THE WRITER’S MIND

I’m sitting in the car at a traffic light, and my mind wanders. My hero accesses the villain’s fortress to determine how they are keeping open a dimensional rift. He’s been there before but missed some important data. What is different this time? He has gone shopping in the interval. Did I have him buy electronics so he could use his spacefaring skills to assemble a sensor device? Oops, better add that into the story.  What data would he collect this time that he wasn’t able to acquire before? He has to determine the rifts are being kept open by a particle generator. So it makes sense that he detects the particles. A ideaconstant bombardment of these particles from the other side could be what the evil Trolleks are using to force open the rifts. The pressure would have to be tremendous. I’ve already mentioned neutrinos in the story, but they pass through matter. What about anti-neutrinos? Or better still, something with mass. More research required! Or, I could just make up my own quantum particles.

The light changes to green. My mind shifts into reality. I’ll have to wait until I get home to follow this train of thought. As my foot presses on the accelerator, I’m also thinking that I need to look up Manga along with Islands of Adventure at Universal. My characters are entering a fictional theme park called Manga World. For a map and a model of the types of rides, I’ll use the Orlando site. I’ll just swap them with imaginary Manga heroes. Oh, have I arrived at the post office? File that thought until later!          idea

No wonder my husband says he talks to me in the car and I don’t respond. That’s the hazard of being married to a writer. Our mind is always lost in another world.

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STORY MAGIC

I’ve written on this topic before, but it continues to astound me. Facing the blank white page again this morning, I wondered how I’d ever fill my page quota. My characters had just been captured by the bad guys. They’d been isolated from each other, and I had no idea how they would escape. But when I started writing and entered the Zone, as we writers call it, the story just took over. I went into a trance-like state, where I’m not aware of my surroundings. I visualize the story and the words just come out. Before I know it, my page quota is done.

In today’s section, my heroine is taken to the enemy commander. During their conversation, she learns things important to the plot. She’s dragged away for interrogation. This segment concludes the chapter. The next chapter will switch between her viewpoint and the hero’s. They’ll each gain information, and a new character will be introduced. I don’t have to worry about that today. I finished my pages and can move on to other things, like writing this blog.

I’m also proofreading the eBook version of Moonlight Rhapsody, one of my earlier futuristic romances. Then there are the social networks, listserves, and numerous other promotional activities to keep me busy. Did I mention that I’m meeting a friend for lunch and have errands to do? Thank goodness I finished these pages early because now it’s time for the exercise bike.

This book is taking off already because I know the characters. It’s the second volume in the series, and I laid all the groundwork in book number one. Unlike a mystery with numerous suspects that have to be introduced for the first time, this paranormal romance focuses on the hero and heroine and the various secondary characters they meet during their journey. The hardest thing is remembering the mythology I created, but I have enough notes to help me along.

Whoever said (and I’m not exactly sure if this is correct), “I hate writing, but I love having written,” is right, although it’s the blank page I hate. I love having written once the story magic takes over and words fill the pages.

BACKSTORY

One of the most common problems in new writers’ works is the insertion of backstory into the first chapter of their book. Nothing else kills the pacing quicker than paragraphs heralding back to some past event in the character’s life. Maybe it’s necessary to relate some of these facts, but they can be done in a less intrusive manner. You must keep the action moving forward. The reader wants to know what’s happening now, not twenty years in the past.

So how do you deal with this burning issue? Here are six tips to get you started.

1. Leave backstory until later. Is it absolutely essential to the core of the plot as the story opens?
If in doubt, leave it out. The story should start with some sort of crisis or change that propels your character to take action. Let the reader wonder why this is happening until your character can take a breather and reflect on what’s going on . That shouldn’t occur until at least the second chapter. Remember to end the third chapter on a hook, because this proposal is your selling tool. Kill the pacing, and kill your chances for publication.
2. Filter past events in gradually, not in one info dump. Only reveal what is necessary at that time in the story.
3. Leave some elements purposely out to create a mystery. The reader will keep turning pages to see what happened between your people in the past or why your heroine feels this way.
4. Add in the backstory through dialogue whenever possible. Let your character tell her story to someone who doesn’t already know it. Or have two characters gossip about your protagonist. If you’re in her viewpoint, she could overhear or one of them could mention it later. Find ways to work it in so that it’s interesting to the reader.
5. If you want to relate the backstory from your protagonist’s viewpoint, offer tidbits of past history a line or two at a time. Or segue into the past in a quick paragraph with a sensory element that ties the past and present together. The idea is not to get bogged down. Keep moving forward!

How do you deal with this problem?

RESEARCH AND THE MUSE

A reader at one of my author talks recently said she was surprised by how much research I did for my books. She believed fiction writers made up their stories. I was appalled. No wonder some people (not YOU, of course) look down their noses at popular fiction writers. Any author would be dismayed by this observation because we put a lot of work into researching our tales.

As any reader of historical fiction knows, the writer must thoroughly research all details of the era in order to be accurate. Ditto for mysteries. I get people asking me all the time if I had been a hairdresser because my sleuth’s job details are so accurate. When I mention that my background is in nursing, they are astounded. How did you learn enough to write about a
hairstylist who solves crimes for your Bad Hair Day series? Well, I interviewed my hairdresser and followed her around the salon. I visited a beauty school and checked out their curriculum. I attended a beauty trade show in Orlando. I subscribed to Modern Salon Magazine. And if I needed to know anything else about hair, I asked my hairstylist or had her read relevant passages in my manuscript for accuracy.

That’s just the beginning. Consider that I also consult a homicide detective for crime details and police procedure, even if forensics doesn’t play a heavy role in my books. Plus each story has its own topics to research. I’ve investigated such diverse subjects as medical waste disposal, tilapia farming, migrant labor smuggling, the dog and cat fur trade, vanilla bean cultivation, and more. Then there is on-site research, i.e. pounding the pavement in Mount Dora to get street details, skulking through a Turkish Bath in my swimsuit, getting a reading from a medium in Cassadaga. I take very detailed notes and photos to use in crafting my story.

Authors who use contemporary settings cannot make things up out of thin air. Besides the location, we may need to research pertinent issues to include in our stories. I always try to include a Florida based issue or something of universal interest (like Alzheimer’s Disease) to give my stories added depth. Newspapers, magazines, the Internet, personal interviews, and on-site visits are just some of the techniques we use. Probably the most fun I’ve had for research was going on a couple of cruises for Killer Knots. I challenge you to fault any of my minute details in that adventure.

But what about the vampire and werewolf fiction out there now, and other paranormal stories? Don’t those authors just make up their imaginary worlds? No, because these worlds must be consistent, and they’re often based on mythology or early Earth cultures.

For example, my proposed paranormal series is based on Norse myths. I have several texts on the subject and took extensive notes so I can understand their creation theory. I wrote down the different gods and goddesses, because they play a part in my story as well. For this tale as well as Silver Serenade, my upcoming futuristic romance, I needed to name spaceships, weapons, and/or military personnel. Using the Internet to look up ranks in our own military gave me a model. I also have a collection of Star Trek and Star Wars Sourcebooks which are great inspiration for weaponry, ships, propulsion and such. So even for fantasy, research is necessary. Science fiction is even more exacting because you’re extrapolating what might be plausible in the future or exaggerating a current issue from the news.

So please have more respect for fiction writers. We do extensive research, and a truly gifted writer will not let it show because you’ll be swept into the story. A good work of fiction is like a stage show, with all the blood and sweat and tears going on behind the scenes. All the audience sees is the fabulous performance.

Note: This blog first appeared at http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com on November 13, 2009