Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - Taking Advantage of a Series


One of my favorite things about reading is finding a series to become deeply invested in. Standalone novels are great, but with a series, you go places with characters you never could with just one book. With a series, there's so much room for growth; stories can progress at a more organic pace. Currently, I'm mired in the Outlander series, having come way late to the game only to be ensnared. When I finish Angels, I'm treating myself with some cozy fireside nights with Voyager.

So since I love them, and since I write them, let's talk series, and how best to take advantage of them as writers.

With any novel, you want to write strong character development. You want your characters to learn from their trials, and apply this new knowledge to the betterment of themselves and loved ones. But all stories have to have ending points, and you can only take a character so far in one story. With a series, you can follow a character through more than one life stage; over a span of several books, you can dig deeper, find new areas of their identity and morality to explore; they will be tested in different ways. And by the end of the series, the readers will know far more about the characters than they would after just one book. For instance, a couple might fall in love in one book, have children in the next, struggle against middle age in a third. A series allows us to stay with characters we love, and watch them grown and learn and evolve.

A strong series supports a larger cast than a standalone novel. I am a tremendous fan of ensembles, because I think that variety appeals to a wider range of readers. There's a greater chance readers will find a favorite character amidst the large cast, or several favorites, hopefully. With a series, we can stay within the same "world," and with each book, explore the life of a different background character, the central figures of the previous books now serving as secondary, supporting cast. This is why it's so important to create three-dimensional, believable and likeable supporting players. You want the audience to want to know more about them; you don't want them to be yes-men for the main character, or simply filler to bulk out a group scene.

A series allows for more complex plots. Action should always reach a crescendo and find a denouement in each novel, but in a series, plot points can be stretched from one book to the next. Every issue doesn't have to be resolved; you can build upon conflicts, take them to higher stakes, more dramatic planes. You can have immediate villains, and long-term antagonists, who keep showing up when the audience most wants to hear from their favorite baddie.

Currently, my favorite part about series-writing is the flexibility afforded by indie publishing. Where once storylines would have been tweaked and forced into strict genre boxes, there's now the creative freedom to write a series that is true to the people populating its pages, rather than one that adheres to convention. My series isn't strictly romance, isn't strictly literary fiction, isn't strictly anything, and I can write it as it ought to be written.

I love series. I love the way they crush me. I love the way I wait years for the next installment (NOT. Looking at you, George R.R. Martin). But as a writer, I love that they give me a chance to interact with my readers. They have been so encouraging, and that makes my job fun.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Happy Birthday, Madre


Yesterday was my mom's birthday, and it turned into a busy, back-and-forth day. She and I attended a baby shower, and had just enough time to put the horses away before a celebratory dinner, and then this 8-Layer ice cream cake. A bit of a misnomer, because there's not any cake in it. I layered crushed gluten-free cookies with coffee ice cream, cool whip, chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, and fudge sauce, stacking them up again and again, freezing between layers, and I was so happy with how it turned out. The best part about no-bake desserts - you can't mess them up! Sort of a guarantee of yumminess.

I hope she had a happy birthday. My mom and I have always been close, sharing a love of horses. We spent many years managing a farm together, and I feel so blessed that as an adult, I can say my mom and I are friends. I hope she always knows how much I value her love and support, and her honesty. She has been my cheerleader when I couldn't cheer for myself; my shoulder to cry on; the quiet voice saying "You can do this" when it really counted.

She is my first reader - before it goes to editing, before anyone else sees any of my work, she reads it and gives me her unfiltered opinion. She's read Angels, and she thinks my readers are really going to like it. Actually, she said, "They're going to love this." Fingers crossed that she's right.

Happy birthday, Mom! Love you.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Workshop Wednesday - POV


In the interest of everyone doing what works best for her, let's talk about point of view. And then let's talk about why it's not as important as some people think. 

Okay, so, we know that point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. The narrator perspective. There are three types of narrator (more or less, let's keep things simple):

Omniscient - this is an outside narrator, one who is not participating in the story. The word means "all-knowing," and an omniscient narrator is a source-less voice that relays all the events of the story, showing intimate knowledge of all the characters. This POV was much more popular a long time ago, and is not en vogue now.

First Person - I, my, me, we.

Third Person - He, she, they.

Then you've got your tenses.

Present - The snow falls, and I dance through it.

Past - The snow fell, and I danced through it.

I write in third person limited past tense, using multiple narrators, and scene breaks to shift between them. In the nineties, it was common to come across third person narratives in which the narrator shifted between paragraphs, the perspective hopping from head to head to head. I always figured it out, but it's more confusing, I think. So I like to end a POV with a clear scene break before I go on to the next. Only one character narrates each scene that way. Much more tidy. This also enables the writer to keep characters and readers in the dark for suspense reasons - if you don't know what the villain is up to, he can surprise both the character and you later.

Apologies - that's about the most rudimentary breakdown possible. But now we're getting to the part that I think is more interesting. That is, my point that POV is essentially unimportant. Because POV is a stylistic choice, and what's most important is that the story be told in a way that best conveys the author's intentions. A way that stirs the most emotion in the reader, and endears the characters to them most effectively. An author should always stay within the proper POV rules once choosing one, but it's the other aspects of his or her prose that snare readers and sell the story.

There's an even mix between first person and third person narrative style in the work of my favorite authors. Lestat tells his own first person stories - how could he not? He's the Brat Prince! He could never settle for being spoken about when he could do the speaking himself. Whereas in the Song of Ice and Fire novels, all the prose is in third person perspective. Is either story less intense in this instance? No.

I've been told that first person POV helps readers feel more like they're inside the world of the story, really living the action. I don't think that's true. I can be thoroughly engrossed in a third person story. What accomplishes this feat is an author's attention to detail, their development of a sensory experience within the text.

I'm going to write out the same scenario, in several different ways.

First Person Present Tense:

I sit astride my horse, waiting for my number to be called. I'm nervous, and so is the horse.

First Person Past Tense:

I sat astride my horse, waiting for my number to be called. I was nervous, and so was the horse.

Third Person Past Tense:

She sat astride her horse, waiting for her number to be called. She was nervous, and so was the horse.

Third Person Past Tense With More Detail:

She laced her fingers through Bedlam's mane, and felt the rippling of his skin beneath her knuckles. He twitched his withers, like he was shaking off a fly. "Easy," she murmured, and with the tip of her tongue tasted the film of powdery dirt that had settled on her lips in the warm-up ring. Her peach lipstick was coated. Just like the tops of her boots, her wool coat sleeves, the creases in the leather of her white gloves, pristine no more. She took a shaky breath, and the horse echoed it, massive ribcage swelling between her legs. "Easy," she repeated, as the sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades.

**

More than anything, realism, attention to detail, and physical manifestation of emotion sell a story. When we talk about POV, we should talk about finding consistency within it - no jumping between first and third on the same page, no swapping of tenses. My point isn't that POV is unimportant in general - it is! Consistency is key! - but that POV isn't important when it comes to creating lovable, believable characters. Go forth and write in whichever POV makes you most comfortable, and your comfort will shine through in the way you deftly handle the text.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Southern Snow


I have spring fever. I have it bad. Yes, I'm glad I don't live in Boston, and yes, I'm glad I'm not buried under feet of snow, that this morning's snowfall is just a crunch underfoot, and the horses have already slid through most of it down at the barn; its just deep red skids in the clay, now.

But I don't like winter. I always say I like it aesthetically - winter images do wonders for creativity - but I don't like living in it. Summer is holy down South, and snow just these rare miracles that send children dancing in circles down the street, heads flung back, tongues held out to catch the falling flakes. It melts the moment it hits the asphalt, and then freezes again, invisible ice sheets that can't be plowed or scraped or bit into with snow chains. It shuts the world down, when it snows in the South.

I'm not ashamed of that. The South wasn't built for snow. It's for layered-up humidity, and jeans with real holes in the knees; red clay powder settling against your lips on those dry horse show days; that old dying charm, the shriveling soul that still cares about architecture, and literature, and creeping wisteria and flower-decked melancholy reminiscent of the British elite that once settled this rich elbow of the country.

If I do nothing else as a writer - and most days it feels like that - I want to write the South properly. The South that sometimes feels as if its dying beneath the wheels of bad country music and self-imposed embarrassment.

I'll take this last rally of winter, and use it to my advantage. I'm yearning to get this book finished, because once the flowers start to pop, and the air currents begin to warm, I need to be outside again. I need to get tanlines and get back in the saddle, and allow myself a brief moment to feel human again, and less like a pair of hands glued to a keyboard. Writing is my port, my passion, and an outlet for the guilt I often feel - I don't have much of anything to offer to much of anyone, but I can write, and write I will. But it will be nice, for a little while, to enjoy the melting of snowflakes into springtime, once Angels is finished. Not long now...Just a little more to go...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Music Monday - 2/23


Story inspiration songs today. It's been my hope, as I share tidbits and teasers, that I'm not presenting Angels as a religious story, because it certainly is not. But thanks to the nature of it, I do love playing up the imagery of wings, of flying, of unearthly grace. There's something ethereal and special for me in this book, and so the music becomes reflective of that. There are section of the narrative that feel bluegrass and melancholy in my head, so that's where I went with today's picks.

"I'll Fly Away" - Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch

"Dust to Dust" - The Civil Wars

"If I Die Young" - The Band Perry

"Blackbird" - Sarah Darling

"Wayfaring Stranger" - Jack White

Friday, February 20, 2015

Price of Angels - Chapter Two

If the teasers are making it harder to wait for March 25, then reading this may not be the best of ideas. :) Otherwise, please do enjoy Chapter Two of Angels. Trigger warnings for violence. Typo warning because this is raw text. Thank you, dear readers! I hope you like it.

Chapter One if here if you missed it.


 

From
Price of Angels
Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Gilley
 


Two

Matches. Michael kept innumerable packets of the things in his gun safe at home, all lined up in rows in a shoebox. Matches from restaurants and liquor stores, saved up over the years. Matches were the trick to this whole operation. He collected them like rare stamps. Because without them, he’d just be putting a body in a hole, and that was too crude and negligent to serve his purpose.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Romantic

There's only so much you can know about a character until you get inside his head. Up till then point, you're just reading the reactions of others, seeing him from the outside. But when you slip into his skin, you see him for who he really is. It's what makes writing a new book like unearthing treasure.

Listen to me. I'm absolutely writing in the wrong genre.

Writing Michael has been a surprise from Day One, primarily because I've realized that he's such a romantic character. Not romantic in a superficial way. No worries - there's no heart-shaped boxes and red roses and candlelit dinners. He's romantic in an elemental, emotional way. I do love Byronic heroes, after all. Michael has a touch of Heathcliff in him - he feels things deeply, in a way that doesn't make logical sense to him. Red rage and cold hatred and deep, moving sentiment like waves rolling on the inside. He's not charming and he's not sweet; he's also not the trash-talking badboy, or that tattooed renegade; he's old school romantic.

I didn't expect this from him at he beginning, and in so many ways, I'm disappointed, because he doesn't fit into this genre like I wanted him to. I guess I'm not surprised - things going the way they're supposed to would be too simple. And I guess I can't do simple. My Achilles heel.

So I suppose this is a warning...? So you're prepared going into Angels. This isn't an MC novel. It's a character novel that happens to center around members of an MC. You were warned...

Price of Angels - March 25, 2015