book in scenes as they come to me, keep track of the details, and connect it all later but only with additional scenes that continue to move the story forward.
I’m already in the process of writing the follow-up book to Blue Violet using this methodology. Which is why I know I’ll be successful finishing this one too. So, to mix a few metaphors, I’m on a roll, I’m in the zone, and I don’t planning on jumping off this merry-go-round any time soon.