Monday, September 5, 2016

Structure/ Formula/ Craft

As a writer in three different genres, I am constantly aware of how I need to structure the composition of my book. Not by content, but by the way the paragraphs, scenes, and then
chapters "build" the body of the work.

Perhaps it is part of my individual "voice" in these different genres, but in each I am writing to a particular audience. Each person reads differently. Each genre takes that into consideration. Each writer should know the "rules" of writing in their chosen genre before they begin.

That said, as a Regency romance novelist, I structure my book with ten-page chapters. No more, no less. Two person POV plot.  80-95 thousand words. I always have an epilogue. However, it's a very circuitous journey to the inevitable Happily Ever After. Give the readers what they want.

As a writer of contemporary romance, I find my page counts for chapters are lower. Same word count. And I do tend to like my epilogues. However, I write only in the main character's POV. Close third person.

I also dabble in murder mysteries. I write separate scenes within a chapter with page breaks and no transitions. Words counts are lower -- 35-50K. No epilogue, but with a cliffhanger ending. (Hopefully, to lure the reader into the next book.) Again, I only use the main character's POV.

New writers may ask -- Is it necessary to structure a book? Why can't I just write it the way I want?

Well, you can. It's your book. You can write it any way you want. But readers want certain things from books and if yours is not structured properly, well, it could bite you in the end.

Put it this way--you wouldn't build a house without a proper foundation. For that you need cement, lumber, nails, screws, big tools, and a set of blueprints. Blueprints, like writing "rules" are necessary. If you don't have them when you start, sure enough, by the end of building your structure, something will be off and then you'll have to find the mistake and fix it. Sometimes, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. (My father built a house once without blueprints. It took him twenty years to finish it.)

Tell me -- Do you think about the structure of your story before you write? Do you follow the rules? Did you know the rules before you started writing? And if you do know the rules, do you break them?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Comparisons and Jealousy

I recently came across an article that focused on a writer, a very successful writer who is now making a six figure income. The thing that kills me is she only burst onto the scene a few years ago. I used to follow her blog. I don't anymore. Why? I'll admit because I'm jealous of her success and I hate to compare myself. Pretty simple.

Don't get me wrong, she's a perfectly lovely woman. She's smart, funny, well-spoken, well-written, and we could probably be friends (or at least in the same book club if we lived near each other.) However, this woman is all over the place with book ads, podcasts, blog posts, guest appearances, and is quoted by everyone. Yup, she works hard for her money. And I don't begrudge her one cent.

What I do begrudge is how she makes it look so easy. Her books are everywhere, she is everywhere, and I'm just sick of it.

Why? Because I'm not.

Why? Because I can't.

This woman has no children. She is also married and her husband is her marketing manager. She focuses her life 100% on her books, writing, marketing, and promoting. Oh, if we all could live in that world.

I'm lucky if I can find time to wash the kitchen floor. (I swear when I'm rich I'm getting a maid.) I have so many things pulling on my time CONSTANTLY I fall into bed exhausted just thinking about all the shit I have to do TOMORROW. Between school, my parents, the yard work, not to mention Monster and figuring out how to feed her eight times a day (my God, the child never stops eating), I barely have time to take a shower every day. (Yes, I know that's just TMI and too disgusting for words, but I'm sure a lot of other moms out there know exactly what I'm saying.)

So, yes, I'm jealous of the writer who has time for all the stuff I can barely dream about. Sure, I'd love to do podcasts. Sure, I'd love to write timely and interesting blog posts. Sure, I'd love to have a six figure income. But, I don't have time.

And I can hear a whole bunch of you screaming, "Well, make the time." I hate to inform you, there's only 24 hours in a day, and of those I need seven to sleep. (Although, I never get the full seven because something is always waking me up in the middle of the night--be it my to-do list for the next day, the scene in Chapter Ten that's giving me fits, or an uncontrollable bladder. Again, I apologize for TMI.)

I remember when Kindle was the new craze. Yes, I jumped on the bandwagon and self-published and made a lovely little name for myself. But then, as more and more writers took the plunge, I found myself drowning in a sea of other Regency authors. I was no longer arriving at #11 in the Top 100 on launch day without a review. Now, I can't even get placement in the Top 500 with three reviews.

What do these other authors have that I don't?

Time. Time to blog, and Tweet, and FaceBook, and Instagram, and whatever other social media craze is out there to talk, discuss, mention, brag, and sell the latest book they have out. It's disheartening for a writer like myself. I can't even do ONE of those things on a steady basis, never mind for a book launch.

I'm jealous of this author's time management skills and envious of her success. Does it drive me to distraction? No. I've given up worrying about what other people do or don't do to achieve the limelight.

I have a new book out. I Tweeted about it a couple of times. I posted it on my blog (which then gets shared to Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Amazon.) And that's pretty much it. I don't have time for the other stuff. (By the way, in the article about the famous author, it was also revealed she doled out five grand for a BookBub ad. Ha! If I had five grand, I wouldn't know what to do with it. Yes, I would. I'd put new floors in my house.)

I've always maintained the way to a book's success is by word-of-mouth. No ad in the world will make people buy your book. (Okay, that's sort of not true and I know it, but for argument's sake let's just go with my premise.) If one person likes the book, then hopefully, she'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on and so on. (Or we could hope for one particularly brilliant review that ignites a spark.)

I can't do anything about the concept of time and my lack thereof. The only thing I CAN do is to use what I've been given wisely. One hour equals ten pages of edits, two can get me a blog post written for next week, three hours could possibly find me finished with the dreaded Chapter Ten rewrites.

We can only do what we can do. Will I continue to be jealous? Hell yeah. There's nothing wrong with a little envy--it's what actually spurred me into writing to begin with (I thought I could write a better book than an author I had read). Will I allow it to eat at me until I can't function anymore? Nope. I don't have time to wallow.

I'll write my books, publish my books, and continue in this vein until I get rid of what is sucking my time (right this moment it's the lawn. Between the rain and the humidity I haven't been able to do the yard in almost ten days.) And hopefully, I'll make enough money next summer to be able to hire a lawn guy so I can shave off four hours every week for myself. Wouldn't that be nice?

Tell me -- Are you jealous of other writers who have TIME to do the things you can't? Do you have (or have you ever used) BookBub to promote your books? Do you have a lawn care guy?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ambiguous Ending

Okay, so here's the story -- my friend sent me her finished manuscript. One of her requests was that I take a look at her ending -- was it too ambiguous and should it be stronger. So, I looked. Oh yes, it totally needed to have a definite ending. This book was the third of the trilogy. I have been honored to read all three and this author put the MC through so much pain and heartache, she needed to find a little happiness at the end. And truth be told, as a reader, I needed the closure.

I finished my latest project a couple of weeks ago and I sent my friend my final draft. My novel is the first in a new series. It has an ambiguous ending. When the MC rides off into the sunset with the love of his life, we still don't actually know what is going to happen. A bad thing to do if you're a romance writer.

However, if you've read the last four books in the Reluctant Grooms series, you'll know exactly what happens to him, and why. In this new series, I'm turning back time so-to-speak and showing how he got there.

I don't mind that I've written an ambiguous ending. And I don't think my readers will mind either. They already know what happens. I'm taking a chance, I know, with new readers, but I hope if they enjoy this new book, they'll follow along as the rest of the series unfolds.

Because by the final book, he does finally get his own closure and it all ties in to the other series

Having said that, as a romance writer, we all know the rules--a Happily Ever After ending must be provided. My friend was not writing romance, but literary fiction with a semi-romantic bent. (I guess that could be a genre.) Her main character was not searching for love per se, but on the hunt to find herself, and I suppose if love came along, that would be great.

HOWEVER, as a reader, I placed my own EXPECTATIONS on the ending of my friend's book. I WANTED the MC to find happiness with a man. And that was not my friend's intention. Now, because we've been friends and colleagues for a couple of years, she trusts my critique and as always I told her this was her book and whatever crits I gave, she could take or leave. I don't know what she's done with the ending. But I'll find out when I read the published version.

Anyway, how do you feel about ambiguous endings? And I don't mean cliff-hangers, I mean no final resolution for the main character? As a reader, are you satisfied if the MC is satisfied without resolution? Or do you feel cheated by your own expectations of the story?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

And Done - Regrets and Responsibilities

Well, I finished my book last Wednesday night at 10:29 pm. It came in around 92,000 words. Funnily enough, a couple of weeks ago I was worried I couldn't even get to 60K.

I like it. I like the way it turned out. It made me cry. Twice. So that's always a good sign. It totally needs a couple of rounds of editing (five might do it). And then it's on to the next book. No rest for the wicked.

I did a mock-up cover because I can't generally finish a book until I have one. I  don't know why. It's like if I don't have one, I'll jinx myself. I know, it's weird.

It's a little plain, but I think it's Regency inspired. I might add some flourishes. I might change it entirely. I don't know. What do you think?

Here's the cover copy.

After nearly thirty-five years in the Army, Henry Wade, the Marquess of Dunbury, finally returns to London to officially claim his father’s title, hopefully to reunite with his long lost love, and to exact revenge on the man who ruined his life. Add six orphaned nieces into the mix, and suddenly, Henry’s life is upside down. Marrying them off seems like a fine plan, but finding suitable husbands for them is an impossible task.

They all wish to marry for love.

I'm going to take the rest of this week to get Monster ready for school, and then start work on the next book. Christmas is only four months away. 

REGRETS and RESPONSIBILITIES should be out in September sometime. 

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

Writing to the Muse

Good morning. Here's something I haven't talked about in a really long time. Writing to the muse. Or in my case, when I get a bunch of free time and I can slack on
"You wrote that?"
the housework, and just write to my heart's content. Those times just don't come along very often. You know exactly what I'm talking about. The ever elusive "time" when you "work" outside of writing. (I consider MY writing, what I do when I sit at my desk, ass in chair, hands on keyboard, WORK. See what I did there. MY WORK.)

However, with ill and aging parents, a man still sleeping in my kitchen, and Monster who wants to go to the pool every day, I also "work" outside of writing. It takes a considerable amount of finagling these days just to find time to take a shower.

I follow a "school" schedule because of my volunteer "job" as the gift card coordinator, so in the winter I can only write in blocks of time during the day. We have 10 days for Thanksgiving break. 14 Days for Christmastide. 10 for Spring. During those blocks of time over the last three years, I have spent remodeling/painting/landscaping my house. So, it all boils down to summer writing.

I hate to say it, even on my last official vacation 3 years ago (I can't believe it's been so long...) I wrote 130k words over six weeks. I confess, it was so cold at the beach, I was grateful Monster found two friends across the street and went to the beach with them.

I have to tell the truth, I royally screwed myself when I came up with the concept for this new series I'm writing. It interweaves characters from the first series into this one. (Last night I realized I'm going to have to edit most of the Reluctant Grooms when I finish with these stories, so the connections are seamless.) And also answers some of the questions I've been asked by readers to clarify. I guess. I still don't really know what the hell I'm doing. I had a what if moment four years ago and said "Hey, why not? Has it ever been done before? I'm willing to test my boundaries of structure within a novel." What the hell was I thinking?

However, I must also confess, I am enjoying getting to know these characters. They have sparked my interest and curiosity, and quite honestly, are not the people I thought I knew. So that's nice. They've been keeping me on my toes.

Writing to the muse -- or -- when all your shit is done and you have some free time.

Do you keep a strict writing schedule? Do you find time even though there is none? Do you have a muse?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2012

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is It Manic or Maniac?

Well, since LAST week, I put another 20k words on my latest WiP. However, with that comes uncertainty, sore shoulders, and swollen ankles. I've been writing like a maniac in manic mode, or maybe I should say panic mode.

This could be Henry
Panic because I just want to finish this damn book. You can't even know how much I want to. Finish. This. Book. If I could just finish it, I could start the next one. I know, I know, and then fight the same battle with the next one.

I've gotten through all the backstory. I pushed past the first of several hurdles for Catherine and Henry. I initiated the final climax. And I can see the end in sight.

The problem is, I'm not sure where to stop. Do I stop at the climax and leave a cliff-hanger ending. Or do I wrap it all up? It is a series after all, but the books do follow each other in sequence, so in essence, each book is a cliff-hanger. (See, panic. How did I create such a mess?)

I don't know. And I won't know how this first book ends until I get there. Perhaps today. (Wouldn't that be nice?)

Also, I realize this post is fluffy, and I only wrote it so I can have 667 posts in my feed. I had 666 posts written since I started this blog, and that number always creeps me out, so that's why I wrote this post.

Anyway, I hope you have a great week. I'll be writing. What about you? What are you doing this week?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

Full Steam Ahead

Sorry about all the "ship" analogies, but it's summer and I grew up on the beach. Not the same, I know, however, beach=ocean=ships. (That's the way my brain works.)

Well, since last week, I wrote 7000 words on my languishing Regency romance. I finally found my way through the weeds (a waitress metaphor) and cleaned up the first seven chapters and added another two. Yay me.

What I discovered this week while writing, was that in this story I have become a bare bones writer. I got down basic setting, dialogue, and that's pretty much it. I think the problem is.  I've had this series in my hard drive for 4 years. I know it inside and out.

There is no surprise. The characters all have their predestined story lines figured out. There's no room for unexpected character diversions. Nothing will happen as I write that will make me say "Oh, wow. I never saw that coming."

See, people, real people, surprise me all the time. I never know what they're going to do or say. It's a constant head game.

I think characters should do the same thing. In each of my contemporary romances, when I couldn't figure out where the story was going, I usually started a fire, or blew something up, or had a car crash. The characters would have to "react." Surprise!

But this first novel in the Regency series has so much backstory, there's no room for surprise. Well, yes, little surprises like a sudden case of "Soldier's Nerves" (PTSD-yes, they had that way back then but it wasn't called that), or the fact that Stoney has to return to the Peninsula. (He was supposed to stay and marry Mercy.) Or the fact that Henry and Olivia are playing a game of cat and mouse. (Every time he goes to find her, she's not there. Very frustrating, but a great second story line -- will they or won't they get together?)

I knew I needed help to correct this problem, and I wanted to do something that would bring back my spark, my zing, the SURPRISE that I would feel while writing again.

Just for fun, I decided to pick up a Regency romance novel and read it. Something I haven't done in nearly 10 years. Why don't I read, you may ask? Because I'm afraid -- afraid of plagiarizing, afraid of stealing story lines, character names, incidents. I want MY books to reflect MY ideas, MY creativity, MY characters. It's just my way not to read anymore.

Anyway, it was published in the 90's, and written by a really famous Regency author.
Let me just say, I nearly threw it across the pool. Head-hopping, purple prose, -ly words by the ton filled the first five pages. I couldn't finish the first chapter.

What surprised me about this book was that it used to be one of my favorites. I must have read it twenty times. When I started it by the pool I was surprised how disgusted I was with the writing.

Does that make me a snob? I don't know. I know my reading habits have changed over the years. I also know that publishing has changed over the years. The question I have is--

Are we more sophisticated or less sophisticated readers than we used to be?

While I was playing with my options in Word, I ran across the "Readability Statistics" something that I turned off a long time ago. Just for fun I turned it on again and was shocked when it finally appeared. My Flesch-Kinkaid Reading level was Grade 3.9.

Let me just say WOW. That hurt. I like to pride myself on the fact that I'm pretty smart. Not rocket science, but I can hold my own in pretty much any arena.

So does this Flesch-Kinkaid Reading level thing mean I'm not as smart as I think I am?
The novel I'm writing is not as intellectually stimulating as I think it should be?
Should I just get over it because technically it's just a first draft?

What do you think? Do you ever wonder if you're really as smart as you think you are? Do you watch Jeopardy? Do you read older books and wonder what the hell the publisher was thinking?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2016