Tag Archives: tool

Writers Toolbag: What to Write

It’s commonly said: write what you love.  Yet at the same time, there’s still a strong push (not as strong as it once was, but still present), to write what is “marketable”.

That kind of thing presents a bit of a conundrum.  Do you write to what you think the market is or do you write to your personal preferences?  The short answer is: yes.

This is actually a tremendously complicated question and the real answer comes back to what you want out of writing.  You can be successful writing purely for market and you can be successful writing what you love.  Most people don’t get into writing unless they really love it and when you’re gauging your success, it comes back to your feelings about writing.

Writing to market is when an author knows something is selling so they write that.  This happens for new authors and it happens for well established authors.  With new authors, they often see “X” is selling really well, so they set out to write their version of “X” and make lots of money.  Most often what happens for the established authors is that one series sells really well or receives critical acclaim, so they write more of that.  It’s human nature to seek approval for our work, and writing to market is a way to seek “guaranteed” results.   The problem, of course, is that if you don’t enjoy what you’re writing (or worse, if you view it as a chore or even painful exercise), then that emotion carries over into what you write.  At best, you end up with a sort of generic result that is devoid of much of anything, at worst… well, you end up with a disaster.  The key to writing to market is blending in the things you love about writing.  Take that hot-selling genre and put your own spin on it, make it interesting and into something you are passionate about.

Writing to preference is the flip side of the coin.  You may have this really great idea that you can’t wait to get down on the page.  Oftentimes it isn’t even hard to write this stuff… but when you go to sell it things get a bit problematic.  Publishers like stories that can be summed up in a few words.  For self-publishing, if you have to take ten minutes to explain it all, you run the risk of potential readers shutting the door or moving on before they give it a look.  Writing to preference is often innovative and exciting, but it’s a hard slog on gaining readers.  You have to work hard, build up a readership, and it only works if you get people to be as passionate about it as you are.  The problem is that readers as a whole are very conservative.  They like the familiar.  Most readers want to know, going in, the genre, topic, characters, etc of the book.  When you go to write your idea, if it doesn’t fit into one of those easily defined categories (or even if it just isn’t what you normally write), you risk turning away readers before they even open your book.

At the end of the day, you need to identify why you write.  Do you want big sales?  Are you writing for yourself or for others?  Do you have a message or story you want to share?   These things shape whether you should write more creatively or more focused.  In a perfect world you can blend the two and finding a good balance point is always something you should work on.  The worst possible thing, of course, is getting burned out, writing things you don’t want to be writing.

Writing is hard.  Make it easier on yourself and understand your own motivations for writing.  Then you can decide whether you’re really writing that Kaiju Paranormal Romance Noir story because you want to or because you think it will make you money.



Writer’s Toolbag: Opportunity Cost

75468d8a02375f27e89c5bf824422f4eToday I’m writing about the most difficult decision you’ll ever make as a writer.  No.  Not that decision, the other one.  No, the other one.

Okay, really, I’m writing about the tough decisions and how to make those.  These decisions are out there constantly for us as authors, but I’m talking about the big ones when it comes to writing your book.  When you have this great idea that you really love… but you realize it might not work.  Or when you’re halfway through writing a scene for a character and you realize that maybe it will work better if they don’t survive.

Recently for me, writing in my Renegades series, I ran into a tough call as far as the plot and story.  On the one hand, I wanted to set up a situation where a main character ended up in a dangerous situation.  I wanted to increase tension… and I wanted the reader to feel uncertainty about what would happen.

On the other hand, I worried that writing the scene the way that I had would confuse the reader.  It became a decision of what worked better for the story between tension and readability.  I chose to go with the more interesting route and we’ll see how that plays out (squints at the Amazon webpage… still no reviews posted).

So how do you make those decisions?  You weigh the pros and the cons… and then you make the decision and move on.  In economics it is called the opportunity cost.  Whichever way you chose, you give up following the other route.  As writers, we have a bit of flexibility intrinsic to the craft.  We can rewrite, edit, and tweak things.  In the end, though, once you hit publish, the decision has been made and there’s no going back.

To me, making these kinds of decisions (and recognizing when one has come up) is something that grows easier as I write more.  Deciding whether to kill a beloved (or hated) character is, well, not taken lightly, but it becomes a simpler decision to make.  Often times this can be something as simple as which perspective to use when you write a scene or just when to cut that scene.  It might be that you have a line that you love… but it just doesn’t fit the flow of your story.

At its most basic level, the question you should ask yourself is: will this make the story better?  If the answer is yes, then you know what you have to do.  Sometimes it means you can give a character a happy ending.  Sometimes it means you have a character who ends up dying alone.  All of it, all that weight is on your shoulders as a writer.

Books don’t get director’s editions with deleted scenes and outtakes.  No one will ever see that bit that you cut and few people will understand the hours that you spend thinking about it.  Then again, that’s where the skill in writing comes from, knowing how to craft your story better and making those hard decisions.  If writing were easy, everyone would do it, right?

Writing Toolbag: Character Notes

If there’s one thing guaranteed to annoy most readers, it’s when they discover some dramatic discrepancy with a beloved character.  Note here, I didn’t say “main” character, I said beloved character.  And as a writer, oftentimes you don’t have any control whatsoever over what characters your readers might take a liking to (in fact, I’ve several readers who have polar opposite likes and dislikes in my series) .

I still remember my first draft of my first novel, where I’d mentioned the name of a character’s cat near the beginning and (horror of horrors) used a different name for the cat near the end.  I’ve noticed errors with other authors (even mainstream ones) where character’s eye color and hair color have changed, height has dramatically changed, and parents/family details have changed.  These aren’t game-ending, but those kinds of errors are annoying to readers, they show a lack of consistency, which can come off as laziness or ineptitude… both of which are impressions you don’t want to give your readers.

So how does a writer maintain consistency with one’s characters, especially over multiple books?  A few authors I’ve talked with keep the details in their heads.  If you’ve a eidetic memory, I suppose that works, but for the rest of us mere mortals, notes are not just a good idea, but a necessity.

What goes into character notes?  It doesn’t have to be much, really.  A short physical description, family details (if important), birthday, and then any details about them that you plan to use in your writing.  Some authors I’ve met use 3″ x 5″ notecards, some have Excel spreadsheets, and others use word and just have typed notes.  The intent is to write it down somewhere so that you don’t have to remember it, you can just look it up.  As you write more, you can add more details to your notes as they become pertinent.

Such a simple thing is not only good for maintaining consistency, but also for speeding your writing flow.  When you get to a passage where you mention the character’s great aunt showing up, you don’t have to stop writing to go back and look her name up, sifting through your earlier works.  You can put a marker there and keep writing, secure in the knowledge that you’ve got the detail in the notes.

The downside of notes, of course, is that you have to take the time to keep them accurate and up to date.  A couple people I know use their smart phones for this, creating their notes on their phones so they can update their notes anywhere: waiting in line, riding a bus, whenever and wherever they have time.  The same can be said for the 3 x 5 index cards.  Whatever method you use, having character notes that you haven’t updated or filled out is of little use.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!