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Archive for the ‘craft’ Category

I hate starting a new book.

I’m probably not supposed to say that. First Rule of Social Media Club seems to be “Never talk about negativity.”

StubbornBut darn it. I hate starting a new book.

I’ve sold forty books. It ought to be a snap, right? Nope. I’m scared to death every time. What if I can’t think of anything new? What if the characters are just finger puppets? What if the plot’s too stale, or too thin, or too impenetrable? What if the well’s run dry, or the Muse has departed?

As I start out, I usually have names, a basic conflict, a theme-ish-sort-of-kind-of-idea-thing…and that’s about it. Obviously that’s not enough. I’m still a stranger in my own story. I wouldn’t know these people if I saw them on the street. I have no idea what they want, or how to help them get it.

blind man's bluffSo for some indeterminate, tortuous time, I stumble around with my hands out, feeling for walls and identifying markers, bumping into things like a kid playing Blind Man’s Bluff.

Yeah. Hate this part.

But apparently there’s no avoiding it. There’s only the hope of getting through it.

I’m just beginning the fourth book in my Sisters of Bell River Ranch series–a series I’ve loved so far. WILD FOR THE SHERIFF came out earlier this year, and I’ve received such nice mail about it from readers–hurray, hurray! betting on cowboy box of books
BETTING ON THE COWBOY
comes out in just a few days, and got a great 4.5-star review from Romantic Times Book Reviews. (Also hurray!) Book Three, THE RANCH SHE LEFT BEHIND will be out in December, and is safely written and in my brilliant editor’s hands.

But now…now I have to start from scratch again. This fourth and final book in the series will be about the Secret Sister. The one Rowena, Bree and Penny didn’t ever know they had. I’ve been so excited about this book. Tess’s story always seemed like the “fun” one, the one I couldn’t wait to write.

Then it really was time to write it, and suddenly the enthusiasm evaporated. For the past two weeks, this “fun” book looked as terrifying, as dark and shadowy and fraught with unanswered questions as every other book I’ve ever written. Blind Man’s Bluff…and I was losing.

great ideaHere’s the great thing, though. Eventually, if I soldier on, allowing myself to bump and hunt and face the fears, I reach the “aha” moment. The blindfold comes off, the light flicks on, and suddenly I can *see* the story. The people. The places. “Ohhhh,” I say, blinking happily. “So that’s what you look like!”

Yesterday, at my critique group meeting, it happened. AHA! Tess Spencer is no longer just “the secret sister.” Her story is no longer a dark, shadowy landscape filled with half-perceived obstacles. out of focus man

And best of all, because I’m a hero-driven storyteller, Jude Calhoun isn’t just “The Hero.” They are both real people with fears and flaws and dreams and quirks.

And I like them. Whew! Hugs and kisses to my clever critique partners!

How about you? When you start something new, are you excited and invigorated–or intimidated, like me?

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Prueba1675I have been doing more writing than reading this week.  When my deadline is closing in, I have to protect the real estate inside my head, and prevent other stories from moving in, taking over the neighborhood!

So this week I’m going to mention a few writing craft books I have pulled off the shelves and stacked beside me on the desk.  These are all books I have found so enlightening, entertaining or inspiring that just having them nearby helps, even if I don’t open them even once!

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Why it stands out:  It’s great all around.  Every page makes sense.  But here’s what it does that I haven’t seen done as well anywhere else:  It compares good writing with BETTER writing.  Most how-to books will show you a badly written paragraph, then show you how to make it better.  But I suspect that most of us look at the “bad” paragraph, instinctively believe that we wouldn’t ever have made that mistake in the first place, and therefore don’t pay much attention to how to “fix” it.  In Browne and King’s book, they show you work that’s already pretty well written, the kind of stuff you DO believe you might have created.  And then they show you how it can be made even better!  It’s impressive, and it’s full of those ah-ha! lightbulb moments.

Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver. Why it stands out:  Cleaver offers a very tangible, concrete theory…  Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron.  What I mean is that Cleaver doesn’t just have a nebulous theory of how to make your work better.  He has specific advice about individual sentences.  The first time I read it, I almost felt a physical flood of relief that there were specific questions I could ask, specific sentences I could identify, specific changes I could make to achieve specific results.  My favorite take-away:  Let your character reactions to events be individual, not universal.  The inside of people’s brains are quirky and unique, and that’s what fascinates us.  I may have the details wrong, but I remember being particularly struck with his comment that a person who suddenly faces a man with a gun in an alleyway won’t necessarily start thinking, “I’ll never see my children again!” He might actually think, “OMG, now I’ll never get to pick up that dry cleaning….”

Master Class in Fiction Writing, by Adam Sexton.  Why it stands out:  You’re never going to get a more sophisticated, helpful analysis of the various POV choices than Sexton gives you here.  Not only does he differentiate among lots of sub-types, but also he shows you why they work, and what their uses are. Plus, it’s just loaded with great writing, which I find inspiring when I’m stuck. I can’t look through great romances, for fear I might subconsciously pick up a style or a phrase, but I think I’m safe looking through Nabokov’s “Lolita” without risking any unconscious plagiarism! 🙂

The Describer’s Dictionary, by David Grambs.  Why it stands out:  Admit it.  You get stuck.  I get stuck.  We all get stuck.  This book will unstick you! 🙂

Roget’s Thesaurus.  Why it stands out:  It won’t, unless you get one of the old-school versions.  The newer ones may be more user-friendly, but they just don’t have enough cool words.

emotion thesaurus coverThe Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi. Why it stands out:  Also excellent for unsticking.  This isn’t just an abstract, theory-of-writing book.  Though I think those are marvelous in their moment, “their moment” isn’t the eleventh hour of a deadline!

These are my favorites…the ones I wouldn’t have the nerve to write without. How about you? Have you found some great how-to books along the way? I’m always on the lookout for new gems!

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