Tag Archives: Publishing

WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I? PART TWO

I received many comments on the last post regarding prequels and back-story. Many authors express the belief that prequels tend to be an author’s saved up back-story. If that is the case, it is unlikely that a compelling prequel will follow. There is a quite a bit to consider as we discuss prequels.

THE BACK-STORY ON BACK-STORY

As the authors, we know what happened before our published work; where our characters came from, what makes them do the things they do, why this one is afraid of the dark or that one has an aversion to apples…we created these personality quirks and the reasons behind them. A prequel does not have to be the “why” of the already published work. Honestly, just because one reader wants to know why John Doe flinches every time the doorbell rings, does not meant that EVERY reader wants to know the story behind that quirk. We need to ask ourselves, is our story idea compelling enough to interest a reader in spending his or her hard earned cash on a book? A prequel should be a standalone story that just happens to be inhabited by one or two (or maybe all) of the characters from our current novel. It’s not there to explain the entire back story; it can, however, support character traits or give deeper insight into certain characters. So what’s all the fuss about prequels?

THE PROBLEM OF THE CART COMING BEFORE THE HORSE

Problem number one, as I see it, is the story map. We have a perfectly good published novel with a sequence of events that is set in stone. Now, here we are later, writing a novel that leads up to that sequence of events – we have to make sure we don’t contradict ourselves or send our characters so way off the beaten path that it’s just not a plausible story to bring them back. The sequence of events in the prequel must logically lead up to the sequence of events in the published work, even if the prequel takes place many years earlier when the main character is just a child (or in the case of Star Wars, before the main characters are born). For example, if in the already published story, our main character mentions that she lost her parents in a fire when she was 20, we can’t possibly have her ask her mother for advice in a prequel that takes place when she is 25. The story map must be consistent and lead the main characters to the path of the already published novel, or at least to a path that the readers can believe will put them upon the path they will travel in the published novel.

CHECK YOUR FACTS MA’AM

Facts must be checked and double checked; even the most seemingly innocuous comment made by a minor character in the first book must coordinate with the storyline in the prequel. If there is an inconsistency in even the minutest detail, we can be sure that a reader will notice it and it will become a thorn in that reader’s side. Every character counts; we need to make sure a minor character doesn’t push a main character off track. If the story line of the prequel is gleaned from an event the main character mentions in the published work, we need to make sure that any character mentioned in the existing work now exists in the prequel. For example, if our MC mentioned in passing that she had a college roommate named Donna at the time her parents perished in that fire and our story takes place during that time frame, we need to make sure Donna exists. No Donna – no continuity. Worse yet, we need to make sure we don’t call the MC’s roommate Rachel. Check the facts, check the facts, check the facts! Did I mention we need to check the facts?

DON’T TOUCH THAT ROCK!

As authors we must make sure that nothing in our prequel negates the novels that are already published—character traits and motivation must be consistent. However, in my opinion, in order to be a successful prequel, the story should be about our characters at an earlier time– a separate stand alone story that will captivate readers not just a pre-shadow of our other novels. When we are writing a prequel, we need to travel back and forth between the published work and the work in progress; making sure that the events occurring in the prequel do not deter the events of the already published work. Some may liken this to time travel stories where the characters are warned to not alter anything in the past because one little stone out of place can set a chain of events that changes the already established present and future. There is a lot of backtracking and double checking to be done when attempting a prequel; the webs must be woven carefully and delicately in order to create a consistent and believable storyline.

What other issues stand out when you think about prequels?

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WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?

WHY, OH WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WRITE A PREQUEL AND WHY IS HOLLYWOOD NOW LOOKING FOR COMPELLING PREQUELS?

Prequels have been dealt a bad hand. For many writers, they are considered taboo – bad luck, the death of your series; other writers calmly advise avoiding them when possible. So what’s the “plague of the prequel” all about? For one thing, they can be boring filler if we are not careful; who wants to read something that is just background fluff about our characters? Prequels can throw our entire published series off track; if the actions of the characters don’t lead them to the path they are on at the beginning of our already published novel, then the already existing novel won’t make any sense. Prequels can render our already established characters unbelievable. Now that I have completely discouraged the writing of prequels, here’s a good reason to write one: the readers want one; they want to know what happened before our novel took place. Our readers are curious as to WHY our main character behaves the way s/he does; they want to know more about her/him; where s/he came from; who s/he is; what her/his life was like before the book they just read. If our characters are compelling enough and we are very, very careful, we can create a prequel that will knock our readers’ socks off.  So how careful should we be and what should we be so careful of?

USE THE FORCE, BUT DON’T FORCE IT

Since hearing from my readers that they want to know more about my characters lives before my first novel, Webs of Power, I felt compelled to write a prequel; but I was also determined to avoid dumping a boatload of back-story on them. I wanted to know all the pros and cons of writing a prequel so I did a little research online.  I have never read so much about Star Wars in my life! It seems the inconsistencies in the back-story are a huge disappointment to the fans; apparently Star Wars fans are extremely knowledgeable about the characters in the series and the inconsistencies they found in the characters and in the stories of the three prequels are a huge source of distress and complaint. Now granted, I am talking about a movie here, but the issues movie prequels face are closely related to the issues book prequels face:

  1. The sequence of events must logically lead from the prequel to the established story and must be consistent with the already established story
  2. The characters must stay true to who they are to become
  3. The audience already knows where the character is going to end up, so the prequel not only needs to lead to this path, it has to make the journey interesting in itself

I want to address each of these issues separately, so the next several blogs will deal with the issues of writing a prequel as I see them.

 

What do you see as the problem with prequels?

 

Where, oh Where Are Our Readers? The search for the elusive audience

Being a writer isn’t a path most of us choose consciously; it’s just who we are. We are storytellers, researchers, teachers, searchers, learners and so much more. To some, writing is a way to impart wisdom learned from years of living. To some writing is a way of finding out who we are and where we belong. To some writing is a way to heal a past or deal with the present; to purge emotional pain or align our thought processes. Writing is so many different things to so many people; but there is one thing all writers have in common – we want readers.

Readers are the foundation of a writer’s life. They are the sky we are reaching for; the most important ingredient in our author stews. So where do we find them? Where are they hiding? How do we attract them to our work; get them to read our novel, story, poem, or article? Some of us start with our friends and family; some of us search out an agent or publisher to find readers for us; some of us look online to our connections on social sites. None of these strategies is wrong, but none of them are enough either. So what is a writer to do? Where are the elusive readers of our dreams?

Finding readers has a lot to do with our purpose for writing. Why did we write our novel, story, article or poem? Was it for a sense of self? Perhaps it was to see our names on the best seller list? Was it for the thrill of seeing our book on the library or bookstore shelf? Whatever the reason, without readers our blood, sweat and tears lies stagnant on the shelf. We write for a reason; we have a target audience in mind when we write. If we write for young adults, then our target audience is teenagers; if we write fantasy or science fiction, then that is our target audience. If we figure out who we are writing for and our reason for writing this particular story, then we can figure out where to find our readers.

If we use social sites to reach readers, it is fairly easy to find our audience. Just look in the groups on Facebook alone and we can find people who have something in common with our story; someone who will enjoy what we have written and be interested in the information we want to impart. The hard part is making sure we don’t overstep the boundaries of friendship when we offer our work on these sites. The hard sell doesn’t work; pushing our work in readers’ faces is never a good idea. Our readers are our friends, or at least our future friends. We need to let them know we exist; we need to let them know our work exists; but after that it is in their hands. Readers make their own decisions as to what they want to read and which authors they want to offer their loyalty to. We have to respect that they have that choice.

Word of mouth is a very strong current. It can carry a novel on its tide and bring a wave of readers to our shores; but if we try to control the current, we may find that it is stronger than we think and can sweep our novel out into a vast sea of nothingness. With the advent of ePublishing, the sea is getting bigger and deeper and our novels are one of millions of novels floating around.  We can take two paths here; we can trust that the reader will be the fisherman and our novel will happen to get caught on their hooks and hauled aboard to be devoured; or we can be the fishermen, dangling our bait for hungry readers. One path is passive, the other is more aggressive. Some might say that equating our readers to hungry fish is demeaning; but truth be told, aren’t most readers looking for something in our books that will hook them? The first line of a novel is called a hook; why not use it?

We are all vying for readers; to get the attention of someone who will love our work so much they will recommend us to other readers.  Do we really want to be passive here? Dangle the bait; attract one reader and more will hopefully follow. We just need to make sure to use the right bait – good content. If the bait is hard to swallow, the fish won’t recommend it to other fish and our hooks will remain empty. If our bait is delicious and decadent, the fish will swim out to other fish and let them know where the best hook in the sea is.

Times have changed and it is no longer enough to just write a good story.  The days of staying home and writing and letting others take care of the marketing are over. We need to go out into the sea of readers and find our school of fish; let them know where the best bait in town is and dangle the hook in front of them.  Let them take the bait; then it’s up to them to decide if they want to share it or not. We can’t control the current, but we can tempt the fish.

Writers, where do you find readers and how do you hook them? Readers, what hooks you?

One Bad Apple Won’t Spoil the Whole Bunch: Just How Important are Book Reviews to an Author?

How important are book reviews for authors?  Before we consider this question, let’s decide on what a book review is and isn’t. A book review is an opinion. It advocates for readers, letting them know what other readers think of a particular book. It is not a literary critique. A literary critique is meant  to interpret the work and offer insight into its literary value. So what’s the difference? Book reviews are most often written by individuals who want to either recommend or not recommend a particular story. They are not there to decide what value the book offers the literary world, but to state their opinion on the story itself; was it entertaining, did it keep their attention, would they tell their friends about it? A book review tells what the story is about and may delve into the characters and motivation, but the idea is to assume the people reading the review are looking for an opinion to decide if they want to read the particular book or not. A literary critique assumes the reader has already read the book and would like more insight as to the theme and meaning behind the story.  The reviews we see on Amazon.com and other bookseller websites are reviews written by people who just want to talk about a good (or bad) book.

So why is that book review important for an author? To start, if the author is new  and has no other books to stake his or her reputation on, then a favorable book review is going to help sell his or her books. Let’s say we are looking for something to read and are perusing Amazon.com in a particular genre we like. We do a search for, let’s say mysteries/thrillers. Want to know how many books come up? 61,847. Yes, you read that right – over 60,000 mystery/thrillers. Many people will go on to look for a favorite author in the genre, but let’s say we want to try something new.  We click on mystery/thriller new releases and it narrows our search down to 82 – a little more manageable, wouldn’t you say? But now how do we decide which of the 82 books we want to read? For most people, the answer is – read the reviews. Yes, that is a lot of reviews to read. I’m sure there are other ways to filter the choices down to an even more manageable number, but even if we manage to get it down to 5 choices; we still need to decide between those. So we read the synopsis and the review to see which one piques our interest and was also found to be entertaining to others who read it. So is the review valuable? In my opinion, it is invaluable.

If you happen to be an up and coming author or a well-known author, a book review is still a valuable tool. A name can only take us so far. There are many well-known authors whose books I have read based on just the name and had mixed feelings about the book. We can’t win them all. Having interested readers post reviews for our books puts us ahead of the game, in my opinion. It’s a way to have electronic word of mouth.  Remember the old VO-5 commercial? She told two friends, and she told two friends and so on and so on and so on. Posting a review is like telling friends how much we liked a book; then hopefully they will read it and post a review – and so on and so on and so on… The more positive responses we have, the better. So what happens if someone posts a negative review?

If someone posts a bad review of your book, take it in stride. It’s not personal, it just wasn’t their taste. One bad review won’t ruin our chances of being read. Think of it this way, if someone cared enough to write the review, we know we reached them on some level, even if that level touched a sore point for them.  I read a great article by Carol Pinchefsky on the subject of bad book reviews; you can find it here: http://www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com/cgi-bin/mag.cgi?do=columns&vol=carol_pinchefsky&article=011

Good or bad, a book review helps our readers determine if it’s worth the time and money to buy our books. Have you ever dealt with a negative book review? How did you handle it?

Confident or Cocky: Which do you want to be?

We all know it’s important to have confidence in ourselves and confidence in our work.  If we don’t love our story, why should anyone else? Along that same line, if our story needs work, shouldn’t we be willing to accept that without being insulted? There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness.

Let’s take a look at the difference between these two attitudes. Cockiness first (since cocky people think they SHOULD go first – it’s their right, after all). What exactly does it mean to be cocky?  To be cocky is to be arrogant, overly proud; Webster’s defines cocky /arrogant as “making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud.” Words like “pretension”, “overbearing” and “insolent” – are they words we really want used to describe us?  A cocky author might brush off the suggestions of editors and agents, because he truly believes he knows the business and his story better than they do. He might shred that letter from the publisher who took the time to make suggestions for improvement and be insulted that his story is not being lauded as the next best-seller.

How about confident? Webster’s defines confident as “having strong belief or full assurance; sure of oneself; having no uncertainty about one’s own abilities, correctness, successfulness”. That sounds much better to me. Words like “belief”, “certain”, “success” – those are words that should make us proud. A confident author is open to constructive criticism from people who she respects and whose opinions she has sought out.  She listens to her friends and colleagues when they give their well thought out opinions on how they feel she can improve her story and takes them into consideration without anger or resentment.

There is something to being sure that we have talent; to believing in our work and pushing ourselves to get out there and be read.  Most authors would agree that there is no such thing as NO uncertainty in one’s abilities. We all have insecurities and doubts; we’re human, after all. Even the most famous writers have had doubts about their work at one time or another. The key to having the confidence to put our work out there, in my opinion, is having the willingness to hone our craft and work on our story until it is the best it can be.

If we receive the same comments on our story from many different sources, doesn’t it follow that we should consider the advice of people we respect? When we send out our manuscript, we don’t send it to just anybody; we do research and find just the right person, the one we are sure will love our work and who’s opinion matters to us. When we work that hard to find the right person, it just makes sense to listen to and think about what that person has to say about our work. I’m not saying that the agents and publishers are always right (sorry Lynn), but if we hear the same advice over and over from people we respect, isn’t it a bit cocky to not look at it and consider that they just might be right?

Think about the tone of a query letter; is it better to come off as sure and confident or overbearing and cocky?  I’m going to hedge a guess that we all agree on the former over the latter. When we interview for a job, we don’t go barging in announcing we are the best person for the job, we walk in with confidence in our abilities and come armed with examples of why we are the right person for the job. There is a huge difference between cocky and confident; which would you rather be?

Tongue Tied and Twisted: How to get over the fear of public speaking

For most, it is a teenage nightmare. You feel your mouth go dry; your hands begin to shake. You wonder if you have something stuck in your teeth; your stomach begins to churn and you wonder if you are going to be sick, right here, right now. For some, it is exhilarating. The expectant looks turned in your direction; knowing that everyone there has come just for you. It’s public speaking and as an author, it’s something you will probably have to do at some point in your career.

A long, long time ago in a land, well, right here actually – writers wrote books. That’s what we did, that’s what we loved; after the book was finished and accepted by a publishing house we just went on to start our next brilliant piece of work and let the publishing house take care of our masterpiece. Those days are gone, my friends; we are past the day where an author’s only job was to write. Now, we travel; we talk about our books; we do book signings and readings. The days of sitting in solitude are gone; welcome to the era of the social author. We promote our novels on Facebook and Twitter; we connect with each other on Linked In and yes, we talk to each other. Of course it’s easy to talk about your writing when you are hiding behind a computer; what about when you have to get up in front of an audience and talk?

When I was in school and had to take a speech class, I would get tongue-tied. I would get so nervous that I wasn’t sure I could actually get up and do it without getting sick. I learned to get over that when I was working for Bullock’s Department Stores as a Corporate Trainer and had to get up and introduce people and talk. So how did I get over it? Well, when you are passionate about what you are speaking about, that makes all the difference in the world. When you have a purpose for getting up there and talking, when you know the people you are talking to are interested in what you have to say, it’s just not quite as frightening.  You look out at all those faces, waiting for you to be prolific and instead of shaking and forgetting what you wanted to say, the words just seem to start pouring out.  Now, I speak at events, I do radio interviews and television interviews; I’ve come a long way from that frightened teen who couldn’t find her tongue. It’s all about passion.

We bleed, sweat and pour our hearts into our novels. We research, we write and we rewrite until there is nothing left to add and so much we have taken away that we thought was crucial to our story. We breathe life into our plots and come to know our characters intimately. How can we NOT talk about our novel? When we were in school and had to get up and give a speech, it was most likely on a subject we weren’t sure about, something we may have had no interest in; we are sure about our novels and we are most definitely interested in the subject. The passion is there, the purpose is there and the audience is there because they are interested. It’s much easier to get up and talk when those three ingredients combine. The last ingredient I would suggest in this recipe is practice. Practice getting up and speaking in front of people. Join a Toastmaster’s group in your area. Go to a meeting as an observer and see if you can think of something to say when they give out a subject. You don’t have to speak the very first time if you don’t want to; just see what it’s about. It’s a great group and everyone is there for the same purpose; to learn how to speak, not to judge anyone else’s speech.

So the public speaking recipe for success is: passion, purpose, interest and practice. Pour them all into the pot, give it a good stir and set your audience on fire.

Have you had a good experience with public speaking? Why don’t you tell us about it?

Internal Conflict: Your main character’s fatal flaw

A young girl finds the courage to take a step she has never taken. A young man saves his country with bravery he never knew he had. A boy puts aside his fear to befriend an old man everyone thinks is crazy in order to work with him to save their town from disaster. What am I talking about? Conflict. No, not fighting evil and natural disasters type of conflict…inner conflict; the kind of conflict that makes a story deeper and richer and more powerful. External conflict is an action against your protagonist; internal conflict is something your protagonist brings to the story him or herself. It is something inside that challenges him or her; something he or she needs to change, overcome or learn in order to grow enough to defeat the external conflict.

Internal conflict is intrinsic to the character; it’s a part of him or her, which is why it is so important that we know our characters inside and out. What is our character’s weakness, the one huge obstacle he or she needs to overcome? That is the fatal flaw – and that is the inner conflict. Take my character Vivianna DeMornay, for example. On the outside, she is beautiful, rich, talented and sophisticated. One would never know that on the inside, she is insecure and vulnerable; she has to overcome her feelings of doubt about her abilities and her physical flaws in order to be who she wants to be. Every character has a weakness, but not every character has to overcome that weakness in a story. The main character is the one whose lesson is the focus of a novel.  Does that mean a novel needs to be built around a lesson? No, I don’t think so, but a main character with an inner conflict will surely make it more interesting. Who wants to read about a perfect person overcoming an external conflict? If a character is perfect and has no internal struggle, there is no challenge there.

Internal conflict is the heart of your story. It’s the intangible something that makes a reader identify with a character. We all have our fears and weaknesses, to see it in a fictional character and see how he or she overcomes it can be cathartic, even if the events are not based in reality. To see so clearly that a character is on the wrong path but he or she can’t see it yet, draws a reader into a novel. We want to scream at them to wake up and choose a different way, point them toward a goal they don’t see yet, show them the best friend they are fiercely loyal to is betraying them. Denying a character that moment of epiphany is what brings tension to your story; it’s what keeps the reader turning the page.

Showing an internal conflict in a story is the tricky part. The character is not aware of the conflict enough to talk about it, so how do we show it? As the old saying goes , actions speak louder than words; showing a character’s insecurities through his or her actions will speak to the reader much more loudly than having a character state: “I am so afraid of the dark that I sleep with my lights on.” Fear of darkness may be this character’s fatal flaw, but telling it is, well, boring. Showing his or her fear of the dark by having the lights go out and the character having a major meltdown even though he or she is in his or her own home and knows it is safe can be eye opening for the reader. The intense reaction the character has to darkness in a known and safe place can be a very important clue into his or her insecurities and fears.

Without an internal conflict, there is no depth to a character and why would a reader want to invest precious time reading about someone he or she feels no connection to? What is your main character’s internal conflict?