Tag Archives: Editorial

What Makes a Mystery So “Cozy”?

Posted by November 23rd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (November 17, 2011)

Delve into the cozy mystery subgenre–what it is, what’s expected, how to write it–with editor Faith Black and author Gayle Trent

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteFor some, cozy mysteries are quite the enigma. They’ve gotten more and more popular over the past several years, wrangling readers of all kinds, but many still think: but what is a cozy mystery exactly? How is it different from a general mystery? What makes it so “cozy”? Don’t most books inspire that curl-up-with-a-good-book feeling of warmth and wonder? Hmmm….curious…


The Book Country Genre Map defines cozies as “a subgenre of mystery set in a small town or village. Cozies are characterized by their lack of explicit sex and violence. The protagonist is usually a likable female sleuth who is often viewed as an annoyance by the local police. Well-known cozy writers include Donna Andrews and M.C. Beaton.”

But there’s much more to it, which is why we brought in the experts–Faith Black (@FaithBlackGirl) and Gayle Trent (@GayleTrent)–to tell us how it really is.

Editor Faith Black acquires mysteries for Berkley’s Prime Crime imprint (and much more, of course). Her vast experience in genre fiction and love of cozies is clear after even a brief chat with this awesome lady!

Gayle Trentis the bestselling author of Murder Takes the Cake, the first novel in her Daphne Martin Cake Decorating series, currently with Gallery Books. She also writes fun embroidery cozies for Berkley Books under the name Amanda Lee–The Quick and the Thread is the first in the series.

Take a look at these helpful excerpts from our chat:

 

@GayleTrent: I define cozy mystery as Desperate Housewives meets Mayberry RFD. Everyone knows everyone, but someone has a deep, dark secret!

@FaithBlackGirl: The protags [in cozies] tend to be mostly female but I would actually love to read more cozies with male protagonists.

@peachereader: We like the hobby cozy because it gives us one more thing we can relate to. Hence reading a cozy is always like coming home.

@GayleTrent: When you’ve absolutely GOT to tell someone what weird,  hilarious thing someone just did, you put it in a book with a secondary character.

@FaithBlackGirl: Some [police procedural] knowledge is definitely useful but you don’t need to go all CSI. More Miss Marple, less David Caruso.

@Chumplet: The feeling of familiary in the setting and characters make cozy mysteries easy to love.

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who made this chat such a great success!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

 

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What Mystery Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 8th, 2011

Mysteries can be a mystery! NAL and Berkley editorial give us an inside look at the mystery market: what works and what they’re looking for. 

 book and glasses - special credit reqIn this second installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want,” we’re shifting the focus from romance novels to mystery novels, an intriguing and timeless genre with a number of popular subgenres. With so many different kinds of mysteries on the shelves, it can be confusing to figure out what exactly it is you’re writing and if it’s what a particular publishing house is looking to acquire.
We’ve once again turned to the experts, the mystery editors at New American Library (NAL) and Berkley Books, to give a quick lesson about the mystery genre as a whole, what’s hot right now, and what they’re looking for:

When it comes to writing a mystery that fits into the current market, first get back to the basics to make sure you’re book is categorized correctly. It’s easy to confuse a mystery component of a novel with a mystery novel itself. A “mystery” refers to novels whose plot revolves around a crime, typically a murder, and the search to figure out who committed it.  The protagonist is generally a sleuth, either professional or amateur, who engages in a hunt for the culprit by investigating and following various clues and reasoning processes.  After weeding out other potential suspects, the story usually ends with the apprehension of, or at least understanding of, who the killer is and what motivated them to commit the crime.

While mysteries often have other elements included in the story, the protagonist of a mystery is primarily concerned with the solving of the crime. For instance, the main character might have a love interest, so there could be a romantic subplot, but as long as it is secondary to the crime itself, you are still writing a mystery, and not a different type of book, like a romance.

Mysteries are related to, but different from thrillers, in that a thriller also tends to begin with some sort of crime.  However, in a thriller the reader usually learns quite quickly who has committed the crime and the driving force of the plot is not to figure out who-done-it, but to see if the hero can prevent the antagonist from getting away with the crime and striking again. Now, of course, there are all types of mysteries, so you’ll see that the genre has all sorts of subcategories.  This is because people shop for mysteries by the settings and time periods they find most interesting. The most popular subgenres change with time, and the best way to keep track of what the current ones are is to read the bestseller lists and see what kinds of mysteries are most popular.

Right now, some of the most successful genres are the following, and we editors are always looking for more fresh and exciting stories in the same vein:

Cozy mysteries
A descendent of  the novels written by Agatha Christie, this is a mystery where the sleuth, who is often female, is an amateur detective (meaning they aren’t a professional PI, police detective, cop, FBI agent, or any of the other various licensed professionals who might legitimately be solving a crime).  There is little to no violence on the page in the cozy mystery.  The setting tends to be small towns and the characters often know one another.  Usually there are subplots involving romances and friendships, with various relationship and career issues. In a cozy, the balance between character and storyline, the characters and the relationships between them, are often as important as the puzzle of the plot. We are especially eager to see more Cozy mysteries on submission.

There are also a number of variations within the cozy subcategory:

  • The culinary cozy, where the amateur sleuth is involved in the world of cooking and/or the setting is connected with food.  Think of New York Times bestselling author Diane Mott Davidson, whose Goldy Schulz series has been running for decades now;
  • The crafty cozy, where the amateur sleuth is part of some hobby within the crafting world (like knitting or quilting) and the members of the world help to solve the crime.  Authors like Maggie Sefton,Earlene Fowler, and Betty Hechtman are all people who are using a fiber hook in their mysteries and making the most of it;
  • The paranormal cozy, where the sleuth often has some sort of paranormal ability and/or investigates strange happenings connected with the paranormal world.  New York Timesbestselling author Victoria Laurie and national bestselling authorSofie Kelly are two authors among many who have made the light paranormal mystery their own;
  • The chic-lit cozy, where the sleuth is often involved in more glamorous pursuits like fashion, jewelry, accessories. Ellen Byerrum and Elaine Viets have been crafting fun chic-lit mysteries for decades.

Historical mysteries Here the setting is an intriguing historical time period, the sleuth may or may not be modeled after a specific, well-known historical personage, and historical events often serve as a springboard for the mystery explored.  Variations include:

  • Historical mysteries where the sleuth is based on a recognizable or famous historical personage, like Abigail Adams, Dorothy Parker, or is a minor character connected with a more famous historical character, like the maid to Sir Author Conan Doyle.  New York Times bestselling author Laurie King writes a “Mary Russell series” centering the fictional wife of Sherlock Holmes, and more recently J.J. Murphy has put Dorothy Parker at the center of mysteries and the Round Table;
  • Mysteries set in a particular time period, like the Regency era or early Colonial America, whose protagonist is in some way a stock character typical of the era.  Victoria Thompson’s gaslight mystery series, set in turn-of-the century New York with a midwife protagonist is just such a series.

Traditional mysteries
Unlike cozies, in the traditional mystery the puzzle of the plot and the setting become as important as, if not more important than, the relationships between the various characters in the story.  Often the characters in these mysteries are well developed with deep backstories and complex personalities—yet still they play second fiddle to the solving of the crime. But because the characters are so vivid, the crimes also tend to be complicated, complex, and fueled by surprising motivations.  Some of the mysteries in this category may use language that is quite literary in nature, so the style of the language becomes a distinguishing feature of the book.  Authors you may have read include Nancy Pickard, with her wonderful “Kansas” series, or Louise Penny, with her long running “Chief Inspector Gamach” series. Other mysteries in this area may high suspense and semi-realistic chase scenes, so they may at times feel like thrillers.

Scandinavian mysteries
These are mysteries that have come to the fore in recent years.  Set in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, or Finland, they often have a traditional PI investigating a crime that is indicative of things gone amiss in the society at large.  The detective in the Scandinavian mysteries can exhibit a modern, world-weary attitude and be overcome by feeling of ineffectualness and despair.  The setting becomes all important as the ice and cold of the physical world becomes metaphoric for the conditions the detective seeks to surmount.  These books have dominated the New York Timesbestseller lists lately and well known authors include Stieg Larsson,Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbo.

Hard-boiled mysteries
Of course, not all mysteries can be doing well commercially all the time.  The hard-boiled, or “noir,” mystery is a type that has long existed but is not enjoying as much popularity at the moment.  These are mysteries in which the sleuth is usually a professional PI (and often a tough, quiet sort of guy) and the setting is gritty and realistic.  There are varying degrees of violence and the crimes are often explicitly described on the page.  Guys like Mickey Spillane were some of the commercial founders of this category.
However, even if a certain category is not popular now, it will no doubt, have its day eventually.  Twenty years ago American readers weren’t generally reading Scandinavian mysteries, and now they dominate the bestseller lists.  The only thing you can really count on is change.

So, study the market, pay attention to what’s on the bestseller lists, and read the books that people are talking about the most. Not so you can mimic them, but so you can meld your own interest with what the market supports.  Some worry that this is being “overly commercial,” but editors would argue it’s a way to be relevant to the current reading world.  If you don’t pay attention to what mystery fans want to read, you may have to accept that you’ve spent your time and energy working on a project for an audience of one (or maybe two or three!). If you want reach a bigger fan base, you need to stay in touch with what readers are responding to.  That is what we editors will also respond to.

  
Next up in our “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” series:  Science fiction and fantasy!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

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What Romance Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 1st, 2011

Writing a romance novel? The NAL editorial team gives us a tutorial on the romance market: today’s hottest subgenres and what they’re looking forHere’s what the romance editors want:

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When I was in romance editorial, it astounded me how many submissions I received that had nothing to do with what I was actually looking to acquire, or even that fell outside of the genres in which my imprint specialized. Sometimes the manuscripts hooked me despite this fact, and I fell in love with the writing or the story or the potential I saw for the story. But there was nothing I could do; if it didn’t fit for our list or the market, my hands were tied.
As an author, even after doing all your homework–researching the market, reviewing an imprint’s recent publications, checking Publishers Marketplace for an editor’s acquisition history–it can still be difficult to figure out if what you’re submitting will give the editor what he or she wants. Particularly when it comes to such a robust and diverse genre as the romance market.

With this challenge in mind, Book Country asked the romance team at New American Library (NAL) to share a little bit about their experience with submissions and what specifically they hope to find among the pile:

Most editors at NAL find that when we’re looking for new talent, the biggest problem with the submissions we receive is not that they’re badly written (because many of them are very well done) but rather that the books are not the kind of stories that readers are looking for.  The romance reader is very particular in her tastes and preferences, and trends tend to dominate the market.  If you want to attract a big readership among romance fans, it’s crucial you know what kind of story they are looking for in the current market.
To help you figure out how to do that, the editors at NAL want to offer you some friendly advice about writing romance and positioning your book:

First, make sure you’re writing a romance novel and not a women’s fiction novel! Romance novels have as their central focus the relationship between the hero and heroine of the story.  Their developing romantic relationship forms the backbone of the book’s plot. Most often this involves a man and a women meeting and having a powerful attraction; however, there’s an obstacle getting in the way of their relationship. Frequently, each character has an internal conflict that she or he must overcome. The end goal is for this couple to reach their HEA, or happily ever after, together (with realistic complications along the way). In other words, they meet, they have a conflict, and they must react and develop in response to it before the book can reach a satisfying conclusion.  These conventions are common to romance novels across the board and can act as a helpful rule of thumb to guide you according to what readers will expect to see in your romance novel.

You also need to remember that most romance readers buy according to subgenre, based on themes, settings, or time periods.  The most popular subgenres in romance change over time, and the best way to identify what’s most popular in the romance market at a given time is to watch the bestseller lists. Our job as editors is not only to follow the trends but anticipate them, while your job is to write a great book people want to love.

Right now, some of the most popular genres in romance (and the ones our editors are most excited about) are:

Vampire romances
This means a love story where at least one of the main characters is a vampire, with supernatural powers and an immortal lifespan. The setting can vary. J. R Ward‘s “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series was at the forefront of the vampire trend from the start and remains a beloved favorite among paranormal romance readers.

Regency-set historical romances
While settings for historicals can vary, England is the most popular setting. Regencies are romances that are set during the Regency period in England, which strictly speaking was from 1811 to 1820.  Historical romance readers will expect these novels to be historically appropriate, meaning that the characters should act according to what was expected in society at that time. Some of Penguin’s bestselling Regency romance authors include Jo Beverley and Jillian Hunter.

Scottish-set historicals
Ever since the release of Braveheart, we have seen a high demand for romances set in Scotland.  The most popular time period is definitely medieval, but the Jacobean era (1603-1625) works as well for this subgenre. Bertrice Small’s “Border Chronicle” series is a fabulous example of the historic Scotland setting.

Shapeshifter romances
These are paranormal romances in which at least one of the central characters to the romance can shift shape into another form.  Shapeshifting characters might be dragons, werewolves, falcons, coyotes, the list goes on… To name two examples from NAL’s popular shapeshifter romances, we publish Michele Bardsley’s “Broken Heart” novels and Deborah Cooke’s “Dragonfire” novels to great acclaim.

Paranormal romances
Paranormal romances are ones in which the love story features a character with otherworldly abilities (in addition to but not excluding being a vampire or shapeshifter).  There are witch romances, fallen angel romances, mermaid romances, demon romances, among many others.  Sylvia Day’s “Renegade Angels” series and Regan Hasting’s “Awakening” novels will give you a great idea of the fallen angel and witch trends, respectively.

What we call “gentle fiction”
Gentle fiction is a subcategory of contemporary romance, which means a romance set in the present day. These are love stories set in a small town setting with lots of quaint charm and heartwarming emotional elements. The heartwarming sense of town life and the gentle tone of the emotions really set this subgenre apart from other mainstream contemporary romance. They are the most popular kind of contemporary romance at this time, and have no paranormal elements. One visit to JoAnn Ross’s “Shelter Bay” series and you won’t want to leave this wonderful town!

Western romances
Heroes from the Wild West hold much appeal, whether it’s a contemporary cowboy romance or a historical western. There’s just something readers love about a charming cowboy!  One bestselling example from NAL’s list is Catherine Anderson, who writes both contemporary and historical Westerns.

Romantic suspense
Romantic suspense has a fast-paced storyline with lots of action because the romance between hero and heroine takes place in the face of some kind of danger that threatens one or both of their lives. The suspenseful nature of the plot is almost as important as the romance, and there is usually a mystery to solve. These novels are usually contemporary settings and are always real world stories.Shannon K. Butcher’s “Edge” novels and Christina Dodd‘s “Bella Terra Deception” series give a great example of the kind of high-octane action and edge-of-your seat suspense readers look for in this genre.

Urban fantasy
While not technically romance, Urban Fantasy novels often involve a strong love story that appeals to romance fans. Whereas the third person point of view is common in the other romance genres, urban fantasy often takes a first person point of view. And the mystery that’s driving the plot and the action is almost as important to the novel as the romance itself.  The characters in these novels are very tough, and the stories may contain violence.  Lee Roland’s Viper Moon thrills with a captivating voice and a complex urban fantasy series world.

As you can see, there are many subgenres currently driving the market from the editors’ perspective, so make sure your novel fits into one of them. Or if you are trying your hand at something different, remember to keep your story within the conventions of a romance novel in the first place and understand that your story really has to be something special if it colors outside the lines. Editors love to find fresh new authors with budding talent, so give them something they can work with!

Romance is not the only genre where editors have specific interests though…

Our next installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” will focus on the mystery genre. 

Stay tuned!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Constructing a Story Arc in a Series

Posted by October 17th, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (September 22, 2011)

Series development is tricky so we brought in the pros–bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn and literary agent Laura Bradford.

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteDeveloping a story arc in a standalone is hard enough, but what happens when you toss multiple books into the mix? Suddenly

you have to think about your plot in a much larger way, while still giving each book its own mini-arc that fits nicely into the big picture. Not an eask task, that’s for sure!

Book Country decided to chat with some of the best in the biz–author Yasmine Galenorn (@YasmineGalenorn) and literary agent Laura Bradford (@bradfordlit), to give you some tips and answer your questions.

Yasmine is the New York Times bestselling author with multiple urban fantasy and young addult series under her belt, including the “Indigo Court” series and the “Chintz ‘n China” series. Her upcoming novelCOURTING DARKNESS (Nov. 2011), the 10th book in her beloved “Otherworld” Series, is available for pre-order now!

Laura is no stranger to series development either, representing authors like Ann Aguirre, Anya Bast, Jennifer Echols, Megan Hart, and more. She specializes in romance across a variety of subgenres.

Please note that we had some technical difficulties with Yasmine’s Twitter feed during the chat; her tweets have been re-tweeted by our Community Manager Colleen Lindsay and myself in the transcript, downloadable below.

But first, here are some great snippets from the chat:

@bradfordlit: I like to know that a book is part of a series in the query. But remember to pitch one book at a time!

@yasminegalenorn: Most important thing is consistency. You must maintain worldbuilding/characterization in all books.

@scootercarlyle: I do fantasy, and I need the details to line up between each book or the world will fall flat. I outline them all.

@KelliLemay: Mercedes Lackey is a good person to read over for story arcs and tie-ins. Her series tend to span over history as well.

@bradfordlit: If an author is too entrenched in the series already, it can be hard to make necessary changes.

@yasminegalenorn: I always have a balance of action/intrigue/etc. Though some fall more one way or another.

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Bear in mind that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the end of the PDF and work your way up.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this useful chat!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

 

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That Tricky Revision Process

Posted by September 22nd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (Sept. 8, 2011)

New York Times bestselling author and editor team Rachel Caine and Anne Sowards talk about how to take a good book and make it great.

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteYou’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your first draft, and it’s finally ready. Well, kinda sorta. Now, you just have to revise. Whether you’re a writer getting feedback from a community like Book Country or from a beta reader, a contracted author getting notes from his/her editor, or the editor in question, it’s a tricky process.


Not only is it a complex process, but everyone approaches revisions differently. That’s why we decided to chat with a New York Times bestselling duo–author Rachel Caine (@RachelCaine) and her Ace/Roc editor Anne Sowards (@AnneSowards) to get their take.

Rachel Caine is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 adult urban fantasy novels, including the “Weather Warden” and “Outcast Season” series, as well as 11 young adult novels in her beloved “Morganville Vampires” series (and more!).

Anne Sowards is the executive editor of Penguin’s Ace/Roc imprint and has helped grow some of the most well-known bestselling SF/F authors today like Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, and Ilona Andrews (in addition to Rachel!). With 15 years of experience at Ace/Roc, Anne certainly knows her stuff.

With the tips and experiences they have to share, you might figure out what kind of reviser you are! Check out these gems from the chat:

@AnneSowards: If you feel the first draft is perfect, sit on it for a while and then look at it again.

@rachelcaine: If I feel strongly about keeping something, I am suspicious of why I do. Often, that’s what needs cutting.

@mbrucebarton: A good self-editing technique: reread & write down what you learn about your own plot/characters on each page

@mer_barnes: Read aloud!! Esp works with dialogue.

@Chumplet: I get rather excited to see edits. It gives my book an anchor. I’m no longer alone, playing a guessing game.

@AnneSowards: An author doesn’t have to fix the book my way. They can say, Anne, your idea stinks. How about this?

@rachelcaine: As a writer, you fear seeing the editorial notes, but the trick is take things one comment at a time, fix, move on.

@mbrucebarton: Sometimes small issues are symptoms of the larger issues so I recommend starting with the BIG ones

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who made this chat such a great success!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

 

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Taking the Plunge into Revisions

Posted by September 14th, 2011

The Trials of an Editorial Role Reversal

“I hadn’t asked myself any of the ‘important’ questions. But now, I wasrevising; I couldn’t hide anymore.”

 jumping into lakeIt’s always been second nature to me to pinpoint the problem areas of a novel—or even of a newspaper article, brochure, or even a dinner menu. As a child, I would sit on the couch, red pen in hand, and read, noting comments in the margins and line editing sentences. I loved being able to take something good and make it great. Writing was harder for me, but I did it anyway–poems, plays, short stories, you name it. To this day I still have a strange bump on my right ring finger from gripping my pencil so tight and scribbling for hours.


Given my childhood proclivities, it felt appropriate for me to move into a career in editorial. Pointing authors in the right direction isn’t always an easy thing but it’s rewarding, empowering, and for whatever reason makes me happy. It also often inspires me to work on my own writing, a process I struggle with as the imagination and creativity required to sprout something from nothing is a horse of a completely different color than the skills necessary to be a thorough and helpful editor.

When Book Country was about to launch into private beta, though, I decided to give the “creation” thing a try again. But really, the “creation” I speak of was me taking the easy way out and writing down, line-by-line and scene-by-scene a dream I had a couple years ago. It was a great beginning to a paranormal romance or urban fantasy so why not take it right from my head to the page? But, of course, I don’t dream in print so character development, plot structure, motivation, etc. wasn’t a factor. After I posted my piece on the site and got hoards of feedback, I had a lot of work to do.

It wasn’t until this past month that I actually had time to sit down and consider a revision. Plus, the concept of actually doing the revising myself is semi-foreign to me—I’ve always been on the other side of the process!—and it was difficult to take the plunge. All of the feelings many of my authors had experienced over the years—the over-thinking, the sensitivity, the mind blocks, the insecurity—rushed at me at once and, terrified, I would step away from my computer every time I felt even a twinge of motivation. It was a tiny bit pathetic, I’ll admit, to be so afraid of something I’m so familiar with just because I’m coming at it from a new and different angle.

Then one day I did it. I printed out all the feedback from my fellow Book Country members and read it through again and again, highlighting the most useful points and suggestions, circling the recurring issues, jotting down a mini-outline of scenes. It took another several days for me to get up the courage to write it.

Pulling it apart was awkward and uncomfortable: What do I do with this sentence? I like the sentiment but it’s not working. And what about this character? Who is he really? Where is this story even going? What is this world? Gah! My brain felt like it was going to explode against the walls of my tiny New York City apartment.

None of these questions were ones I had asked myself previously. I had just written what I saw in my head during that one crazy night of sleep. But now, I was revising; I couldn’t hide anymore. I didn’t know how to even begin nailing down all the things I knew I needed to at least have a slight grasp on before I could improve the piece. The creative part was never up to me before—at least not when writing genre fiction, where there are conventions and expectations. And tossing in a paranormal element, something I’d never ever done in my writing? Oh man. Forget it. No idea where to start.

So, I took to a friend and fellow Book Country member, talking it over and throwing around ideas to get a sense of what I wanted and didn’t want to do. The encouragement and support he offered were invaluable and got me to start thinking outside of my past experience and wading into unknown waters. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. To me, the entire shape of the pages changed, even though I only added about 4,000 words. It was a different story, a stronger story, a story with a direction. It still needs work, of course, and I have to gather the courage to write a *gasp* brand new chapter to move it forward, but it’s now a morphed version of its original self.

The experience was an enlightening one for me. Scary, obviously, but enlightening. A lot of you are braver than I, revising on a regular basis while also powering through toward your story’s ending. But I have a feeling I’m not the only one who struggles with seeing your own work objectively so you can trim the fat and enhance the meat of the story. It is not an easy thing, even when you can do it no problem with someone else’s writing. I encourage you all to try though—or even just post that book you have marked as Private—you may surprise yourself.  I know I did.

Photo by balinto, uploaded by Mrszantogabor (http://www.flickr.com/photos/balinto/2602369033/) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Writing Likeable Characters

Posted by August 2nd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (July 14, 2011)

Two authors and editors–Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith–chat with Book Country about how to write likeable characters, whether hero or villain.

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Like with real people, all characters are unique–each one has his or her own voice, history, and motivation. And strong characters have even more in common: that is, they are all “likeable.” Whether it’s a character you love or one you love to hate, both flaws and redeeming qualities are necessary to create the essential connection between reader and character. But how do you strike that balance? What can you do to make a reader understand, relate, and care about your hero or your villain?

In our July 14th Twitter Chat, we asked these very questions of Kelley Eskridge (@kelleyeskridge) and Nicola Griffith (@nicolaz), two writers and editors with enough experience and expertise to blow your mind. Kelley is a New York Times Notable science fiction and fantasy author, a screenwriter, and chair of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Nicola is a Nebula, Tiptree, and multiple Lambda Award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, and more. But that’s not all–together they also make an unstoppable editorial team, running Sterling Editing, a freelance editorial, mentoring, and coaching service.

Just take a peek at some of the great tips from the chat:

@nicolaz: ‘Likable’ doesn’t mean ‘like what they do’. Means *understand* why they do it.

@kelleyeskridge: Filter every action through character POV. And make every scene have an emotional and action goal.

@mbrucebarton: Dialogue is key to moving character forward while also forwarding action

@ColleenLindsay: Agent @DonMaass has recommended giving your villain one character trait in common with yourself to make him more sympathetic.

@DanielleEBowers: Do things with your villain you’d never dare do in real life, but always wanted to.

@AdamDetritus: one way I remember a prof saying to build at least SYMPATHY is to never have coincidence actually HELP a protag

@kelleyeskridge: Good characters r not one-note songs. Falling from grace=more interesting than never having been there

@nicolaz: Most important ‘never’ is: never make a perfectly good or perfectly bad character.

We’ve also posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who participated in this helpful chat!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

 

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