Final Segment: Follow-up Questions

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.

Building in Conflict

For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.

How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂

I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before.  It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later.  I have four methods (so far):  1) the character tries to do something but fails.  2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse.  3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong.  4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.

I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha.  Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict.  I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation.  Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?

In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.

But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.

What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict


Action Scenes

In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.

Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I break everything, both action scenes and otherwise, into beats.  In theater terms, a “beat” kind of translates down to the smallest possible conflict. (In a scene, there can be many different conflicts as the characters try different tactics to reach a goal.)  A beat is one clear step in attempting to achieve some goal.  Say a character is attempting to convince another character to sign up for a yoga class.  The character might try:
–Asking directly.
–Telling the other character they’re out of shape.
–Promising they’ll go with the other character.
–Lying to the character and saying they’re going to go shopping.
Each attempt during the conversation would be a beat.
Same thing goes for fight scenes.  The second character might realize that the first character tricked them into going to a yoga studio.  A battle begins!  The second character wants to escape the yoga studio.  They might:
–Point toward the hallway, saying “Look! Baby wolf!” while making a break for the door.
–Wrestling with the yoga teacher, who is blocking the door.
–Abruptly turning and trying to run toward the hallway.
–Rolling to their feet after being tripped by the first character.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I picture what’s going on in my head and sometime sketch it out.  I like to keep my sentences crisp and short.  It keeps the pace moving and makes the action punchier.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!

The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.

Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.

I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources.  The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common.  I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift.  Here it is:

“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two.  The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.

I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films.  Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up



Editing and Revision

In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:

What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like.  Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about.  I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.

RA Winter

RA Winter I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose.  I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.


Publishing Platforms

Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.

Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?

 DeAnna Knippling

deannak
–Deciding to do one.
–Coming up with a business name that nobody else is using.
–Researching what laws are applicable for your state on the secretary of state website for your state (usually).
–Doing that (usually just registering the name).
–Rah!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.

What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.

Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.

For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m still submitting to short story markets.  I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me.  Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions.  Got 125 🙂  I don’t track the number anymore, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.

I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.

But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand.  I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling.  I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.

Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”

Sound familiar?

I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.

During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”

This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre.  What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk.  I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay.  I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective.  It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use the same brand for each of my books.  It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.

There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Still working on this.

If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Marketing is my biggest challenge.


Building Your Author Platform

Have you ever used paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used one company once.  It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews.  I got 1.  After that, I never paid for another review company.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.

Two. I believe they are unethical.

Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.

My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book.  Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.

In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak A) They’re not really honest.  B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money.  I think the service I used cost $60.  $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it.  I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil No author should have to pay for a review.

How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be.  If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great.  But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book.  I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed.  The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost.  It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation.  No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Not effective at all.

Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.

Here’s the interview:  http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.

This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.

Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I use WordPress.  The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough.  The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want.  I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky.  It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look.  Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.


Marketing and Promotion

Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.

Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers.  The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market.  The artists produced what I asked for 🙂  A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology.  But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist.  You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Taleshere.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My covers are all made by the publishers.  I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.

RA Winter

RA Winter I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.

 

Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m going to use one of the draft covers from the anthology that I mentioned before (this one isn’t final). The art is by Paul Roman Martinez, who is AMAZING. He also designed the logo for us. We started out with probably at least a dozen hours of research into what pulp magazine covers looked like, what we liked, and what we didn’t. Then we had to figure out how to communicate that to Paul 🙂 After a few missteps (totally on my part), Paul did a tentative sketch and, because we had done so much research, we knew it was a winner. We gave him the go-ahead to do the finished art. The logo was actually more trouble–it got to be too close to the existing design on another magazine, and had to be redone.
Best Cover - Knippling
There are a lot of details that go into cover design, and I don’t have the time to get into them here. But we talked a lot about both the content of what the art should be, although we did not actually tell Paul what to create, only what kind of thing we were looking for, and how we wanted that laid out so that there would be enough room for text later.
[Hey, if you have more questions on that, ask – I’m drawing a blank on what to say that isn’t a whole book on covers.]
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan The most popular cover is TREASURE DARKLY. Readers at book signings gravitate to it without knowing anything about the book. I’ve heard people say they love how dark it looks or that it has a sexy girl.
Treasure Darkly
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.

New Pulp Heroes

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.

My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.

 

Demon_6x9DustJacket_Front_EN copy

 

Art Rosch

Art 2001 This may be my favorite cover.  I use my own photography and do all the design work.  I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book.  It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve.  The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV.  There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going?  Where have they been?  This is a very cool book cover.

The Road Has Eyes

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.

Ripper


Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.

I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.

All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.


Just for Fun

Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.

What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I often wear other colors than black?!?

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’m terrified of people in costumes.  Think Minnie Mouse at Disney.  If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I used to do fitness competitions.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.

RA Winter

RA Winter I have five, yes, five boys.  Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.

Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.”  And I did!

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Workout, paint, relax.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.

If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂  But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.

Mark Shaw 

MarkAtSFTS (1) Live in the south of France.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing.  I hate sending him to daycare.  I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.

What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak That other people have valid internal lives of their own.  That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Please send cheese.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.”  I guess I’m yucky!

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’m a warrior.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Cheerful, busy, project-driven.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Deep, very deep.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak It wasn’t phrased this way, but:  “Make someone else make you fail.”

Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready?  Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent?  Terrified of indie publishing?  What’s the worst that could happen?  You could be ignored.  Oh well.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Never give up trying anything new

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  Its okay to take a rest.  People need to recharge their inner batteries too.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Go for it!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.

What makes you laugh or cry?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Everything.  One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Cute animals do both!

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Dogs.

What is your favorite food? Color? Song?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My favorite food right now is cheese, haha.  I love the color black, with blue as a close second.  My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive.  It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman

Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.

Favourite Colour – Red and Black

Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Cheerios.  Blue.  Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.

In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak[Glares at interviewer.]

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Surf.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Audio books (lol).

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Sit in an urn on the fireplace.

See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!


Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.

This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments.  Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.

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Double the mystery, double the suspense with “Double Blind”

Double Blind

Double Blind, by Dan Alatorre is a riveting suspense thriller that will keep the pages turning. I didn’t want to put it down. I was forced to stop in the middle of a climactic scene because I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer and my brain was muddling the words. But, I was back at it first thing the next morning because I had to find out what happened. And you will, too.

There’s a brutal serial killer on the loose, but when he strikes two members of the same family on the same night, it sends police looking for connections that don’t seem to be there, and the killer seems to always be one step ahead, and brings in Johnny Tyree, a P.I. and friend of the family right into the thick of things. When the two detectives working the case, Carly Sanderson and Sergio Martin, become the targets, it sends police reeling in yet another direction.

Dan Alatorre does a marvelous job of weaving the subplots together without revealing the surprise twist at the end in this well-crafted crime novel. I give Double Blind five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Plot/Storyline: Where Do We Go From Here?

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Without a plot there is no story, just words on a page. So how do we create a good story? How do we go about making a plot work from beginning to end? We find out this week when our author panel discusses just that. As I mentioned in last week’s post on The Writing Process, there is no right or wrong to this, just different authors tackling the task in different ways. And if you’re new to this blog series and would like to meet our panel members, check out my introductory post to learn about the immense talent we have on board. As is often the case, life got in the way this week for a few of our panel members, so our panel only numbers ten this week, but they’ve all pitched in with some really great answers to my questions. So, without further ado, let’s Ask the Authors.

What do you think the function of story is?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture To make sure the story has a beginning, middle, and ending, and revolves around the plot, coming to a final conclusion. There seems to be a trend these days for the plot being shaky, and the story not coming to a final conclusion. Writers are imitating television story lines that go on forever, and this can be bothersome with a 400 or 500-page novel if there is no ending.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Touching the emotions of the reader.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre At its heart, the function of any story is to entertain. Whether you call it giving the reader an escape, or creating worlds, or whatever. At the end of the day, if it’s not entertaining, they’re less likely to read it; if they don’t read it, then nothing else much matters.

Now, how do you go about that?

Well, first and foremost, remember your goal IS to entertain. That means different things at different times, but mainly it means engaging the reader. Get them to like your hero and hate your villain. Get them to laugh at the funny spot and cry at the sad spot. Give them a rollercoaster ride. And make them care so much about those things that they can’t put your story down, they stay up until 3am saying, “Just one more chapter…” they get to the end and hate to see the story come to a close. They don’t want to say goodbye to these amazing new friends they’ve made.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak To present the author’s point of view on something, usually for entertainment purposes, but not always–sometimes a story is a call for justice, or a commentary on the state of the world or whatever.  The important part is that the author has a particular way of seeing things that their audience appreciates.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman To entertain and to provide an escape from the every day stress or mundaneness of everyday life.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil To entertain the reader.

What are the elements of a good plot?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture The plot can be simple or complicated with many twists. Depending on the genre, the author doesn’t want to stray too far from the main cause that sets the story in motion, so make sure the plot is solid and moves like a well thought out chess game.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre It has to move fast. I always give the analogy of a roller coaster: it needs some ups and some downs, some twists and turns, some fast places and some slower places. Without a hill, there is no drop. In order for something to be perceived as going fast, there needs to be a slower section. But for the most part, plots need to go from one interesting thing to another, and they need to do it as fast as possible. So we need to have “interesting things.” Hmm. What are those in your story? (They are things that a majority of people would consider interesting in a certain circumstance) and we need to go from one to the other quickly (that’s pace). One other big element of a good plot is, it needs interesting characters the reader can relate to.

Most of that isn’t hard to do, either. But where new writers screw up is they put too much extraneous information in the story, like describing the fact that the guy lives in a yellow, split level ranch home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms – I mean, who cares? If the police in your story are looking for a bank robber and witnesses say the bank robber ran into a yellow, split level ranch home, then that matters. Otherwise it probably does not. But that’s where people mess up their stories. They have good ideas, but they take too long to get to them and they make us wade through things that aren’t interesting. Alfred Hitchcock said, “A good story is life with the boring bit taken out.” That’s right. Anything you can’t read six times without wanting to skim it, that’s got to go.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Ehhhh…a year ago I would have been able to answer this with great confidence.  Now I’m not so sure.  I’ve been reading a lot more literary fiction lately, and it turns some of my assumptions on their heads.  I think I have to go with, “A series of events that present the author’s point of view.”  For example, look at the movie Pulp Fiction.  Why were the events put in the order they were, out of sequence?  Why not a different out-of-sequence order?  I’m sure there’s a reason, but I think what it comes down to is, “That was just how the director, Quentin Tarrantino, thought it would work best at the time.”  I do plan to pick the movie apart so I can kind of reconstruct what he was thinking and why he made the judgments he did, but I’m not that far yet.  It’s fascinating.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Conflict, resolution, and character growth.

It doesn’t matter how good your story is if you can’t get anyone to read it. The ‘hook’ is the angle used to grab the readers attention and make them want to read more, usually found at the beginning of the story, before they have a chance to lose interest.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart The core aspects of humanity: revenge, love, hate, betrayal, the end of days, friendship, war, sex. Readers do not want stories about every-day life, they want every-day life exposed, nude and straightforward told. For instance: the married woman who loves the neighbor next door; the man getting his family ready for Armageddon; a father who betrays his son to conquer his son’s wife; a revenge plan that does not work out; and so on. People live up to these things in real life and they read to know what happened there if that might happen in real life and how he/she can get ideas on those issues. I believe people do not read just for reading; they read because there is a link between themselves and that plot, and that connection should be largely understood and perhaps even studied. My novel Open/Pierre´s journey after war deals with war and revenge, there is a lot of sex elements mixed into the story. War walks hand-in-hand with sex, and the element of revenge is one of the most primitive instincts we have for self-defense. My plots are all into that: our core instincts.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Characters that the reader can connect with and or relate to, with a background rather than just springing up on the first page. A story that goes somewhere – i.e. some tension or event that the character must deal with. A good plot should also have a beginning to introduce, a middle to cover the “event” and an end to bring it to a conclusion.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Characters and a unique plot.  You can have the most original story, but no one will want to read it if they don’t connect with the characters.  You can have the coolest characters, but another run-of-the-mill story will make readers lose interest.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I think it is important to have a build up, then some action and of course romance and then the wind down.

What is the best hook you’ve ever written?

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) For both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much and the upcoming Denial of Justice, “Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen was killed because she was ‘the reporter who knew too much.'”

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Hooks are fun, but they are also work. I will usually write several chapters (often a lot more) before deciding on the hook for the story, but usually I have my story idea in mind and I kick around the best way to open it and hook the reader.

Think about the most interesting thing in your first chapter. Try to start with that, and then address it as close to the first line in the book as possible, in the most interesting way you can think of. Sometimes that’s an argument. Sometimes that’s action.

Here are a few of my faves:

The killer clutched and re-clutched the big knife, his heart pounding as he eyed his prey. (Double Blind)

We immediately know we have a killer. That’s kinda gripping. Prey = victim, so this line evokes an instinctive predator-prey thing; we almost immediately imagine a little deer being stalked by a big, ferocious lion. Clutching and re-clutching indicates nervousness or excitement or fear or apprehension, but it gets the reader into the mindset of the killer, which is intriguing; most people aren’t killers, so they are interested right away. I’m really proud of that one.

Here’s another:

“Call 911! CALL 911!”

But it needs a little context, so I’ll give you the rest.

“Call 911! CALL 911!”

The man’s shouts ripped through the tasting room of scenic Hillside Winery. At the counter, Mallory lowered her brochures for 2017 vintages and glanced over her shoulder, unable to see who had called out. The other customers, two dozen or so elderly tourists and a smaller group that called the server by name, were looking around, too.

With confusion working its way into their expressions, nobody moved or called 911.

The man’s voice rose, straining with fear and urgency as his words boomed down the hallway and spilled over them. “Somebody call 911! There’s been an accident in the parking lot!”

A robust fellow, gray at the temples but broad in the shoulders and belly, pushed away from the tasting counter and headed toward the shouts.

“Martin.” The woman next to him reached out for his arm. “Don’t. You’re not on duty.”

He didn’t break stride. “A cop is never off duty.” (An Angel On Her Shoulder)

This one opens a chapter, but I love it:

Melissa had been able to pick locks as a party trick since she was a child, just never while somebody was shooting at her. (The Navigators)

Every day for years, Gina passed by the old white tower, often not paying any attention to it at all. Today, it called to her. (The Water Castle)

My absolute favorite is this one:

“Daddy?” (Poggibonsi)

I know, I know; you aren’t supposed to start a story with dialogue because it’s allegedly disorienting to the reader. I said it was a fave; I didn’t say it was good. But in defense of it, we learn a lot in that one word, and I don’t find it disorienting. “Daddy” means we have a child speaking to their father. Usually, daddy is used by a smaller child, more likely than not, a girl. And she is asking a question, so we kinda wanna know what she wants to know, but we’ve adhered to Vonnegut’s rule of making a character want something, and we did it in one word. She wants something; we just don’t know what it is yet.

That’s a lot from one word.

“No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “You f*ckers are crazy.”

(The Navigators)

That’s the actual story opening to The Navigators, but it’s a good idea to start each chapter with a good hook if you can, as noted above. (And there’s no words with asterisks in the middle in the story.)

Say what you want about how hooky my hooks are, but overall they tend to grab readers and pull them in.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Right now, I’m in love with my near-future thrillers, so I’ll give you those:
–A near-future detective investigates a serial killer who knows what his victims really want…and will allow him to kill them in order to get it.
–NO IDEA IS SO GOOD IT CAN’T GO BAD
The Giver was what they called him.  He would give you whatever you wanted, for a price.  It was uncanny.  The Giver would find you when you were at your lowest point, offer you exactly what you needed, what you had to have more than life itself. (Mindsight, by my pseudonym Dean Kenyon) 
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have a future story planned for my Unexpected series, but I have written a 5k section of it for an anthology that releases on 12 Oct. I think that must have a pretty good hook, because the anthology’s publisher has asked me if I intend for the story to be expanded, because she needs more! She was very relieved when I told her it would be a future work in progress to be expanded into a full novel of my Unexpected series.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  You tell me.  😉

The stakes in the story give characters motivation to act and also let us know what is at risk if the characters are unsuccessful in their quest. But, you can’t save the world in every story. Sometimes the stakes are personal and affect only the protagonist. Other times the stakes are bigger and affect more than just the main character. Either way, the character is motivated to take action.

What types of stakes do you create for your characters?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My plots tend to be simple, as my stories are character driven. The hero is always pitted against great odds, but s/he never allows the enemy to have the upper hand. Even injured, or seriously wounded, the hero goes forward. Whether it’s to save a small child or New York City, the goal is the same. Press forward.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre You don’t have to save the world in every book, but you might be saving the world from the perspective of one person. A lost puppy is the end of the world to a five-year-old girl. Robbing a bank and getting away with $1 million might be the world to a drug dealer who will be killed if he doesn’t get the money to the loan shark by noon. Being caught in a foxhole with bullets flying around your head is definitely the whole world in a story about a Marine storming the beach at Normandy.

So, the bigger the stakes, the better, but big is relative. If your reader cares about that five year old girl, the story about her lost puppy can be just as gripping as the one about the Marine getting shot at.

And the more emotion you pack in, that makes the ride worth taking.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I think a lot of my characters’ stakes are very personal and internal, but I love it when those personal stakes have external consequences.  “Who am I?  Do I get to stay a person, or do I get brainwashed?” That’s a lot of my characters.  But often the characters are balancing those stakes against letting murderers go free, letting people get eaten by monsters, letting the world end, things like that.  To paraphrase, “What good does it do someone to save the world, if they lose their own soul in the process?”

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy It depends on the plot. All characters have their own motivations. In those motivations comes the character growth. Save the world, save the girl, save themselves. It depends on what story you’re trying to tell.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman For my paranormal stories, I create tension between the species – my Unexpected series is vampire and wolf. The first in the series deals with bringing peace. My characters have their own personal issues to deal with, such as grief at a partner who has died. In the meantime, rival packs are plotting against each other.

For my historical story, I had political machinations that interfered with the simple every day life, providing the tension as the characters had to navigate around the plotting of others to make their own way as they wanted.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I like to have personal stakes as opposed to “save the world.”  For example, in GOAT CHILDREN, Keziah struggles to come to terms with her grandmother’s dementia.  She isn’t saving the world, unless you count her own world as it crumbles.  Keziah must realize the grandmother she once loved is gone and discover how to best help the woman in her place.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil That varies from story to story, but I think since I write mainly romance, that there has to be some angst between the H & h.  And, there is always the risk of losing the love.  Maybe there is another involved and you have a triangle, but this risk is always there.

In any story, there is certain information the reader needs to know, like backstory, but big blocks of exposition can tire the reader and cause them to lose interest.

In your writing, how do you avoid info-dumps?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Here’s what I do, when I can. My characters may be driving on a highway, and one notices all the automobiles are black, then mentions a scene from their youth in conversation, like a country community during harvest, with lots of green tractors on the road. Our hero responds with a mission or period when s/he was in Europe and on the road to Monte Carlo driving a red VW, while the road was packed with black Ferraris. I try to make the back-story part of what is going on at the time.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre How to avoid info dumps, right? I’ll tell you the secret. Ready? Because this is something that almost every new writer struggles with. The solution is simple.

You might need a bunch of information about that character or about that city or whatever. Write it. Write it all. Write it down in as much detail as you need. Fill pages of notebooks or volumes of computer files.

And then leave it out of the book.

Yep. You read that right.

Characters should appear on page 1 as fully formed human beings. The story rarely begins at their birth and ends at their death, recounting everything in their lives that happened in between including potty training and every Friday dinnertime pizza topping discussion. Nobody wants to read that.

The reader knows the character had a life before the story started, so let your character act like it. Leave out the backstory.

If you feel you absolutely positively have to have some sort of backstory, write it down, only pull the essential few pieces, and then drip them into your story here and there. For example, you can explain away a ten-year relationship by having a main character’s friend say, “Well, that’s what Janice did to him.” There we go. There was a Janice. They spent time together. She did something to him, and he’s still feeling the effects of whatever it was.

One well-placed sentence replaces 5,000 boring non-related words of backstory.

Spread those little pearls throughout your story and let the reader sew them together – and reach their own conclusions about it. No spoon feeding.

For the most part, the writer needs that backstory information. The reader does not. Words to live by.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak My characters, I should note, lie a lot.  Sometimes they outright lie, sometimes they lie by omission, sometimes they just tell the story from their own point of view. So what I do is plan for the reader to find out a superficial level of what’s going on, something that doesn’t take a lot of time to explain, but that is fundamentally untrue in some way.  The truth comes out gradually, as it tends to do, which means that I don’t have to give a whole bunch of truth at any given moment.  I also bury a lot of info in descriptions of things.  Like the character will assume that everyone knows a lot of stuff about fairies in the 1920s and kind of just say something like, “I got a Daimler because they never make ’em out of fae,” and you’re like, “Wait, what do they make out of fae?!?”  I try to make it not feel like an infodump, but the answer to a question you had on your mind anyway.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy There’s an incredibly good scene in the original Terminator movie where Sarah Connor is with Kyle Reese and they are in a police car trying to get away from both the T800 and the cops. In that scene, full of adrenaline and action, Kyle explains the entire plot of the movie. Its a big chunk of exposition, but you don’t realize it because he’s telling it during an action scene.

That’s just an example on how you can drop important backstory into your novel. Use pacing.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne It is a slippery slope to give just the right amount of information away without boring the reader to tears! It took me several years and some rather nasty reviews to learn to fling only a cupful of information across the page as opposed to dumping an entire gallon of water at once. Since I primarily write in the suspense/mystery/thriller genre, readers expect a fast-paced story, not one laced with six sentences dedicated to describing a blade of grass or the color of a character’s eyes. It all depends upon the genre and reader expectation. Romance novels needs steamy, drawn-out love scenes full of vivid detail, so if the author skims over certain pieces of vital information, the reader might feel cheated.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Pace and good transitions.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart That is a great point-not too much information and not lack of it: the right balance of everything! I read nothing that over explains things; it can be a film, a book or a teacher during a class; so I try to avoid it by all costs with my readers. Sometimes, I think I prefer less information and leave gaps for the readers to fill them in than to overexpose them to a boring extensive description that simply bores them.

Actually, I have noticed there are two kinds of literature, one that is descriptive and that in engendered in time and space; somehow, it is grounded in that place. There are readers for those and they hate anything that is too subtle and not told in the book, endings that are not clear, and so on. On the other hand, there is another kind of literature that is classical, beyond time and place, it is more universal, and this one uses less information and is more grounded into emotions. These are the classics. What I write has more to do with the last one!

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I work in shorter sections of back story, sometimes I might use a couple of paragraphs of a flashback, providing the information the reader needs. Although sometimes a simple line can provide insight to a characters state of mind from their backstory – like this for an example – {Years of anger, hatred and jealousy powered behind the fall of his arm as he dropped the statue with as much force as he could on the back of his brothers head.}

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I always have critique partners read through to make sure info-dumps didn’t slip through!  While writing, though, I try to be careful to space backstory out a little at a time in each chapter.  If we get deep into the story and some information hasn’t come to light yet, I let it go – it must not be essential.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I usually throw the backstory in gradually instead of all at once.  Giving the reader tidbits here and there helps to keep them reading on.

Prologues. Some authors love them, others find them to be irrelevant, an unnecessary detour.

Are you in favor of prologues? What is the function of a good prologue?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture A prologue can help at times, but I’m not in favor of them. I used them in my JUR series. In fact, the first novel almost won an award for the prologue. It set the stage for the telling of the story. In my more recent novel, Pangaea: Eden’s Planet, the short prologue helped define the commander of the mission, so the reader understood her motivations. Even though the mission failed due to no fault of hers, she still feels responsible for the others.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I love them, especially when reliving events in the past which have lasting impacts on the lives of the characters in the present. The same is true for epilogues. Both show the start and ending of the “event” and the reaction of the characters.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Here is the problem a prologue, and I will give you the best, most famous example of a prologue, ever: Star Wars. The very first Star Wars, back in the 70s, started out with that rambling scroll that kind of went up the screen and disappeared off into space, telling us all about how it was a dark time for the rebels or somebody, and blah, blah, blah… Then, in the first two minutes of the story, we see everything that prologue just told us. That’s proof that the prologue wasn’t necessary. (But because it’s become iconic, they have to start all those movies with that. Hey, if it made me a billion dollars, I would, too.) The fact is, if you skip that part and start right out with that little spaceship shooting at the big spaceship, the next 120 seconds tell you everything in the prologue – so you didn’t need the prologue.

And that’s my point. They’re bad for several reasons.

Most people who feel like they need a prologue are really not writing a good story in the prologue. They have this great story idea that comes later, and they feel like they have to spoon feed the reader to get them up to speed. Usually that’s not the case.

Additionally, they may write a really good story once the story starts, but they write a really horrible prologue. It’s all tell, tell, tell, and summaries, and stuff that isn’t written well or written to be engaging and interesting.

I almost always skip a prologue. I would say 90% of the time, the story is not better for having had the prologue. It’s often just an info dump-y backstory we have to wade through until the fun starts. Why do that to a reader? Why give them a chance to put the book down?

Some of the most engaging stories you read are stories where you kind of have to figure out what’s going on. Like this thing is already happening and I need to run to catch up.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Depends on the genre.  How are you gonna write a thriller with no prologue?!?

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ll use a prologue if I deem it necessary or if I feel I want to have it in there. The thing people need to understand about writing is that you don’t need to be pigeonholed into all these set rules. Write however you want to write. Let the story and the characters guide you, not the rules.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I do use prologues. Depending on my story, it can be the simplest form of setting up the rest of the plot, providing a simple introduction of the history of the characters and allowing the reader to engage with wanting to know more and how that introduction effects that character – usually my prologues are set years before the main story takes place, and can be the best way to avoid a major info dump later in the story.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used to love prologues until my past agent told me to nix them because no one ever reads a prologue. Since then, I’ve tried hard not to use them. The only time a prologue seems necessary is to deliver a scene that took place years in the past.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Most of my books have prologues.  To me, the prologue is the hook.  It’s what makes the reader want to read more.

Subplots help to keep readers from getting bored when the main plot slows down, but they can also confuse the issues if not written in carefully. If they aren’t wrapped up by the end of the story, they can leave readers feeling cheated. Yet, they are vital to making your story believable, because real life isn’t linear and focused on just one thing, and neither should your story be.

What is your approach to subplots? Do you write subplots in purposefully, or just let them develop and see what happens? How do you assure that all the subplots are resolved by the end of the story? Or do you leave a few dangling, with the promise of more to come for the reader?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Hmm. In my novel, The Man In The Black Fedora, a subplot – or minor mystery – surrounds the man in the black fedora. He and his team (agents) rescue a young nightclub singer from the mob who is intent on killing her. She is brought into the team’s organization, but she isn’t told who the mysterious man is. The agents know who their boss is, and the reader can easily figure it out, but he remains a mystery to the nightclub singer. Throughout the story she keeps guessing at his secret identity, but the agents won’t tell her. About three-quarters into the story I do reveal his identity to the girl, and got in trouble for it. Readers said I should have waited till the end of the story to reveal the secret. However, there were already two mysteries to be solved, and I was merely using the man in the black fedora’s secret as a minor subplot, figuring I could end that mystery any time during the story. From the readers’ responses, I should have held on to the secret until the end of the story, though, (sigh).

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne There are subplots in the majority of my novels because in reality, everyone has their own agenda whether known or not. Your main character may be working on solving a murder because they loved the person who died, yet another character might be assisting in the investigation for reasons rather on the shady side! Subplots offer a great opportunity to steer the reader into a different direction while you build up a shocking twist with another character.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Subplots are awesome. They are what makes the story world go around. You have your one main story and then you have lots of little stories going on underneath, and in each one of those, we should have some sort of challenge that a character is trying to overcome. So in your main story you’re gonna have a big giant obstacle to overcome, and in your little subplots, you’re going to have smaller stuff to overcome. Overcoming the challenges or obstacles in the story is what makes the story really interesting, and typically the bigger the steaks and the bigger the obstacles, the more interesting story.

The same is true for tension. The more tension, the better the story, and subplots allow for additional tension – as long as they affect the main story somehow.

Usually I try to have all my subplots wrapped up by the end. My mind works that way. How do I do that? I outline. I look at the pieces of the puzzle I arrange them until I’m satisfied, and I make sure that all the loose ends are tied up by the last chapter. As a reader, I enjoy seeing that happen, and as a writer, I can tell you most audiences do, too. (To ensure the loose ends get tied up, make lots and lots of notes to yourself. More on that later.)

DeAnna Knippling

deannak With my ghostwriting stories, the subplots kind of have to be wrapped up tight.  I find that ghostwriting clients aren’t in for as challenging plots as I am in my own work 🙂  In my own work, I may leave a few subplots still dangling, but only if that’s kind of what the story is about.  I have one series that’s a near-future thriller, (Mindsight, by my pseudonym Dean Kenyon), and how difficult it is to really know everything that’s going on in the information era.  And that character, he just lies about all kinds of things and the books are a loose kind of report for his private detective agency.  So he kind of…just leaves some things out.  Like, if he’s going to do something that could get him fired or put someone in danger.  Oops, I forgot to write that down.  He always has a logical reason for it.  I try to hint at what he really did, though.  I’m using some of the loose threads in the next book, too.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My stories develop all on their own. Subplots and all. For my Unexpected series, a couple of those subplots are started in one book, and will conclude in the next book, although there are no cliff hangers as such.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Subplots always happen as the story progresses.  I love writing from alternate points of view, and as each character becomes more complex, more subplots blossom. Critique partners are great at helping me catch subplots that don’t have a solid resolution.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I’ve been called many times a big tease.  So my subplots always promise more to come.  I keep them open so that I can continue that story in another book.  I write a lot of series and this works well.  Keeps the series from dying too soon.

This question is for those authors who are plotters, and like to have the storyline laid out before they begin writing. What story structure do you prefer? (i.e. Simple Outline, Bracket method, Three Act Format. Beat Sheet.)

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Chapter Headings with some description of content.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Hmm. I don’t know what any of those things are…

When I get an idea for a story, I use an outline. My outline can be as simple as for main points. Romeo and Juliet, for example, has four main outline points:

  • Boy and girl want to be together.
  • Their parents don’t want them to be together.
  • They get together anyway.
  • Everybody dies.

In that basic structure, you know we’re going to have these people meet and struggle and get together and pay a huge price because of it. The subplots go in underneath that. Sword fights! Intrigue! Here and there, some comedy.

So for my story, I make a list of my main story points just like I did for Romeo and Juliet above, and then I lay out smaller points underneath for ideas and subplots and whatnot. By doing that, I know when my story is going. Subplots, too. As I write, I will get really cool ideas that can be inserted in, and I love, love, LOVE to think of a twist that nobody sees coming. Like halfway through you find out the guy you’ve been rooting for is actually a bad guy. (Well, from his perspective, he’s not a bad guy; he just has a cross purpose with somebody else in the story.)

My method is to think of all those little ideas and lay them out, and then see what works best, and then start writing. It gives me a series of writing prompts every day – the next bullet point on the list! Goodbye writer’s block. And guess what? If the bullet point doesn’t interest you very much, so you don’t want to write it – delete it from the list. The list should only be really interesting things that are happening in your story.

This allows you to oversee what happens in your story and make sure it goes where you want, but if you decide Romeo and Juliet should live happily ever after, hey – go with that! It’s your outline. It’s to guide you to the best story, not lock you into an arbitrary set of rules.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I plot on some things, especially when I ghostwrite. I use a simplified form of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
-Set up the story.
–Fun & games (a.k.a. “the promise of the premise”).
–Reversal!!!
–Bad guys close in.
–Stormin’ the castle/final battle.
–Wrapup.
It doesn’t really matter what outline you use. The ability to go from “I have an idea!!!” to putting events in some kind of dramatic order is the important part. I feel that if you can “feel” a dramatic order to your events, you can skip the outline and pants it.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I do a simple outline with important plot points I want to touch on, character breakdowns, and often resolutions to problems…but not always. Too much plotting kills the story for me.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman On the rare occasions I need to plot – for a tight word count for example, I plan my chapters and will outline my manuscript with chapter heading and a simple line of text as to what is to happen in this chapter.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use a storyboard.  It’s a sheet of paper that has 12 squares on it, each square representing a chapter in the book.  I write quick notes on what I want to happen in each chapter and work off that.  Sometimes I will follow that story board to the letter, others the story takes on a life of its own and it gets altered.

There is nothing worse for a reader than to be deeply involved in a story and discover a huge plot hole that the author missed. It could be as simple as the character had on a purple dress three pages back, but now is wearing a blue one, but I guarantee there are readers out there that will find it and make you aware of it.

Do you have methods you employ for avoiding inconsistencies in your story?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture You see this not only in books, but movies also. In one scene her hair is in a bun, the next scene it’s shoulder length. The hero may jump from 160 pounds to 190 pounds in two chapters. File cards come in handy for main characters. Write their descriptions down, and what they’re wearing, if necessary. And keep those file cards handy.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I once mixed up the sex of a main character’s cat in the third book of a series. One reader ripped me apart for the mistake and to this day, I find the reaction odd. No one can write a perfect book because every single person involved from start to finish is human, which means mistakes will happen. If the biggest criticism I receive during a review is because of such a minor detail then I simply smile, because that means I nailed the big plot points and the only thing they can find to nitpick is a minor one.

I have numerous beta readers and friends read the final draft several times and incorporate their suggestions. I also send the final, final, final draft to my Kindle and listen to the robotic voice speak the words. It is amazing how many little things you can catch that way. Then, I make corrections and the final, final, final, final draft to my editor.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre PLOT HOLE RULE #1: It’s not a plot hole if nobody notices.

Usually there is enough time between the first draft and the final version of the story for me to be thinking about any loose ends. Things randomly pop up in my head because I want to be sure to not have loose ends, and I think about my story a lot in my non-writing time. Did I remember to explain X? Did I give a reason for Y? I immediately make a note, then go check out if I dealt with the question.

In my most recent story, I wanted to have the killer confront a certain character, but there just wasn’t a convenient way to do it. So I made a note to myself. I had to address that before the final chapter. And I wrote other pieces of the story, but eventually I had to resolve that. If I had not, it would’ve been a plot hole. There have been others, but I become aware of them as I write, and I make a note to tie it up somehow.

Notes are big. Just dash off a line to yourself: Remember to have Mrs Dilger say X. That’s all you need. It’s like a checklist. As you address each one, cross it off the list. As you create each twist, think ahead about how it ties in and makes notes about things you have to do to ensure it does. I might have 30 motes to myself during a story, and at the ed I go through and double check that each one is taken care of.

I think people who outline tend to have far fewer plot holes anyway, and if there are still a few when you finish, your critique partners and beta readers should catch them. If they don’t, well… it’s not a plot hole if nobody notices it.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak With novels, I try to maintain a sheet with character names.  I have the worst time with names.  I find that if I describe the character vividly enough in each scene (which doesn’t mean at great length, just vividly), then I remember what clothes they’re wearing anyway.  If I screw something like that up, it means I did a bad job at the original descriptions, and I try to backpedal and add more details in.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Plotting as we mentioned before. I use a very detailed character sheet so that those things don’t happen.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I re-read for information if I need it. But I avoid most major plot holes by writing scene by scene, chapter by chapter in order, rather than having to sew up scenes that have been written randomly as the inspiration hits. I also have a trusted friend, who is also an author who will read through my manuscript after the first round of edits and tell me if I have missed anything in bringing the story to its conclusion.

Jordan Eliabeth

Jordan I always use an editor and a proofreader, as well as numerous critique partners.  I hate it when something sneaks by.  I’ll be kicking myself for years!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I am lucky enough to have two editors who are very thorough.  They did deep into my stories and find those plot holes and make sure that they point them out to me.

I’ve been working to improve my interviewing skills, and one thing I’ve learned is that the interviewer must phrase the questions so they won’t be misinterpreted. It seems I still have a way to go in this area. So, for those who read ‘hook’ as ‘book’ in my earlier question, (lol), I figure this is a legitimate question, too.

What is the best book you’ve ever written?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I don’t know. My nonfiction books have probably made more money. I love writing children stories best. The JUR series was my break out series, and actually the most fun to write. But if I were to pick my favorite it would be between The Man In The Black Fedora and Pangaea: Eden’s Planet. Between those two, perhaps I would lean towards The Man In The Black Fedora. Both would make good movies.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne What a tough question and so difficult to answer.

For emotional impact on the ’ol heartstrings, I would say Ruined Wings. The story is a painful reality for far too many people in this world, including a close loved one, which is why I wrote the book and why it’s been turned into a short film. Addiction is a major, worldwide crisis.

The best mystery/suspense/thriller book I’ve written to date would have to be my latest novel, Fatal Agreements. Family secrets, revenge, murder, an old house, and southern charm! What more can you ask for in a novel?

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Thus far, I would have to say Ripper.  The story is a very erotic love story that is engrossing and will leave you on the edge of your seat that takes place around the Jack the Ripper murders.  The ending is a total surprise and will definitely leave the reader with a book hangover.

Well, it looks like most of our panel can agree that the function of story is to entertain and/or present a message, although they may disagree on other things about plot. A plot is like a completed puzzle, with all the pieces fitting together exactly. Those pieces include a beginning, middle and end, but you can’t just place the beginning of one puzzle with the middle and end from other puzzles because they won’t match up right to create a whole picture that’s clear. So, those pieces must contain the right elements, like conflict and resolution, character growth, good tension and pacing and an appeal to the humanity in all of us in order to fit together properly and form a cohesive whole.

There must be something at risk or no one will care enough to read on. The bigger the stakes the more your readers will care. The stakes can be internal or external, but even internal stakes should have external consequences. And there must be obstacles to your protagonist reaching their goals. It can’t be easy. What’s the fun in that? Where’s the tension. I had a professor who was fond of telling us to beat our characters up, and when you think they are as low as they can go, beat them up some more. It makes the triumph when they reach their goal that much sweeter.

Info. dumps can be avoided in several ways including weaving backstory and/or flashbacks into action and dialog. But, it also was suggested that you create questions that readers will then be looking for the answers to and won’t notice its exposition or have your characters lie, giving off subtle hints at things, but not outright telling readers what they need to know. A few authors suggested leaving backstory out, doubting that there is a need for it. And, they may be right in some cases.

Our plotters keep things straight with storyboards or outlines of some sort, and to avoid inconsistancies they use those outlines or make notes, character sheets or filing cards to avoid inconsistancies. Most panel members also utilize critique partners, beta readers and/or editors to help expose plot holes. Having your story read aloud with the author becoming a listener can also be helpful, because you hear things that you may overlook on the page. And I have to agree with Lilly Rayman that writing linearly, rather than jumping around in the story is probably also helpful in this respect.

That wraps up this week’s segment. I want to thank our panel members for all their great input, and thank my readers for joining us and tuning in. I hope you all will pop in next Monday, when Ask the Authors will take a look at “Setting the Tone with Point of View, Tense, Narrative Distance and Voice”.

 

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