I know readers seldom think about a writer’s thought process when creating a book, but since that’s what I do all day, that’s what is on my mind most of the time. So pardon me for occasionally wandering off on mental writer acrobatics.
I am currently drafting the latest genius mystery. These are told in first person from my main protagonist, and third person from whichever of her family has a point of view in the story.
Because I’ve been out playing this weekend–finally saw Lion King live with the family among other things–I played hooky from the computer. It’s hard to come back from the awesomeness of that music to words that must be pulled from my cranium. So today, I refer you to my Word Wench post on historical world building. Do you have favorite book worlds that you visit?
I’d mean to post a floor plan of a typical narrow London townhouse from the Georgian era–which would include the home I’m writing about for my current Malcolm/Ives story. But I couldn’t find anything copyright free. So I’m giving you this fabulous blog link with cut-outs and floor plans for a slightly larger house than I’m writing about. The photo is of Sion Road, because the area I’m writing about is now far too commercial to show what connected houses look like.
The St James area in 1830 was mostly old Georgian homes surrounded by palaces, a very mixed residential area. It’s fun poking through the house descriptions. But my marquess is having a tough time fitting his huge household into a house this narrow!
I’m slowly realizing that it’s the little things that add up when writing. So much of my writing is intuitive that I don’t always understand what I’ve done until I go back and read the book. Take, for instance, my current heroine’s perfume. I usually give my characters scents, and normally they’re just convenient additions to the sensory build-up of love scenes.
But in the case of the current unnamed WIP (See the Magic? Magic at a Glance?), I have a blind hero. So the heroine’s scent becomes a very important part of the book layering. If she’s not wearing it, he can’t know where she is unless he hears her voice or recognizes her footsteps. So he needs to notice if she’s not wearing it and wonder why.
That kind of detail—as simple and silly as it sounds—adds the depth and texture that makes a book seem “real.” Yes, I love a fast-paced, witty, dialogue-filled book, but if the author gives me details in one place, I want them to fill in the background elsewhere. The hero can’t stop limping in the middle of the book. (Note to myself <G>) If he does stop limping—then there must be an extra layer to explain it, and as a reader, I’m eager to find out what it is.
Do you enjoy, or even notice, the small details that play out in the books you read?
I spend my days writing new books and working on promoting them. In the evenings, I work on old back list titles. I edit scans (I can trim 20k words from 150k word books simply by deleting excess verbiage–source of another blog!), choose images for covers, and most dreaded of all–write descriptive blurbs. I defy you to reduce a 150k book to a 300 word summary!
The description on the old covers are copyrighted and can’t be used again. The question, of course, is who would want to? Just for fun, here’s the one from a 1980’s book:
Her heart pounded as his lips closed over hers. Never before had she been kissed like this…never before had she been so willing to surrender to love’s passionate promise.
Daughter of a New Mexico cattle baron and an enchantingly lovely Mexican aristocrat, Maria Connolly had inherited her father’s courage and strength and her mother’s pride and beauty. But with both her parents dead, she found herself alone and vulnerable as her person and her property came under siege by the local landowner who wanted to possess both. That was when Cheyenne Walker rode into her life, guns glittering on his hips, offering Maria the help and strength she so desperately needed… and the passionate embraces she so hungrily desired…
Does that make you want to run out and buy the book? I can guarantee I can’t write a blurb like that!
Don’t you love this new Kim Killion cover? With luck, this reissue ought to be hitting the stands this morning. I haven’t had time to post it on Backlist E-books with all the sales links yet. I’ll do that later. This morning, I was pondering craft and not promo.
In between writing the romance books for which I hope I’m known, I like to clear the cobwebs from my brain by playing with mysteries. It took me years to draft and organize and revise Evil Genius into a book that makes some degree of sense. Plotting is not precisely my strength!
The family in Evil Genius is just too delicious to forget about, so I’ve sketched out concepts for subsequent plots involving other members and an overall plot arc involving Ana and Graham, the main protagonists. I’m currently working on the second story and have had utterly no idea where my characters were going with this plot until today.
That’s when I realized why books need lots of time to percolate and strengthen. I’ve been drafting this storyin my spare time for a year now, and I’ve just now realized the theme and discovered the villain. If I’d been writing on deadline, I’d be in a crazed frenzy by now because I couldn’t end the blamed book until I knew Who Did It. But now I have time to go back to the beginning and weave in the strands that will tie the theme and plot and characters together so the ending won’t just pop out of nowhere.
Maybe I’m just slow. Maybe other writers develop all these lovely bits in one big chunk. I know of at least one really good writer who has the whole story in place when she starts, but it takes her a long time to write the words. Whereas I fling the words all over the page and figure them out later. Either way, a good book takes far more than a keyboard and fast fingers.
You’d think after thirty years of writing, I’d know this already. But the process is ever mysterious. And now I’ve dallied long enough–I need to get back to plotting.
As some of you already know, I’ve been happily working my way through backlist books, editing redundancies and some headhopping and chopping a lot of bad craft as I go. At the time, I just merrily wrote the stories in my head. The books I’m just about to put up are Texas Lily and Wayward Angel, written in the early 90’s, probably on one of those electronic typewriters with the erase-a-tape built in. And a dot matrix printer. Remember those things? Took me days to print an entire manuscript!
I’d like to think I would have eventually edited out the silliness if I’d had a real computer at the time, but my very first computer was a Leading Edge that freaked out and lost all my work every time the lights flickered. And the lights flickered frequently. So even when I had a computer, I wrote by hand and typed in the manuscript. Editing was something those people in NYC did. Not me. I didn’t have the time for it. Those were ENORMOUS books.
So here’s my craft boo-boo for the day: “When the flames began flickering into life—”
Okay folks, let’s hear it–were there flames? Then there’s no “began” to it. The flames flickered to life. Period.
Do a search in your manuscript for “began, begin, beginning” and see how many times they can be eliminated to strengthen the sentence. Began is a passive word that delays the action. It’s almost always unnecessary. Take out your aggression and strike that baby. Delete. Whap. Gone.
I am no grammar guru by any means. I put commas in where I pause when I read the sentence. Sure, I can pull out the rules, but I only do so when I want to argue with a copyeditor. I used to be a great speller but memory has begun to confuse some of the words, and spellcheck is a PITA that never recognizes the words I want.
But in working through my backlist books, I’ve discovered I’ve learned a humongous amount about craft since my early days of writing. I can remember in my first early tomes, pre RWA mind you, my struggles with simple things like when I should use a character’s name or a pronoun. I had to keep a list of words like “all right” on my desk so I’d remember the correct usage. And while I knew about POV, I wrote what I read, and headhopping was prevalent at the time.
So if it interests anyone, I thought I’d stop by here occasionally and mention some of the things I know now that I wished I’d known then–if you promise not to cringe too much or laugh hysterically.
Here’s the line that sent me over here:
He watched her face but couldn’t decipher her expression now.
Perfectly simple line and not grammatically incorrect in anyway. But when the entire book is filled with these circular perambulations, a reader can get lost. Try this: He couldn’t decipher her expression. Now, isn’t that simpler? The fact that he’s watching her and he’s doing it now is pretty obvious without adding the extra verbiage. I’ve already edited a few thousand words out of the ms just by doing this! Gads, shorter word counts were obviously GOOD for us.
I have an excerpt of THE DEVILISH MONTAGUE up on my website at http://patriciarice.com/ if you want to try editing it!
I could take a picture of the dogwood turning red outside my office window but it would be through a set of blinds and not nearly as pretty as this leaf.
How did it get to be almost October? Really, I feel as if I’ve been running in place all month. I can’t even take a few hours off for a nice lunch with fellow writers without coming home to feel as if I’m half a day behind.
I think I’m making progress, but it just doesn’t feel like it. My revised manuscript is due October 1, but as far as I’m concerned, the book is done, so a revision isn’t the same thing. I’ve been working on formatting old manuscripts into e-books, but they have to be re-formatted so many different ways for so many different readers that I’m not feeling the love there either. I’m playing with still another urban fantasy that won’t be as sexy or violent as what’s selling out there, so chances are good that I’m spinning wheels to even bother. But I like it, I want to write it, and so it must be.
Right now, I’m trying to transfer the cover of my kindle books to this blog with a cute little button on blogger, but it’s not working. Never has, come to think of it. My html skills aren’t up to anything that fancy, I guess. And so it goes.
Anyone else out there making better progress than me?
What makes a character leap off the page?
I got tired of revisions and edits and decided to dabble in an urban fantasy idea that appeals to me. Great concept. I usually don’t start with concepts. But this one calls for a heroine who’s pretty passive at the beginning and grows quickly as the pages turn.
But I mean, who’s going to buy a book with a desk jockey opening? She needs some schtick, some muscle, something that makes us want to keep reading.
What kind of characteristics grab your attention?