Let’s get two things out of the way:
WRITING IS CRAZY.
NEVER SAY NEVER.
We writers are a special breed. It’s not really all that normal to spend all our time with people who don’t exist. So, deciding to be a writer is its own brand of crazy. Writing an over arcing series is just plain insanity.
I once swore I would NEVER write a werewolf. EVER. While I enjoy paranormal, thinking about that kind of world-building gave me a headache. I remember watching Trueblood and was like, LOVE it, but yeah, I don’t want to go there. When we found out Sookie was a Fairy, I was like, WHAT? Yeah, ever writing about them either.
Then I was asked to write in Milly Tadien’s worlds. Both in Paranormal Dating Agency and Sassy Ever After. Not only am I writing about werewolves and fairies, but I created an entirely new created called a Wolfairy!
When I first started in the Paranormal Dating Agency, I had no idea that my planned 4 book series would turn into an over arcing storyline that spans all 4 books. You see, I’m a huge fan of series. I love taking a secondary character and giving them their own story. The majority of my books are set up that way. A series of books about cops. A series of books about sisters. About brothers. About firefighters. But they don’t have to be read in order. Each book is a separate storyline and isn’t dependent on anything from the book before it, or after it. So, when I sat down to plot out the first book in my planned series, imagine my surprise when I realized while each book has a problem to solve, and a new budding romance, the Wolfaires won’t be safe until the end of the very last book.
I realized this was going to happen the second I had my hero claim his mate. Why? Because he did so a little begrudgingly. He’d heard about this the Legend of the Wolf and the Princess, but he never expected that he’d be THE wolf. And our heroine didn’t even know she was a paranormal creature until after she’d been claimed.
The hard part is remembering all the rules in this new world I created. It’s also challenging to remember all the important details. I keep a hand written legal pad for the series where I write down all the key players, elements, and what was resolved and what’s still unanswered. But sometimes it feels like it’s a moving puzzle and I’m missing half the pieces! I’m also slowly revealing details about the Royal Fairies and King Lear during each book. With each new pairing, something new is discovered.
I’m finishing up the last book right now and while it took me a while to reconnect myself with not just the characters, but all the details about the world and how it’s changed, all making sure that EVERY SINGLE thread is closed before the end of this book.
It’s been an overwhelming process, and this isn’t the only series I’ve done this with, but I question if I want to do it again. However, when I look back on this series, I’m in awe of what I created. I never thought my mind would work that way…
Proving, I’m totally bonkers!
Or totally brilliant. You choose!
I’ve always loved reading books where the hero or heroine has a pet. Robert Dugani’s Tracy Crosswhite series where a secondary character (and love interest) is a pair of dogs and I just loved them. They really added to the story as well helped developed the hero’s personality. I loved it so much that I decided I needed a book with pet.
Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows they have their own distinct personality. I’ve owned three dogs and they were each very different. One was just crazy. Every time you let her out of the house, she ran around the house ten times like wild animal. She’d stop to pee and poop, then do it again. It was like she was chasing her tail…around the house. Tucker was just a spaz. Shasta was kind of like Tucker because Shasta was pretty high strung. Hyper. Even as a grown ass dog, she was like a big puppy. But she listened. Tucker never listened. And there was our nervous nilly Casey. Smart dog, but afraid of her own shadow. But her fear didn’t come out in cowering away, no, she barked and growled and made for a great watch dog. She was pretty mellow and often got annoyed by Shasta’s need to play all the time.
The first time I used a pet as a character was in TO PROTECT HIS OWN. My hero has a horse named Boots. Only my hero, Jake, left the farm ten years ago, and left his beloved horse behind.
Boots didn’t take that too well and became a moody horse. The heroine was left to tend to the Boots, who often acted like a child, pouting, or acting out, or being stubborn. Surprisingly, I received a lot of emails from fans who LOVED Boots. I got more feedback on that horse than I did anything else regarding the book.
But Boots never had a point-of-view. I showed his personality through his actions when around people, which was fun to write. So when one of my best friends, Laura Benedict, recommended me to join the wonderful world of the great cat detective, Trouble.
Besides the Trouble series being a cozy mystery (something I’ve never written before), Trouble has to participate in solving the mystery. He has his own Point-of-View. I thought that would make it easier to write him. I thought the only challenge would be make sure his voice matched all the other books in the series. Ha! Wrong!
It took a few tries of writing Trouble to get his voice right. He’s a black cat who watches a lot of Sherlock Holmes. Trouble is a tad pretentious, a bit full of himself, and he sort thinks he’s British…AND he truly believes he’s pretty much the best detective around. That part was easy. I too watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem dropping myself into that character. I got his voice down quickly. What became a struggle was his actions. I mean, I had to show him in the bushes, basking in the sun, or slinking around looking for clues. It was the cat action I had trouble with. I think it was because I don’t have a cat. My only real experience with cats was when I was a teenager and my dad had three cats. I’ve had a few friends with cats, but they weren’t my pet of choice.
Now, you ask how is this different from writing a horse (I’ve never owned a horse) and writing a cat? The difference was mixing the voice with the actions. Boots didn’t have a voice. He wasn’t talking to the audience. While he occasionally reacted to situations to help clue in my heroine or hero on approaching danger, he wasn’t doing things to solve the mystery. He was just reacting to snakes on the side of the barn! Any horse would freak out.
As a writer, I believe it’s important to stretch our skills. Stepping out of our comfort zone can only make us better writers. I often do writing prompts that are so far from my writing style or genre. Doing this has made me a better writer. It makes us focusing on learning new things. It helps us keep things fresh, new, and exciting. It’s easy to get into ruts.
I strongly suggest every writer try writing a different genre. Not necessarily for publication. Not even writing anything more than a couple of pages. But take some time and write different. Take a writing prompt and instead of going in the direction you normally would, take it to the complete opposite. Try it. It’s a lot of fun. I dare you!
Sometimes, when I look back over my life, I think I got more done when I was running around with my head cut off like a chicken managing 3 kids in travel hockey, 2 on the golf team, 1 doing dance competition while working two part-time jobs and volunteering for the local hockey association and the PTA.
I am woman hear me roar!
That seems like a life time ago. Back then, I’d sneak in 500 words between putting kids on the bus 3 different schools, each bus coming about an hour after the other) before doing dishes, morning chores, and heading off to one of my part-time jobs. I’d then sneak in as many words as I could sitting, usually from 4pm – 10pm at the hockey rink. My kids at sandwiches, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and cucumbers that I packed most nights so they didn’t eat chicken fingers and french fries every night (though there were some of those nights). I stayed up late cleaning and doing laundry, then started the cycle all over again. Weekends were just as bad as my family split up because one kid had games in Canada, the other in Boston, and the other in Buffalo. Yeah, see how that works. But I’d sneak in my words sitting at rinks before the game started and sitting in hotel rooms.
Back then I was considered a fast writer.
Not sure I felt like I was, but I was an effective writer.
I still am. Only I get to write a lot more and it’s often uninterrupted writing (unless one of the 3 kids has returned for a visit). Even when our middle boy moved back home for a year, I wasn’t running the rat race. Oh. I’m still busy. Just doing other things.
So, what is my day like now?
It’s different every day. But what has remained the same, is I have a calendar, with deadlines, goals, and appointments. I spend Sunday planning out my week. That includes finding out if the man is going to be home and if he’s going to need to be fed. It includes planning time for my walks, bike rides, grocery store trips, and anything else that might need to be done that week (also based on weather). At the end of every day, I carry over what wasn’t done the day before, and rearrange my schedule as necessary.
When I was busy being a hockey mom, I kept my sanity by having a color coded calendar. Now that I’m in a different phase of my life, I keep busy by having a color coded calendar. Ha!
Honestly, one of the reasons why I think it’s good to do a day in the life…in your life…is to see where you’re not using your time effectively and efficiently. I do laundry while watching my shows. That way I’m folding while I catch up. If I have to go out for an appointment, I get everything else that needs doing outside of the house on that day. When I make my grocery list, I make it in the order in which the items are shelved. I hate it when my grocery store changes the isles up!
It’s not really about multitasking, as it is planning.
Hi. I’m a planner. I like organization, structure, and please don’t change my well laid plans with a snap of your finger. That really stresses me out. Seriously. If my calendar says that I’m going to Costco on Wednesday, and something happens, I’m like, shit. That fucks up my whole day! Not really, but then I have to regroup. And I can, but it takes me a minute or two.
It’s worse when something like my printer isn’t working and I spend all day figuring that out and at the end of the day, I feel like I lost a day. Or when I’m sick. That sucks.
But my point is, as a planner, I can see what I’m actually getting done, and how my day really works. My mind is always playing tricks on me, like telling my body I’m still 25 and can do a cartwheel. Yeah. Not really a good idea.
Understanding self is one of the major keys to success. But if you don’t spend at least a full week writing down everything you do as you do it, you won’t really see where you’re either spinning your wheels, or where if you just things up a little bit, you’d have more energy. After that, I think its important to re-evaluate every so often. To me, this is like looking at a map before you get in a car and taking a long trip.
Or writing some kind of outline, synopsis, and/or character sheet, for your book. You pantsers are cringing right now, but you have your own ways of keeping track of story…and keeping your day on track. That’s what this is all about. Setting goals, and setting yourself up for success.
Every writer gets stuck, no matter how experienced they are, or how many books they have. Every writer has doubts about whether or not they’ve got another book in them. Or is this book really any good. Will this be the end of my career? The more we focus on those negative things, the harder it is to get unstuck. If we start comparing our progress or success to others than we are in self-sabotage mode. We are giving ourself a reason to stay stuck.
So what is a writer to do?
My advice is basically the same. Take a breath. Step away. Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen. Bake cookies. Doesn’t matter if you’re stuck with an idea, a scene, the plot, a character, the entire manuscript, or your career, if you are stuck, it’s time to go back to the basics.
Let’s start with being stuck in book. Much of this is a repeat of my last blog because no matter how many books you have, sometimes we have to step down and look at the simple things. The things we might take for granted.
If you’re a plotter, go look at your spreadsheets. Your narrative structure outline. Your synopsis. Notecards. Whatever you use to keep track of your story and your progress. You might find where you took a wrong turn. If you didn’t follow your normal process, then go back to the step you skipped. If you did everything exactly like you always do, try something different.
If you’re a pantser, print out your manuscript, or send it to your kindle, and read it. Make notes, but don’t change anything. Not yet. You might find that seed that you misplaced that will help you get unstuck.
If those things don’t work, call a writer friend, or a crit partner. Talk it out. And then listen. Whoever is on the other end isn’t married to your idea. They don’t have the same emotional attachment. They can look at it from a different angle.
Have someone read your work. Tell them why you feel stuck. You’re so close to your work that you might not see what is right in front of your face.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a writer is accept that sometimes I just don’t have a good idea. That’s a different kind of a problem and I’ve, more than once, have abandoned a project because it’s just not strong enough. At the same time, I have found that setting it aside, working on something else often gives me just enough space to find the weak spot and fix it.
Now. Let’s talk career.
There is so much in this business we don’t control. Even in self-publishing. We have to focus on what we can do and that’s keep writing and following our passion. We’re going to feel like a fraud. Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. I mean, wow, cool, I get paid to write about people who don’t exist. How weird is that? We’re going to come across people who are going to be snarky and say things like, “well, I’ve never heard of you.” We’re going to have moments where we question, is it all worth it? That’s normal and it happens in other careers, not just in the entertainment business.
So, when I feel these things creeping up on me, I do crazy things like, go to my Amazon page and remind myself of what I have done and how it makes me feel. I’ve done this since I published my very first book. And when my first publisher went bankrupt just days after my book came out, I cried. Then I reminded myself of how far I had come. This is a tough business and I’ve seen many talented writers walk away. There are only 100 spots in the top 100. But if I tell myself, I’m not going to get there, then I won’t.
I always think: The little engine that could…
Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen floor. Scrub the toilet. Paint. Anything that gets your body moving and exercises your brain a different way.
I’m not kidding. Doing something tactile will unclog your brain. It will give you a chance to breath and think while not staring at your computer.
When we’re new writers we start out all excited and we love our work and think it’s the best thing ever written. Then we go to a writer’s group, or RWA meeting, and we learn all sorts of things about writing. We hear terms like GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Passive versus active voice. Point of View. Word counts for different publishers and their lines. Do’s and don’ts when querying editors and agents.
The more I learned about writing, the harder it got. It’s like the old saying, it gets worse before it gets better. My brain filled with so much information, and often conflicting, that I could barely write. I literally had to take a step back. I had lost what excited me to write in the first place.
I liken it to the kid who loves hockey, until he has to practice every day and it becomes work.
I felt as though I was being bombarded by rules that were tying my hands. I really had to learn to consider the source and understand that their opinion comes from their experiences and who they write for, ie: a big publisher, a small niche publisher, indie, or any other publishing option.
I think the number one thing a writer needs to do is figure out what their goal is. What is it that you want from your writing? One thing I’ve always wanted was to hit a list and last week that happened. I hit the USA Today Bestseller list in a Christmas anthology. Woot Woot! But guess what. I had to do certain things to get there, so I made sure what I was writing was helping me achieve that goal.
As you can tell, I’m a goal oriented person. And that isn’t my only goal. I want to get to a certain point financially. I want to have a paperback shelved in Barnes and Noble. These are some of my goals. So, one thing I’m doing is querying editors and agents again. This means I need to look at some of the rules in involved in this type of publishing and it’s different depending on the line.
But this path might not be what another writer wants, so their decisions will be very different from mine.
And that’s okay.
Here’s thing. It’s important to know the rules and understand them. It’s important to learn about all these different things so we can make informed decisions about our careers. We have to do our research in both the industry and in the process. It’s important to try different writing programs. Different processes. And it will fuck with your writing.
For a short period of time until you really understand yourself and what you REALLY want.
Once you remember what put you in a room, alone, to write a novel about people who don’t exist, things will start to click again. You’ll learn that while spreadsheets works for one, it doesn’t for another. While Scrivener is a great program, it might not be the one for you. Point of View, Narrative structure, GMC, and other things necessary in making a book good, will become second nature. You will know if you want traditional publishing, indie publishing, or be a hybrid author (and remember, every couple of years, assess your goals, because they could change).
And most important, you’ll find your own voice and then can decide what rules to break. Bob Mayer always talks about the three rules of rule breaking:
- Know the Rule
- Have a reason for breaking the Rule
- Accept the consequences for breaking the Rule
If you don’t know the rule, how can you have a good reason for breaking it? I think the why is always important in anything. I was on the phone last night with a writer friend who asked me to read something. I asked her why she did something and her response was: I don’t know.
You have to know. No matter what rule you are breaking, know why and understand there could be a consequence to breaking that rule.
Treat writing rules as guidelines. Parameters that you might step outside when necessary.
You can also treat publishing rules the same way depending on your goals.
So, as a new writer, if you find yourself at the point where you feel stuck, whether it be in your manuscript, or your career, take a step back. Take a walk. Find that one thing that excited you. Find that goal. What is your pot at the end of the rainbow? Then, sit back down, push out all the advice, and write YOUR book.
I always say I’m the idea lady. You don’t like that idea, I’ve got another one. You don’t like that one? Let me reach in my back pocket and toss out another one.
It’s easier for me to come up with ideas for other writers because I really don’t have that much invested in it other than I want my friends book to be the best that it can be.
The only problem is that I can be seriously overwhelming. Brainstorming with me is not for the weak of heart. Casey has learned hone me in by asking me questions, which forces me to pull things in nice and tight. We enjoy brainstorming both in person/on phone, or in email. The nice thing about email is that you have a record of the conversation.
But it’s time consuming.
The nice thing about in person or on phone, you get to see the shiver moment.
But unless you record it, you might forget it.
As my friend Stacey Wilk learned, when you brainstorm with me, you need to say, “Jen. Just be quiet for one minute.”
Brainstorming is a talent. Really it is. I’m good at ideas. I’ve got a million of them, but that can be a weakness because I can take a story and toss it off in a million directions, getting lost in the details…because its not my story. My mind doesn’t see it any certain way.
The key to a good brainstorming session is to tell the other writer your expectations AND to always remember it’s YOUR story. Just like with critique, you need to find the nuggets that make sense for your vision and goal for your book.
If your the one giving ideas, remember, your job is to help the other author find that sweet spot. Help them muddle through all the unanswered questions that they need the answers for before they can start writing.
Okay. So, we’re talking about Ah-ha moments. Some might call a shiver (and we’re not talking the pee shivers)!
Next week, we’re going to be talking about if all brainstorming is the same and how important is it to the writing process. These ah-ha moments happen a lot in brainstorming, but sometimes they can be false ah-ahs. Kind of like a pre-tremor before the earthquake. The calm before the storm. The pre… no I won’t go there.
Anywho. I’ve sat with writers talking about their books and we all seem to have diarrhea of the mouth, and not in a good way. When asked what our book is about, we often say, well, it’s about this and that and then this happens and then this happens. Kind of boring. But then we say something magical and everyone goes….oh, ahhhh, yessssss
And someone else says: I’ll have what she’s having.
That’s the sweet spot. That’s what we have to focus on. We have to zone in on the moment everyone’s hair stands up on end or they have a mini orgasm right there.
These ah-ha moments can come with story idea, character motivations, conflict, setting, plot twist, or the idea that promoted us to write something to begin with.
But we have to be careful of the fake ones. Yes. There are fake shivers. It’s kind of like that great idea we have in our head, then we say it out loud and we realize, not so great.
Writing is not a place to fake it.
And ah-ha shiver moments never happen alone. They come in multiples. Yep. That’s right folks. You heard that right here.
What I mean is this is why we talk about our books with other writers. Why we brainstorm ideas. A true ah-ha is shared collectively, like a scream in the movie theater when the lightning shows Michael standing right behind Jamie Lee Curtis, right after he killed the couple having sex, because the couple having sex always has to die!
Okay, so I thought that was a good idea when I thunk it. LOL.
But I think you all get my point.
Now. Scoot. Go find your ah-ah shivers!
First off, there are ways to help prevent a critique situation from getting to the point you’re walking away angry.
It’s called communication.
And communication is a two-way street of talking and listening. In my last post, I mentioned some critique situations that, while they were good for a while, wound up ending with hurt feelings, or anger, or in some extreme cases, loss of friendships.
Lack of communication and misconceptions regarding perception and reality.
In a critique situation, you’re responsible for clearly stating your needs. And your needs, from critique to critique can be different. I have asked Casey to read just for plot. Or to look at one character in particular. I’ve asked to only look for when I’m being lazy with passive voice. I’ve asked her to look at all three.
It’s Casey’s responsibility to tell me if she can do that or not. And in the time frame I need.
It’s my responsibility to tell Casey if something is bothering me in her critique. Or to ask questions about something I don’t understand. Or even go back to her and ask for more suggestions. It’s up to me to tell Casey if I’m feeling neglected. Or if I don’t feel like she’s giving my work the attention it needs. I can’t expect her to read my mind.
Casey and I have a unique critique situation because it’s not just about reading each other’s work. It’s about helping the other at all levels of our writing career. It’s about brainstorming plot. Character. Discussing career decisions. Conferences. This blog. The Boxset. Future writing projects together. It’s not one-demential. That said, I still need to make sure I’m telling her how I feel about the critique part of the relationship.
But there are times to call it quits and to me it’s pretty simple.
When you either no longer can give your partner what she needs/wants or you are no longer getting what you need/want AFTER you’ve discussed the issues.
But you HAVE to know the issues because wants/needs go back to my rule about perception and reality. I could really think I’m giving Casey exactly what she wants and she could be sitting on the other end going, bitch, don’t you ever listen to me? I told you I wanted it this way!
Then the question becomes: Did she tell me? Did I choose to ignore? Did I misunderstand? How long has this been going on?
No relationship is without it’s disagreements, fights, and problems. But you have to decide how important is that relationship and what can you do to fix it? If anything.
There is a fundamental problem with critique relationships. Writers are notoriously filled with ego on the one hand and horrible insecurity on the other. I often worry Casey will get mad at me when I’m so brutally honest about something. And, I’d be a liar if I didn’t think damn, I’m smart, now take that correction!
When I think either of those things, I need to step back and adjust my thinking. A tall glass of wine usually helps. LOL. But I’m being serious. Not about the wine. When either ego or insecurity is ruling your critique process, it becomes toxic…to the other person.
So, when I’m contemplating pulling back my thoughts, I have to think to myself, is this going to help Casey? If, I’m thinking I’m right and she should listen to me, then I need to pull back and again, ask myself, is this going to help Casey?
Because it’s not all about me. Actually, it is but only when she’s reading my work.
So, when do you call it quits?
When you’ve done everything you can, but you still feel like shit every time you see an email from your critique partner.
Actually, call it quits before that. That way you can remain friends. It’s like a TV show. Go out on top. LOL.
One day, long ago, in a round hotel, by a casino, in town not so far away, Casey and I sat eating cheese and drinking Diet Coke contemplated the topics we might cover here in the world of the Crafty Word Slingers. I sat with a yellow pad in my lap and created a schedule as we brainstormed our ideas. Ha! Brainstorming will be a topic in the coming weeks!
As you can see, I’m a very tactile person. I like to hand write things. I have an iPad and an Apple Pencil now and I love it. But I digress.
I’ve always tried to live by the idea that perception is reality. While we each might experience the same event our realities could be vastly different. I hate rollercoasters. They terrify me. So the few times I’ve gotten on one, it’s been hell. But my husband loves them, so for him, the same exact event is spectacular!
So, while Casey and I shared the same space for a great weekend (this I know she’d agree on), the ideas we settled on for this blog, our perception of what we decided might be different.
Why am I bringing that up? Because this can often lead to a misconception and misunderstanding.
I’m going to state flat out, that I agree with Casey’s post, especially that critique is not a shortcut past all the other steps to polishing your work, whatever those steps might be for you.
I remember my very first critique group. It was four authors. One published. Three unpublished. It was a great group. We meet up once a month, though we often tried to do it 2x a month. We sent each other a few chapters to read and when we got together, we openly discussed the work. I’ll never forget one author saying to me, “Molly, you in danger, girl!” Essentially telling my character was behaving like she was too stupid to live! We had one rule. The person being critiqued couldn’t talk until after all the other authors had their say. I love critiquing like this. It was like sitting back and listening to reader discuss your work, only it was your peers. At the end, we all gave each other the notes we’d made on the manuscript. This often had other mark-ups, like line-edits, tense issue fixes, typo corrections. If someone didn’t have anything for us to read, but wanted to brainstorm, then their time was used on that. I really feel like my storytelling really improved during my time with these women. They helped me develop three-dimensional characters and compelling plots.
But as things often happen, things changed and the group stopped meeting for a variety of reasons, one of which it didn’t work the same way it had in the beginning. Some of us were doing more work than others. Some of us were doing different things. It eventually became a grind, and not a positive.
I was devastated, but found another group. Five writers. All unpublished. We did chapter by chapter. I also loved critiquing this way. I got a wide range of opinions, but what was interesting about this group is that each one of us tended to focus on different things. Two of us (not me) did mostly line-edits. Very little story or character. Just line-edits. Let me tell you, I leaned a lot from those two women. It strengthened my writing in a different way. There were two of us (yes me) who focused more on plot. We were always asking them: what’s the conflict? Or, why are these people doing this? Does this matter? Is this driving the story forward? The 5th woman tended to only focus on character. And damn, could she write some really creative characters. I loved her characters and she helped us all with ours.
But this group had its own set of flaws and it created misunderstandings. Hurt feelings and eventually, it too collapsed.
I’ve been in some bad critique situations where every time I got a critique back, I had to go take a long walk before I opened it, knowing that it was going to make me feel like shit. As Casey said, critiques can tear us to shreds. This is why I always suggest you take baby steps into any critique situation.
But more importantly, not only do you have to take care of what you have, you have to take care of what you give.
I believe there are many misconceptions about critique, but it all starts with self and our perceptions of what we give and what we want to take. I talked about some of my critique situations because honestly, at the time, my expectations of critique were different ten years ago then they are now. My needs are different. My perception is different, therefore so, is my reality.
As a critique partner, you have to realize that you’re reading with a bias. Not necessarily for the writer, but for yourself. You come in with your own judgments and personality. Your ideology about story and writing. You’re own process. You have strengths and weaknesses. You have blindspots.
And so does your partner.
The misconception is that these things don’t affect how you give advice and how you take it. I believe it is very important to understand your own process in writing. The more you do, the better a critique partner you will be, because it will no longer be about you and your perceptions, but about your critique partners.
Next week. When to call it quits! Oh boy. I’m going to have fun with that one!
Everyone has a different writing process and this is one place where Casey and I really differ. Really, really, really differ.
I don’t love writing blurbs, but without that as the foundation of my story, I’d be totally lost when I tried to get past the first sentence. I always know when I struggle with the first chapter, it’s because the blurb isn’t right.
Or I didn’t write one. Bad me!
First, I want to address the blurb must be 150 words. This is something I had never heard of being a hard and fast rule. I know there has always been debate on how long they should be, what they should cover, etc etc. I do know that not all blurbs are created equal. Kind of like bios. I have three different bios I used for different things in writing depending on the audience. I think back in the day, the same was true. A writer need something similar to an elevator pitch. A short blurb covering perhaps just the story idea. And the long blurb.
I spent a lot of time back in 2004-2007 before I got my first book deal, writing query letters and approached a query letter as the back cover copy of the book.
That is how I approach my pre-writing blurb.
I believe a blurb must cover the theme and tone of the story, along with the central story question at the very base level. I think it should touch on the goals, motivations, and conflicts of the main character. I also think the more specific detail you give in a blurb, the more you’re either giving too much, or making the blurb flat and for me, if I wait until after I’ve finished the book, I tend to be focused on the details and it then reads something like, than this happened, than this happened and then OMG read to find out what happens in the end.
I’m a plotter who pants her way from point A to point B. I have to know where I’m going. I need a map.
Casey mentioned needing to know her characters first, and she got to know hers in chapter 2. Well, if I don’t know them from the get go, I’m screwed. I wouldn’t be able to write the first paragraph.
I don’t need to know all about them, but I do have to know their core personality. I also need to know where the story is going, otherwise I will get lost. Below are my notes for BURNING BED. I wrote those before I wrote the blurb. Then I wrote the blurb.
And remember, the blurb is subject to change!
So, what did I need to know?
The Story Idea: What if someone murdered your brother to cover up corruption in the local police department?
The Heroine: Tabitha Nelson. Age 28. Driven. She a real estate agent. Parents died 2 years ago in a car accident. Brother killed 2 weeks ago in a house fire. She thinks her brother was murdered because he was on to possible major corruption in the local police department, leading all the way to the District Attorney. She believes that the local fire inspector covered up evidence.
The Heroine’s Goal: Prove her brother was murdered.
Her Motivation: Clear her brother’s name (he was linked to a drug ring AFTER his death).
Her Conflict: Someone is trying to kill her.
The Hero: Garret Pierce. Age 30. Youngest of three kids. A bit shy with the ladies. Was called the Jolly Green Giant his entire life because he’d been so tall and it affected his self-esteem when it came to asking women out. Dry sense of humor. Sarcastic at times. But a really big heart.
The Hero’s Goal: Help keep his neighbor safe.
The Hero’s Motivation: He’s falling in love, but also, as they uncover evidence, he believes her brother was murdered.
The Hero’s Conflict: the man who maybe the mastermind is an old family acquaintance.
Now here is the thing. There is a lot I didn’t know about this story when I started. But as Bob Mayer always says, story can change, Ideas can’t. This why I try to keep the blurb I’m writing to share with the world free of specific details, but gives the reader a little tickle in their brain that says, read me!
Now, here is the blurb I ended up with, BEFORE I started the story based on the above.
Tabitha Nelson knows her brother’s death was no accident, regardless of what the local fire inspector and police department says. Having found her brother’s computer and all his notes regarding a local news story he’d been working on corruption, she makes it her personal mission to find out who killed her brother. Why they killed him. And to make them pay, even if that means pointing the finger to the first responders.
Only the louder she gets, the more strange and dangerous things begin to happen to her. This forces her to turn to her neighbor for help.
For two months, Air Force Fire Protection Specialist, Garret Pierce, has been admiring his sexy neighbor from a distance, trying to get up the nerve to ask her out. Now he tries to ignore her all together. He had nothing to do with fighting the local fire that claimed her brother, or the subsequent inspection of the cause. However, if looks could kill, he would have spontaneous combusted every single time they crossed paths.
So, when she comes banging on his doors at two in the morning, begging him for help because someone tried to set her house on fire, he’s more the skeptical. That is until she steps into her bedroom.
Together, the unravel a trail of corruption and a sinister plot that puts them both in the line of fire.
The real detail I have is the two in the morning. I added that in when I wrote it because it’s a key element in their romance.
For me, the blurb is my foundation. It’s my rock. It keeps me focused and whenever I’m struggling, I go back to this and see where I might have derailed. I’m not married to it and I can tweak it. That said, this is the IDEA for the story. NOT the story.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!