Story Mastery with Michael Hauge #michaelhauge #rwaus16 #amwriting

Love stories offer most powerful tool for creating character arc and taking reader on journey

What a thrill to attend Michael Hauge’s story writing workshop at the recent RWA conference. Apparently, we were the biggest audience he’s ever had for a presentation on writing – and we loved it!

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For those of you who don’t know much about Michael – he’s a screen-writer and writing/screen coach who works in Hollywood and has consulted on many of the major HW films in the past decades.

Michael covered a lot in our all-day session. Starting with some clips from some movies he used to illustrate his messages. So what were some of his messages?

Some of those that resonated with me were:

You need to create an emotional experience for your reader or watcher

You need to transport the reader/watcher into the world you’ve created

Your goal as a writer is to elicit emotion in the reader

So how do we do that?

Michael went into a lot of detail about main characters, their outer motivations and their inner journey. I will cover more about that in my next few blog posts as there’s a lot to take in. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another of my favourite quotes from the workshop

Stories are a participatory experience. People read novels not because it is interesting to see what happens, but as an emotional journey to experience for themselves.

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Have you finished your book? Really? Here’s a checklist… #writing #novel #book #finishing

FinishLine

One of the hardest questions to answer when you are just starting out as an author and you have been struggling with your book for months/years is: “But how do I know when my book is ready?”

The answer is complicated. Firstly, it depends what you mean by ready. If you want something that is absolutely perfect and as good as it could be, then it will probably never be ready. Because I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘perfect’ when it comes to art. There are just different levels of quality, and some of it is in the eye of the beholder, and some of it comes down to the basics… Is it free of grammatical errors? Is it properly laid out? Does the story make sense? Does it engage the audience it is aiming for? Etc, etc.

I thought this checklist by Chris Robley was worth reading. Some important points to remember. I have been using this for my books, at least trying to! http://blog.bookbaby.com/2015/01/how-to-know-when-youre-done-writing-your-novel/

One of the ways I know that my book is finished is when I finally stop thinking about it and trying to add bits to the story. Sometimes you just know…

The editing and beta reading is also crucial. You need more than one set of eyes to look at it to get some perspective.

Good luck with finishing your books!

Why do we need to worry about structure when we write? #structure #planning #writing #writers #hints

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If you think structure is the boring bit of writing and you can away without worrying about it – think again.

Kristen Lamb has some great tips and insights in this blogpost. When you are developing your novel, think about the scenes (Goal –> Conflict –> Disaster) and the emotional sequel to each scene, then connect them together. Check out Kristen’s post here

https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/anatomy-of-a-best-selling-story-structure-part-one/

How many words should my book be? (The brass tacks of word counts)

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There are so many different blogs and opinions about the ‘best’ word-counts for various genres, that I won’t even try to share a definitive answer here. Different publishing companies and agents and editors all have their own ideas on this topic.

But for self-publishing authors like myself, here are some rules of thumb that I usually to try to think about when I am creating my stories.

  • Novels (general) – anything over about 40-45,000 might be classed as a novel. Some publishing companies expect something longer (around 80-120k seems to be a popular rule of thumb). Then of course there are many highly successful novels that are 120k+ Check out the Harry Potter infographic below.
  • Romantic novels – For contemporary romance, I usually try to aim for something between 45k and 75k, with 45k being fine for a shorter racy romance, and 70-80k or thereabouts being a good length for a more in-depth ‘slow-burn’ or complex story. My first book Lover by moonlight is a slower story of emotional exploration and was about 70k. My second book Lie to me was faster and spicier – around 47k. My third contemporary romance in the Deception series (The Gemini Effect) was more of a slow burn – again nearly 70k. In the end, I find each book tends to dictate its own length.
  • Historical romance – I have generally been aiming for around 70k for my historical romances. It usually seems about right. Certainly that is what I have ended up with for the first two books in my French Connection series. (‘Isabel’s Choice’ and ‘Temptation’). The third book in the French Connection series is a bit racier (I am working on it now), and that one may end up being a bit shorter. It will all depend on just what the heroine gets up to in ‘The Secret Life of Eloise’!
  • Novellas – my first novella The Priest’s Seduction was around 20k. I think anything between about 17k and 35k can be classed as a novella. Again, some companies may have strict ideas, but if you are going out on your own, then it is your readers who can provide input on this.
  • Short stories – generally less than about 7k or 8k – again, short story publishers and competitions will have their own ideas about this.

That’s my own personal guide (approximate) to word counts. Yet having said that, one of the best bits about being an Independent author is that I don’t have to conform to restrictions set by publishing companies that work by formula. Which means I have the ultimate pleasure of letting the story dictate how long the book will be. I often have some idea at the beginning of where it is heading, but it is only as the story develops that it reveals where it wants to go, and that is when being flexible about word counts can be a real advantage. In the end, it makes for a better story, although it is always worth remembering that editing will still be just as important as ever.

It is only when readers start commenting that sections of text are unnecessary or don’t really help to further the story-line that a book might be considered “too long”. And similarly, when a reader is left feeling cheated, or as though the story was never properly aired, that it was “too short”. The rest is perhaps just semantics.

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To count or not to count? How do you measure a successful day of writing? (Or the good, the bad and the ugly of word counts…)

Word-count

Do you keep track of how many words you write each day?

Does it matter to you how many words you write?

And if it does, how many words constitute a good day of writing?

The answer to these questions depends a lot on what sort of writer you are, but I think for most of us, a sort of Nirvana would be to be ‘in the zone’ or having a flow of ideas that transforms seamlessly into clear, creative and well-conceived prose. If that is true for you, then managing to write several pages a day would feel as though you were making real progress, and being able to measure that progress with a word-count may prove even more addictive.

Personally, I love keeping track of my word-counts. Of course I am aware that it is not just about the quantity of words, but also about the quality, but if at the end of a full day of writing I can see 4, 5 or even 8,000 words added to my story, then it gives me a buzz. I know I have achieved something that is rare but always exhilarating – a really ‘good day’ of writing. I plan to think a bit more about some of the tricks I use to achieve a ‘good day’ of writing and share that with you soon, but in the meantime here are some of the brass tacks of word-counts from the perspective of a romance novelist.

For me, my stories are character-driven and sometimes rollick along as the characters move from one scene and experience to another. Sometimes the flow of scenes and ideas flow far faster than I can ever write. And so I try to capture it all as quickly as I can, avoiding interruptions and typing (or dictating into my voice-recognition software) until I finally need a break. When things are really flowing, 1,000 words an hour is easy – sometimes more. The best I have ever achieved is 12,000 words in one day – that involved a marathon overnight effort. And almost unbelievably, I hardly had to change a word of it before it was ready for professional editing and publishing.

But that was the exception, not the rule. If you are writing in shorter bursts, having to pick up where you are up to, get back into the characters, etc, then it might only be around 400 or 800 words an hour that is written. It depends on so many things!

I often prefer to count averages over a week, working on the assumption that I might have some good days, and some days full of interruptions, other activities, working on promotion, family stuff, everything else… And so in a week, I might set a goal of 15 or 16,000 words – whatever I think is realistic. And this is another reason why I like to keep count of my words. I can see what I am capable of and set realistic goals. Sometimes, it is the only way I know I am getting closer to the final goal – to finish the book!

As for knowing how many words your book may need to have – that is another question entirely (something I will research and think about for a future blogpost).

Getting back to this topic of tracking word-counts, once you have ‘finished’ the story, that’s when the bits that I find much more difficult begin…The editing and re-writing and re-working. There might be agonising, frustrating days when the word-count goes backwards. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. When you are writing, you are using the eye of the author, but when you edit you need to consider the needs of the reader. So much to think about!

All I can say is, I much prefer the days when the word-count goes up instead of down, as they are the days I am creating and weaving the stories that so often dominate my mind.

I would love to know how often you count your words, and the sorts of writing achievements that give you a buzz. Feel free to leave a comment!

If you want to read some more about word counts, check out this blogpost: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2015/01/the-prolific-author-how-many-words-per-hour-can-you-write/

To self-publish or not to self-publish…

downloadTraditional Publishing? Self-publishing? Which way to turn?

This is a topic that has been occupying my mind for a few years, but it was only last year that I decided on the right course for me… If you are still grappling with this one, there are some great articles about… Here’s a recent one from Claire Cook:

http://unbound.bookbub.com/post/108173170300/should-you-self-publish-5-questions-to-ask

And there are many on Joanna Penn’s wonderful blog for writers: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/

So what did I decide? I’ll start with a bit of background…

For all the years I’d been dreaming of becoming an author, I’d been assuming that I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I was published by a bona fide publishing company with a wide distribution. The whole idea of a ‘vanity press’ made me shudder – how could I claim to be a true author if I had to pay someone to print my books? And who would want them?

BUT the tides they have been achanging, and there are quite a few conversations and insights out there which talk about the advantages of becoming an independent author and using some of the relatively new (and very cheap) platforms for e-publishing via Amazon et al.

And I am now officially a convert – I have seen some of the figures. You may not reach the same number of readers that you would with conventional publishing companies, but you should be able to get a much larger slab of the takings and you get to retain the rights so you can issue your book in other formats whenever you want.

And best of all for those of us new to the world of writing and publishing, it is relatively affordable and you don’t have to face 100’s of rejections. You certainly will still need to get your work professionally edited and ensure it is something you can be proud of, but you don’t need to be weighed down by the years of plodding through the mire of trying to get noticed by conventional publishers (which seems to be a bit of a lottery by some accounts). So that’s worth thinking about.

There can also be quite a bit of flexibility with the self-publishing route. If the e-Book starts to do OK, you could consider printing out hard-copies (one at a time or in small runs), and even sell them through distributors so you don’t have to handle the hassles of postage yourself. Things are looking up.

I am very grateful to the many wonderful people who have shared their experiences in the world of writing and publishing, as they have helped me to realise that my preconceptions were stuck in the past and it is time to think about the new opportunities we have.

If you think self-publishing might be the way to go, here’s another great article

http://blog.bookbaby.com/2014/02/why-you-should-self-publish-your-next-book/