Thursday, 19 October 2017

Series: Seriously?

Image result for book series

I will make a confession: I am yet to write a book series by planning and design (that is, drawing a story arc that initially spans more than one book).

With Quest of the Messenger, I started all backwards - from what eventually became the second book of the trilogy - proceeded to book 1 because the mythology and back story were just too good to pass, and eventually finished with book 3, because it was quite impossible to wrap up the whole thing without it.

In Wild Children, I encountered even more of a challenge, because I had really set my heart on a standalone novel, and found it hard to accept the truth when a wise friend pointed out that I'm simply trying to cram too much into one book (albeit one of close to 120K words). So I began working on the sequel - even before the first book was published - and, as soon as it was done, realized at least another book is needed to make the story complete.

I know several reverse cases - book series that really could, and should, have been wrapped up in a single volume, or series that started off with a good pace, were successful, and then began to drag because the author and publishers simply couldn't relinquish the steady income of an audience waiting for the books. It is eventually a big letdown, though, and unfair to the readers, who feel like they are being duped, and justly resent it.

Ideally, I believe it's probably best to plan a series before starting to write it - at least to the extent of how many books it will include, and the approximate outline of each volume. I know that, had I initially planned Wild Children as a series, I would have chosen to do a few things differently in the first book, but as it was already written when I realized there would be a sequel, I had to work around this.

I guess it all comes down to a simple but tricky principle: know when to start, and know when to stop. Don't be afraid to jump ahead into a sequel, but don't let a series drag on when it's obviously done all it could, either. Also check out this great post about writing series.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Writing for an Audience

Image result for audience

In the very long, latent stage of my life as an author, I wrote entirely for the drawer, with no idea whatsoever of showing my work to anyone at any point. There was a certain sublime pleasure and satisfaction in this time of writing entirely for myself, with no other purpose than to put some order in the multitude of images and ideas swirling in my head.

Most authors, however, leave the drawer at some point or another, and so did I. It began with publishing poems and short fiction on hobby writing sites, which enabled me, for the first time in my life, to receive feedback. After some years my writing took a more professional approach, with serious long fiction, submissions to agents and publishers, and indie publishing. Today, when I'm working on anything, it is a given that my writing will be read - and probably read by impartial strangers who won't go out of their way to be considerate and kind.

Furthermore, I know more or less that the people who read this particular book will be people who like other books in the genre; I have an estimate of whether my readers are mostly men or women, teens or adults. In other words, I have a global vision of my audience even before I start actually writing.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Some will argue that writers shouldn't think about their readers at all, that it hampers the creative process and should be avoided. I take a milder view on this, and so do most authors - there is a reason why books go through editors and beta readers before they are published. After all, we all want to end up with a believable, consistent and harmonious story, and it's difficult to be impartial judges of our own writing.

Sometimes we need to make considerations not from an artistic, but from a cultural/public perspective. Thomas Hardy had to tone down some of his writing to make it fit for his Victorian audience. None of us live in a cultural vacuum, and even wearing clothes or observing traffic rules are concessions that we make to fit in a society.

When working on Wild Children, I received a suggestion from my publisher to narrow down a certain theme that, in the opinion of the editing team, had no real place in the narrative. After that was done and the book was published, one of the early reviewers commented on how glad they were to see this particular theme wasn't developed (without knowing, of course, what went behind the scenes). I was quite amazed - this is something I would never have thought of if I relied on my judgment alone.

Knowing that I write for readers does not take away my confidence or stultify my creative genius (if I ever had such a thing). If anything, it spurs me on to write more, better and faster.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Time Saving Tips for Authors (Especially Moms)

I often say that writing is 5% brilliant ideas, and 95% diligent work. And, while "I don't have time to write!" can be used as an excuse, often it isn't. I can certainly relate to this. With a growing family, homeschooling, my husband and I both working from home, and a bunch of animals to take care of, my writing time is both limited and fragmented. Nevertheless, I have reached some very respectable accomplishments, at least in word count. Here's how. 

1. I have a little notebook. It might be old-fashioned, but jotting a few words, a paragraph, a page in a notebook can make the difference between catching the wave of plot and characters, or losing it.

2. I write on my phone. It's not very efficient, but as opposed to my laptop (which, by the way, is a new acquirement), my phone is always with me, and I can write while lying down with a kid and waiting for them to go to sleep, or at the playground when I have just 5 minutes. I have finished an 80,000 word manuscript draft, writing exclusively on my phone, in just a few months.

3. I don't wait. If I said, "well, I only have 10 minutes now, it isn't worth sitting down to write", I would have hardly completed any book in recent years. Seize the moment - even two paragraphs are infinitely better than nothing at all.

4. I don't procrastinate. Once I'm writing, I'm writing. I don't pop just for a moment to check my social media or emails, and I don't even answer the phone. This requires some self-discipline, but it's amazing what you can do in 30 minutes if you just stay focused.

5. I don't fret. If a phrase or a paragraph don't sound like quite the thing, I don't get stuck - I just plow through them as best I can, and go on. Nobody produces a perfect first draft, and every good book benefits from lots and lots of editing.

For more insight on finding time to write when it seems like you have hardly any time to breathe, check out my free ebook, Writing Tips for Busy People.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

How clean should a book be? On curse words and sex scenes

Image result for family friendly books

This post was inspired by my Facebook friend and talented author Sherri Giddens, who brought up the topic. Sherri, who is committed to making all her books clean and family friendly, has been told that she is missing out on a whole lot of sales by keeping sex and swear words out of her writing.

In my fantasy books, which were influenced by George Martin, I did allow a glimpse of nudity (though never explicit sex) and a swear word now and then. But as I grow and mature as a writer, I become more and more convinced that this is quite unnecessary - putting aside my own standards of family friendly reading as an Orthodox Jewish author, I am now of the opinion that it is in better style, more sophisticated, and far less vulgar to describe passion - whether it is love or hate - in subtle, understated shades. A glance, a movement, a few words can show just as much emotion as the steamiest bedroom scene, and villains don't need to assert their evil nature by cursing - there are plenty of other, more sinister ways to do that.

Do I pretend to say that writers should work in whatever way they see fit, disregarding their audience and whatever anyone may think about their books? Not really; none of us writes in a vacuum, and I suppose that many of us ask ourselves, "Will I be comfortable with my preteen children reading this? Or my mom?" Some of us choose pen names and separate social networks for our author selves, preferring to be someone as writers who we can't be in our personal life.

By the way, it's not just about making a book suitable for all audiences, but also about avoiding prose that is like chopping wood with a blunt axe. I have a dislike for tacky scenes in general. I like to convey love without having my characters say "I love you". I avoid breakup scenes with shouting, tears and protracted conversations in the "we need to talk" style. Subtlety and delicate shades are what I seek in my writing these days.

Ultimately, of course, it's all a matter of style and personal choices, and about staying true to one's own self. I don't believe writers should include sex or profanity in their work if they feel uncomfortable about it, or simply don't like it, just as I don't think authors should write in a genre they don't like to gain sales. Yes, sex sells. So what? A lot of books sell without any such added spice. It's all about about a good story, told in a captivating manner - and there are endless ways to do that.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Why you shouldn't worry that someone will steal your book

Image result for plagiarism comic

This is a very common question among new writers, or authors new to the age of digital books: "But What If Someone Steals My Work?!"

Actually, this fear can be divided into two parts. The first is the concern about one's ideas being stolen, up to the point that newbie authors discuss their plot twists with a cautiousness and secrecy that wouldn't have shamed KGB, and are reluctant to show their work to anyone else. Here is where I say: humility, humility, humility.

Let's put it this way: writers are a narcissistic bunch (saying this to emphasize a point, yes?). The ideas each writer admires most are... that's right, their own. So while your idea for a novel about dolphins with confused sexual identity might seem like a genius and an instant bestseller to you, another writer will probably roll their eyes at it and stick to their idea of a post-apocalyptic epic about deranged penguins attacking the McMurdo Antarctic research station.

Bottom line: writers have plenty of ideas, probably more than they can use in a lifetime. Mine are always flitting around like crazy bats in the light of a lone streetlamp. I can catch a dozen with a lazy sweep of a net. It makes little difference, as an idea is nothing without good writing and months, possibly years, of diligent work on a manuscript.

Another fear, perhaps a little more valid one, is the concern about book piracy. I just had a discussion about this not long ago with a writer to whom I suggested uploading her books to Kindle (she has dealt in print books exclusively until now). Her concern was, "but... but... this is a digital file!! People may pass it on and spread it around, and there will be nothing I can do about it!". My reply was, "yes, but if you don't go digital, you are missing on a whole massive chunk of market!!" Does it make sense to give up on the entire world of digital publishing out of concern that some unscrupulous people might spread your book illegitimately?

Book piracy is a rotten thing, and it can be a real concern. There are some laws against it, too, though enforcement might not be very effective. But... once again, humility. I can testify, for instance, that I ran a Google search, and nobody is stealing and spreading my books. I kind of wish they were, sometimes. It would be a bit of free publicity.

Decent people still buy books, and even indecent people are sometimes too lazy to seek out a pirate copy of a book, and the more you put your work out there, in as many formats as possible - print, digital, audio - the higher is your chance to get noticed (and earn money). Visibility, not plagiarism or book piracy, is the big challenge for a new author. Just try it and see for yourself.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Timelines for novel series

These days, working on The Hourglass (sequel to Wild Children), I got a note from my publisher pointing out that some stages in the timeline are murky. Indeed, after making an examination, I had to confess I have a tendency to glide over things such as what season the action is taking place, or even when the main hero was born. The longer a series is, the more such vagueness is felt, as the effect accumulates.

So I sat myself down and started working on a timeline, and here are some thoughts I came up with:

1. If possible, make a detailed timeline even before you begin writing. It will make things a lot easier later on.

2. Double check everything. You don't want a character to be twenty in the first book, and twenty-five in the second book that is supposed to take place a year later.

3. Pay attention to points such as when characters travel or work on specific projects. Make sure everything takes a logical amount of time.

4. For different scenes that are supposed to take place simultaneously, make sure that characters don't participate in both scenes.

A thorough timeline helps plan everything out. Happy writing!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Between fantasy and sci-fi

Image result for scifi vs fantasy

As insanely busy as I have been lately, I can't help already squinting ahead into the horizon and looking to the next book I'm going to write. The concept, while not directly connected to any of my existing works, is sci-fi/dystopia again. And this, together with some preliminary research I'm doing, makes me think about how different writing fantasy is from writing sci-fi.

In fantasy, you can get away with pretty much anything, as long as it makes sense in the context of your story. Say, your protagonist isn't attacked by dragons because the great bloodthirsty beasts are afraid of the bright yellow color of his waterproof coat. It can and should make a rich, detailed, harmonious tapestry, but ultimately, you're the creator of this world.

In sci-fi, you operate within the limits of our world, be it on planet earth or in space. You use real laws of physics, real geography, and real history, and you have to be sure you don't make any blunders. So you will sometimes find yourself learning all you can about how spaceships work or how to build an igloo. What you suggest in your books must be at least plausible.

The book I have just finished writing, Mountains of Gold, is a historical novel set mainly in Africa. My next book will be quite a jump down the globe, in Antarctic setting (details will be coming later). So I find myself watching documentaries and learning all I can about the ice layers, the currents, the geography, the patterns of light and darkness, and the research stations. If nothing else, it's going to contribute to my education!

Read more about sci-fi vs. fantasy here.