Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – Work in Progress

The writing has started on THE AMALFITANO’S BOLD SEDUCTION!

It wasn’t exactly easy. While working on the notes and charts for the story, I changed computers three times, working locations twice, and the place I was staying twice. Before actually putting words on the page, I had to be sure I had the latest versions of all the preliminary files. Yes, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by using a cloud service, but I’ve been dragging my feet on that. Meanwhile, a thumb drive is my transfer method of choice. I just have to the check file “save” dates with extra care. Added to answering email and tending to a couple of other things on my To-Do list, I got a fairly late start to my first writing day.
I also had to clear my desk the weekend before. Between finishing a book, helping manage Steel Magnolia Press plus spring and summer travel, things had really piled up -- as you can see from this “Before” photo. I spent several hours going through papers, filing or archiving what was important and tossing the rest. My trash can is full, and its contents will go to the burn pile instead of the dump for safety. But my desk now looks like the “After” picture. What’s more important is that my brain felt clearer afterward, more ready to concentrate on a story. Funny, but that’s the way it works.

So yes, I started work on Monday, August 26, at about 11:00 a.m., finished around 5:30 p.m., and put 2046 words on this WIP (work in progress) to more than make my daily goal of 2000 words. I actually completed the first scene in the heroine’s point of view, then continued the scene on Tuesday with the hero’s POV. The following days had the same pattern, with 2000+ words a day completed for the rest of the week. Yes! I made my weekly goal of 10,000 and am now well into Chapter 3, heading toward 10 - 12 chapters and 50 - 60,000 words.
Is the writing perfect? Good grief, no – this is a rough draft that will have to be edited at least twice. But it’s a nice start.

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, dramatic story situations, naming characters, character charts, title choices, brainstorming, chapter charts,writing in scenes and first words. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.
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Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Anatomy of a book – First Words

It’s been said the opening lines of a book are the most important words the author will write. Some writers can’t start working until they have them clear in their mind; others deliberately leave them until after the book is finished. No matter when they’re written, they must engage the imagination of the reader and promise a story worth the time it will take to read it.

The value of any first line can be judged by the action and intrigue it captures and the number of questions it raises in the mind of the reader. A couple of books have been written citing great examples. GETTING HOOKED: FICTION’S OPENING SENTENCES, 1950-1990, by Sharon Rendell-Smock, is a compilation of great first lines presented from a reader’s point of view. The second, HOOKING THE READER: OPENING LINES THAT SELL,( http://tinyurl.com/k6j7qus ) by the same author, approaches the subject from the writer’s viewpoint. The latter includes favorite first lines selected by more than a hundred authors from their own work.  If you are new to writing, it couldn’t hurt to study some of the great beginnings in these volumes.

First lines sometimes come easy for me, arriving as complete sentences at some point during the preparation for a new book. But then there are  times when they don't, when I sit with  eyes closed, fingers on the keyboard while I wait for inspiration -- and nothing happens. What I do then is just put something down as a place holder until I have the perfect beginning. But how do I know when the words are right? I can be fairly sure of it when they bring on a smile and an urgent need to get on with the rest of the story.
Close Call Ahead!
What is the opening line of my work in progress then, Book 3 of my Italian Billionaire’s series, THE AMALFITANO’S BOLD ABDUCTION?  Well, the sentence introduces a traffic jam on the narrow Amafi Coast road -- but this is one of those times when I’m not so sure about the exact wording. For now, I’m going with: “She knew it was bound to happen.”

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, dramatic story situations, naming characters, character charts, title choices, brainstorming, chapter charts and writing in scenes. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.



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Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book - Making Scenes

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters, dramatic story situations, title choices, character charts, brainstorming, chapter charts and organizing the writing. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.
You know that books are written in scenes, right? That it’s amateurish and boring to catalog everything a character does, so you must choose the most useful or exciting moments? That every scene should have a purpose, whether to illustrate character, develop the primary relationship, establish or escalate conflict or drive the story forward with action and reaction?
Great.
 
If you’ve read this far in this series of posts on how I put a book together, you won’t be surprised to hear that I often outline the scene coming up in my WIP. I do this not because I’m OCD - well, not completely! – but because I have a vivid picture of the scene in my mind and want to be certain I capture every bit of it, painting that scene with words. My notes include some, if not all, of the following:
 
  • The information that will carry the story forward.
  • The season and time of day if it has bearing on the action.
  • POV character and her/his goal and motivation.
  • What the characters are wearing and how they appear.
  • Conflict that arises between the characters and their attitudes toward it.
  • Brief outline of any specific dialogue exchange I’ve heard in my head.
  • Effect on the romantic relationship as a result of this scene.
  • Snippets of backstory that might have bearing.
  • Subtle, or not so subtle, hint of what might happen next as a hook.
My notes for the first scene of Book 3 in my Italian Billionaires series look like this then: 
  • Cop Heroine is in a hurry, resents the traffic jam she comes upon, decides to fix it.
  • Describe Amalfi Coast Road, its beauty, problems and dangers. Early evening. Rain. Fog.
  • Heroine rescues the cat named Trouble in Italian. Describe cat.
  • Enter the hero, describe him, his clothing in heroine’s POV.
  • Explore in dialogue their different ideas on how to fix the traffic jam.
  • Their mutual cooperation to solve the problem.
  • Sensual tension between the two main characters.
  • Hero’s POV, describe heroine; his exasperation with her take-charge attitude.
  • His backstory of why he has the cat, why it’s important that no one knows he has it.
  • Describe heroine’s rental car going over the cliff -- and his satisfaction at the sight.



I’m more likely to do detailed outlines at the beginning of a book. Once I’m immersed in the story I can usually segue from one scene to the next without pause. But I still jot down scene ideas that may come to me while driving, showering, just before going to sleep, etc. Sometimes my computer screen has so many sticky notes attached it looks as if it might fly away! It really hurts to lose a great idea that might have made my scene come alive for the reader.

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Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.
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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – Organizing the Writing

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters, dramatic story situations, title choices, character charts, brainstorming and chapter charts. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.

A book can be a unwieldy thing. Organization helps bring clarity and form to it, while also making its different elements easy to access when needed.
Most writers these days use MS Word as their go-to word processor. It’s the program preferred by editors in traditional publishing, and text written with it is easy to format for independent publishing. Beyond this, it has multiple features that make life simpler for writers, including its system of folders and files.

I’ve used other writing programs such as WriteWay and Scriveners. Elements from these have been added to my writing process, but I always come back to MS Word. I’m a linear writer for the most part, starting at the beginning and going on until the end like some ancient troubadour telling a story. There are other ways, but I’ve discovered that those which encourage writing scenes out of order or thinking in terms of screenplays are of limited use to me.
For my Italian Billionaire books in MS Word,I have a main folder labeled Contemporary Novels that’s stored in Documents. This works because I also write historical romances that also have a folder. Within my Contemporary Novels folder, I’ve created an Italian Billionaires folder. Each of the three books in this series, so far, then has its own folder labeled with the title. The one I’m using at present says The Amalfitano, which is short hand for the longer title, “The Amalfitano’s Bold Abduction.”

Everything I’ve done to create the book to this point has been saved as a file in its title folder. Labels for the files created to this point are: Chapter Chart, Character Chart, Italian Words and Phrases, Revision Notes, Research, Story Notes, and Text The Amalfitano’s Bold Abduction. Other files will be added as needed, but these are the basics I'm using for the series.
As I work, the main book text file is open, of course, but I often keep my chapter and character charts open as well for easy toggling between the three. At one time, I wrote and saved each chapter in a separate file, merging them when the story was done, but now the entire book is saved in a single file.

Billionaire's Home on Private Island
Another feature that’s useful for writers is Microsoft's Picture library. For each story, I create a folder within Pictures that’s labeled with the book title. Photos I’ve taken on location, as well as useful images I find on the Internet, are saved in this folder. Examples include photos of actors and models that may serve as quick memory aids for the main characters; photos of house exteriors and interiors for settings; atmospheric landscapes that may provide inspiration for scenes; views of towns, cities, mountains or beaches that I may need; boats, cars, trucks and bikes that could work for the story; flora and fauna I like; pets, artwork or other objects that may be referenced in the book, and so on. Anything that can add to the color and authenticity of the story or aid my memory winds up here. The results can be a kaleidoscopic vision of the book itself.
With all my book details organized and my visual aids in place, I can concentrate on stepping into my story world and doing my best to take the reader with me.

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Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – The Chapter Chart

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters, dramatic story situations, title choices and brainstorming. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.


It’s one of the mysteries of writing: no one ever tells you the required length for a chapter. That’s in part because a chapter is as long as it needs to be to reach the end of the scene in progress. Some writers create multiple short scenes while others like working with a single long one per chapter. Some have a single POV (point of view) while others are written from the viewpoint of different characters with their scenes divided by space transitions. It’s all good. Yet it’s also true that the average length for most chapters in mainstream commerical fiction is 5000 words comprising two scenes.

This means a romance story of about 100,000 words, or 400 pages, usually covers 20 – 24 chapters. The difference between the two numbers allows for cutting some chapters shorter for dramatic emphasis or letting them run longer to complete a scene or include reaction to an event in the POV of another character.
A contemporary category romance novel of 50,000 - 60,000 words requires shorter chapters as there is less room for extraneous description or internal monologue; chapters in these run 2500 - 4000 words. Though novels of this kind can have fewer chapters and words than the average given, cut them too short and they become novellas, usually pegged at 20, 000 – 30,000 words.

For planning purposes, a longer book should begin with an inciting incident or crisis, as described in my previous post on brainstorming, then include other planned dramatic incidents or events every two or three chapters. The next to last chapter is normally dedicated to the climax, and the final chapter ties up loose ends in an exercise known as the denouement. The final paragraph, for romance novels, usually provides the traditional HEA, or Happy Ever After.
With this information in mind, it’s easy to see that a basic chapter chart for a shorter contemporary romance should look something like the MS Word document below:

CHAPTER CHART

Chapter 1

Inciting incident or first crisis

Chapter 2

Reaction to and discussion of incident

Chapter 3

Crisis/dramatic incident/plot point

Chapter 4

Reaction to and discussion of crisis

Chapter 5

Crisis/dramatic incident/plot point

Chapter 6

Reaction to and discussion of crisis

Chapter 7

Crisis/dramatic incident/plot point

Chapter 8

Explanation and discussion of crisis

Chapter 9

Climax of story, a larger event than previous crises

Chapter 10

Denouement and HEA

 
Actual events and character actions should of course replace the general descriptions. I often indicate, as well, the central action or conflict in the scenes that will take place in each chapter, and the character POV for the scenes. A longer book would differ only by adding more crises/dramatic events/plot points and including an extra chapter or two between these as needed.
Please remember that this is just a guide, a basic road map for your story. Things can easily change or be rearranged as the story progresses.

For an example of how to use a chapter chart, here’s the first entry for book 3 of my Italian Billionaires series, “The Amalfitano’s Bold Abduction”:

Chapter 1

Inciting incident, heroine's POV with possible change to hero's for final action: Traffic cop Dana Marsden’s Italian vacation is interrupted by a traffic jam on the narrow, fog-obscured Amalfi Coast road. While trying to untangle it, she rescues a cat – and a handsome Italian appears out of the mist to offer his aid. During their disagreement over who will establish order, Dana’s rental car with all her possessions goes over the cliff.

 See the general idea?

Please feel free to cut/paste the Chapter Chart above if you feel it could be useful.

 
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Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.
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Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Anatomy of a Book – Brainstorming

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, naming characters, story situations, title choices and creating characters. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together, using my next italian Billionaires book as an example.



Every fiction story, whether commercial or literary, is made up of a series of crises. These crises, sometimes referred to as dramatic events or plot points, engage readers from page one and draw them ever deeper into the narrative until they reach the climax. Careful construction and placement of the crises is what creates a “page turner” book.

Brainstorming is the practice of establishing possible crises for a book in advance. Some writers prefer to avoid this step in favor of flying by the seat of their pants so are known as “pantsers.” They claim advance plotting inhibits their creative muse. No problem; there’s definitely more than one way to write a book. However, most best-selling authors who work on strict deadlines eventually become “plotters.” Planning the dramatic events of a work in progress prevents hours of staring into space trying to decide what should happen next. It also helps avoid repetitive scenes and false trails that lead to time-consuming revision.

Established wisdom says most books of 100,000 words require a minimum of five crises to keep a story moving, plus a grand climax to bring events to a satisfactory conclusion. Books of 50,000 words, such as my Italian Billionaire stories, seem to work best with a minimum of three crises plus the climax.

Plot points in a novel, particularly in romance, need not be hugely dramatic or physical in nature. They can, instead, be emotional crises or decisions made by the characters which change the direction of the story. My own books often combine these quieter crises along with noisier ones.

With these criteria in mind, I usually sit down at my computer, open a new MS Word page, and start typing with the first brainstorming idea that springs to mind. I’ve also used pen and paper, typewriter, Dictaphone and the notes app on my tablet. The method of capturing ideas doesn’t matter as long as you make them concrete in some manner.

If nothing comes when I first sit down, I concentrate on the inciting incident for my story, that essential first meeting of hero and heroine that will set events in motion. Once that’s out of the way, I’m usually well started on the rest.

I cull nothing during this exercise. Any idea will do, no matter how trite or clich├ęd. The object is simply to put the brain in gear and keep it there. Setting down common occurrences gets them out of the way, clearing the subconscious mind for more creative possibilities.

Each idea gets a separate paragraph, but I impose no other order. I simply type as fast as my brain produces new material, non-stop if possible. At this point, the less left brain logic you put in the way of your creative right brain, the better.

My goal with this exercise is to produce 25 or more possible ideas, and I try not to stop until I have at least that number. More is better; there’s no such thing as too many. I go for broke, typing until my mind is blank.

Once my list is done, I choose the most exciting or original plot points and place them in approximate order of occurrence in the story. But I don’t discard the rest; no, indeed! Some may become useful secondary events, particularly if my concept of the story changes in any way. The finished list is saved in a file labeled “Story Notes” that’s included in the main story folder.

With my list of crises in hand, I have the bones of my book. Like a sculptor using an armature as the basis for a work, however, it’s merely a guide. There’s still room for infinite creativity with different ideas or in designing the setting and its atmosphere, developing the characters and their backstories, and injecting emotion into the events that will take place. For me, that’s where the fun begins.
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Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.
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