Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why a Book's Pacing is Like a First Kiss

So you've finished the first chapter of your book and made sure to open your story with either a bang or a captivating introduction to the tale.  You've given the reader something to be interested in; however, now it's your job to create some sort of investment.  If the reader isn't invested in the story, chances are they might not even finish reading your book.  This is where pacing comes in to play.  In many ways, it's analogous to both first time and subsequent kisses.

A story's pacing is the fabric that weaves together character and plot development.  Without pacing, heroes stagnate, villains become boring, and the entire story falls apart.  Why?  Because the reader will get bored wading through all of that exposition and meaningless dialogue that does nothing to advance the story.  It's no different than exchanging a first kiss with someone with whom you realize (perhaps even instantly) there is no chemistry.  The kiss is awkward, dull, and so painfully slow that you just can wait to disengage and find a polite way to say goodnight.  A proper first kiss is tantalizing and subtly implies that there are even more exciting things down the road.  The question then, of course, what is that road like?

There are many types of first kisses that fulfill the dual promises of excitement and foreshadowing, and the same is true of pacing.  Some stories require a hot and fast pace, while others demand a sort of slow burn. To some extent, your characters, and their impact on the plot, will affect your story's pace.  Additionally, you'll need to have a good sense of the type of person you believe will read your story.  Employing a slow burn style of pacing may work for some, but not all readers.  Alternatively, others may be turned off by a plot that moves at break neck speeds if the reader feels like character/story development was sacrificed.

As a writer, you have to remember that you are exchanging a very personal and intimate part of yourself with a total stranger.  Your book is the first date.  The pacing of your book is the first kiss that determines whether there will be another date (i.e. your readers pick up your sequel, series, etc.).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Flash Fiction: The Storm

This week I wanted to start incorporating a little flash fiction into the blog and take some of my own advice when it comes to dealing with Writer's Block.  Sometimes it's just impossible to work through it.  When that happens, the best solution is to work around it.  That means jumping ahead a chapter or two, fleshing out scenes that are still very much on the drawing board, or simply skipping to the climax of the story - just to get the creative juices flowing again.  The below flash fiction is from a later section of the sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters," and is set in Savannah, Georgia.


Nerika was focused on the serious business of redressing the Princess.  Her current gown was just not right for the informal get together with her friends.  Nerika did not bother to glance over at the dark clouds of the coastal storm, rushing towards her home.  Her mother would call her to come inside soon enough, she reasoned, so there was no sense is wasting precious playtime with her dolls. Stiff breezes washed up from the Riverfront and knifed through the city blocks an squares of Savannah, Georgia, and was reminder enough for Nerika that her outdoor fun would end at any moment.  She inhaled sharply and sighed heavily.  Nerika could always smell the rain in the air.  

A sudden bass drum beat reverberated through her small legs, arms and chest.  Nerika could hear the sound of music shaking plastic, steel, and glass.  She saw the white Cadillac drive by one wheels that were better suited for a pick up truck, capped with sparkling chrome hub caps.  Both of the men in the car were looking at Nerika as the gaudy car drove by her home.  Their skin was darker than hers and one wore his dreadlocked hair pulled back in a loose ponytail.  It was the second time she'd seen the Cadillac roll by her house since the storm clouds rolled over the horizon.  

"Nerika, honey.  Get in the house, girl.  Storm's coming."  Nerika heard her mother's voice call over her shoulder.  She looked back and saw her mother standing where the screened door of their home used once stood.  Despite her young age, the seven year old still remembered starting Kindergarten when her mother replaced the screen door with an iron security gate.  

Nerika gathered her dolls in both hands, as her mother kept a watchful eye on the Cadillac.  The car sped off after waiting uncomfortably long at the stop sign.  "I miss her, mommy.  When's my Auntie coming back?"  Nerika asked, as she walked up to the first sun bleached, worn wooden steps to the house.

"I told you, girl.  We on our own now."  Her mother snapped harshly.  The tone stung Nerika, as it always did whenever they talked about the last time she saw her aunt.  "Your Auntie had to go away."

"Will she come back for us?"  Nerika persisted with the same question she had asked her mother for the past two years.  She looked back over her shoulder at the stop sign at the end of their block.

Her mother shook her head as she always did.  "Come on inside, Nerika.  Storm's coming."  Was all her mother said as she turned and walked into the house.  Nerika watched her mother place the shotgun back in the corner behind door.    

Monday, July 7, 2014

Second and Whatever Comes After Foremost: What Keeps You Writing?

In last week's blog post, I discussed passion for the craft as the reason for writing in the first place.  Knowing why you've decided to write and/or pursue writing  as a main or secondary career is important towards keeping yourself grounded.  Passion, like fire, can be tempered or even burn out.  That likely sounds odd to most folks and leads to questions such as "so, putting words on paper/computer screen leads to burning out?"  Not quite, although there are some writers who leave the craft for various reasons that probably fall into burn out. What I'm talking about is separate from passion and goes beyond even inspiration: we're talking about motivation this week.

Whether it's a bout of Writer's Block, or losing interest while slogging through exposition or dialogue in order to get to the next big scene, maintaining motivation becomes one of the keys to finishing your book.  It means staying on track and on task, writing down one word and then another until you've got a full sentence.  It means keeping your focus so that you can tie those sentences together.  It means never losing sight of the big picture of your story as you round out the last section of a paragraph, and paint with letters the scene in your mind.  More importantly, maintaining your motivation means sticking with all of the above in order to see that kind of progress.  Of course, making progress helps to fuel/refuel one's motivation.

Another key part to staying motivated is to be fair (but honest) with yourself when you stumble.  We're only human and that means we are capable of failure through an infinite number of ways.  Procrastination.  Poor time management.  Perfectionism to the point of paralysis.  Everyone procrastinates at some point: writing is hard work and you deserve some time off, don't you?  Who doesn't have a hard time keeping track of time: between work, spouses/significant others and kids, when is there time to write?  And, of course, no one will want my book if it isn't the next Great [Insert Your Country of Choice] Novel: by editing on the front end, I'm saving myself work on the back end (Yup, I used to fool myself with that one too).  The sooner you can admit these things to yourself, the sooner you'll be able to come to grips that sometimes you have to take a break and recharge your batteries.   

Last month I started a 30 Day Challenge for myself by writing 1,000 words per day during the work week and 3,500 words on Saturdays and Sundays (i.e. 12,000 words a week).  I thought this would be a great way to: (A) stay motivated; (B) make a huge stride towards getting to the half-way mark of the sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters," and (C) would be lots of fun along the way.  I was way off base with A.  I was an idiot with C.  B was a good idea; however, I learned that I went about it all wrong.  In terms of motivation, anyone can put up 1,000 to 3,500 words in a sitting, but that doesn't necessarily translate to writing a good book. For the record, I'm not knocking on authors to set daily word count goals.  It that's what works for you, great! For me, it didn't work because I kept questioning the direction that Book Two was heading.  Granted, I'd come back the following day and do a clean up of the previous night's work; however, it was taking a toll on my motivation. In other words, I wasn't keeping my batteries charged.  Mind you, holding down a 60+ hour per week job is also a factor. 

While some would likely argue that my 30 Day Challenge was a failure, the important lesson I've taken away from the experience was a better understanding of what motivates me.  I've always known that I wanted to be a writer and it's part of the legacy I hope to leave for my children.  While I harbor no dreams of being the next Great American Writer (not sure I'd want the title anyways), writing gives me another piece of myself to leave for my kids when I'm gone.  Writing and storytelling is a core part of who I am.  Sharing that part of myself with my family, as well as the readers who've enjoyed my writing, today and years down the road is one of the factors that keeps me writing.

What keeps you motivated to write?