Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How I Write: Research - How To Research & Knowing When To Stop

Welcome to the third installment in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's episode: How I Research, and Knowing When To Stop.

Let's start with the latter question first. How do you know when to stop? Ultimately, when it's time to sit down and write, the time for research is over. Research, like endlessly revising a manuscript or trying to create the "perfect" opening sentence, paragraph, or chapter is really just procrastination dressed up as perfectionism. Research, like creating character bios, timelines, plotting, and so forth, exists to help you write a better, more entertaining story. It is not an end in itself. When and if it starts cutting into your writing time, you've done enough.

When I stand in front of my computer to start my dailing writing session, I put aside research. If there are questions that need answering, I either fake it (and plan to come back and put the real facts in later) or I just make a note to myself to "insert researched data here"...and keep writing. Letting myself get sidetracked by chasing down information during my writing time is a great way to waste a day. If I really need to do more research, it will get done some other time. In the evening, when I'm done with my writing for the day.

If by "knowing when to stop" you mean how do you know when you've accumulated enough data about the topic at hand...that's when the rule of diminishing returns comes into play. While a few well-chosen nuggets of historical/technical/cultural data can be just the thing to make your story real, too much of it bogs your story down. You'll invariably dig up a lot more information than you'll be able to use in a given story, though you can always use it later, in other stories. If you're collecting trivia? You've gone too far.

Ah, but how do I research?

I start with Wikipedia and Google. Wikipedia (a user-edited online encyclopedia, if you've been living in a cave for the last few years) is a great starting point. It's almost useless for politics and any other hotly-contested subject, but otherwise it's fairly helpful in getting an overview of a non-controversial topic, but its primarily useful for the citations to original sources. You needn't take anything for gospel--you can follow the links, or search out the sources with Google to confirm them. And in many cases, a quick overview, maybe some descriptions or pictures of the plants, animals, architecture, weapons, tools, or whatever are all I need.

If I need more, though, Google is a godsend. I remember sitting at home as a child (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) thumbing through our encyclopedia (which got more out of date with every passing year), or trolling through the local public library or school library. It was a crapshoot whether I'd find much of anything about whatever topic I was obsessed with at the time. Now I type search terms into a computer in the privacy of my own home and can find out as much as I want to know on any conceivable subject. If it exists at all and it's online, I can find it quickly and easily, more often than not. If it's not online, well, that's what Amazon and other sites are for. I can find an actual book on the subject, buy it, and have it delivered to my door.

Once I've found my sources, it's simply a matter of determining how deeply I really need to delve, and then making notes of the salient points. As I said, less is often more. A smattering of details for flavor, backed up by research to assure that I don't make any egregious errors, is what my research is all about.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Write: Plotting and World Building

Welcome to the second weekly post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. You can go here to find a list of all the participants with links to their individual blog posts. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

This week's topic is wide open: Plot, character arcs, and world-building--whatever we want to tackle.

I'll start with plotting. Mostly, I don't. That is, I am a seat-of-my-pants writer. I've tried plotting out my stories beforehand and it never works for me. I haven't given up on trying--I think it would be a useful tool for my toolbox, but so far it's never worked. I get an idea and try to flesh it out, but I keep spotting holes in the plot, so I tinker and tinker with the plot until it dissolves like wet tissue paper and I give up on it.

What does work for me is making up the story as I go along. I start with a scene conflict--usually the opening scene, but not always--and just start writing. As events unfold I discover what the plot is. This often involves going back and adding scenes earlier in the story to lay the groundwork for a later conflict. Sometimes it means reworking a scene or throwing one out entirely. Such scenes go into my "cut scenes" file, where they may eventually be recycled, in whole or in part, in another story.

*I should point out that I'm not really 'discovering' anything. I'm making it up, but it often feels like a discovery because a lot of the work goes on in my subconscious. I don't like it when people disown their agency, when they speak of having a muse, or of muses speaking to them--or deserting them. Own your creativity, people!

As for world building--I repeat, I'm a seat-of-my-pants writer. I've written superheroes, fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary fiction. Just like when I start a story with minimal plot, I start with a basic idea of what sort of world the characters inhabit. Often those details are dictated by the story I want to tell; some particular details of government or culture or geography are required to make the story work. The other details often don't get fleshed out until they come up in the course of writing the story. This would happen anyhow--no writer can anticipate all the details she'll have to provide to make the world real to her readers. But it can be exciting--and sometimes a little scary--to discover, as your characters do, that some facet of the world around them is going to materially influence the plot.

The most recent example of that is in the recently-completed manuscript for my SF novel about the man who repossesses starships. The starships take off and land like jet aircraft. When they get high enough--in air too thin for the air-breathing jets to function any longer--they switch to onboard rocket fuel and the jet engines function like rockets to take them out of the atmosphere. (Such engines don't actually exist yet, but they've been contemplated and they're feasible.) Only then, in vacuum, can they fire up the FTL drives that take them from one system to another.

I decided all this the first time I wrote about my hero making off with a starship. It was just color--until later in the manuscript, when the fact that starships need long, long runways to land on when they de-orbit affected the plot. It sent my hero on a cross-continental journey he hadn't anticipated, and meant that many more obstacles to achieving his goals. I fleshed out a great many other details about the world in which he lives, some of which I will have to go back and add to earlier scenes as I work on the first revision of the novel.

Plotting and world-building are both very organic processes, at least for those of us who don't plot it all out ahead of time. And for me, at least, that's part of the fun. I'm never quite sure what I'm going to write, so it's often as much of an adventure fore me as it is for the characters. And, I hope, the readers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Excerpt: Flying High (paranormal erotica, NC-17)

Welcome to Excerpt Monday! A number of authors are linking to and from the Excerpt Monday home page, and you can read excerpts from all of them. Follow the links and enjoy!
FLYING HIGH by Gail Roarke

A paranormal/urban fantasy erotic romance short, is available from Cobblestone Press.

It's another Excerpt Monday and that means--an excerpt! In this case, as if you couldn't tell from the image above, an excerpt from Flying High, the first of several erotic shorts in the very unofficial "Sex and the Single Superheroine" series.


Iron Maiden can fly through the air and bend steel in her bare hands. But finding a man to satisfy her may be the one feat she cannot manage. Not only is her first attempt rudely interrupted by bad guys, but mere mortals find her strength intimidating--and none of her fellow crime fighters is up to the challenge. She's beginning to think she's doomed to a life of celibacy--until she meets the enigmatic Black Knight and discovers that the sky's the limit!


Leah was trembling on the verge of an orgasm.

For the last half hour, a man she knew only as Steve had been giving her incredible oral sex. His mouth had worked wonders, reducing her to babbling incoherence as she writhed with pleasure. After he'd eaten and fingered her to one orgasm after another, he'd climbed up to loom over her with a smug grin as he slid his gloriously hard cock inside her.

Strangers shared the bed with Leah and Steve, another couple named Suzanne and Bill. Suzanne was on her elbows and knees facing the headboard, head resting on her crossed arms, Bill kneeling behind her. Suzanne's heavy breasts swayed with every thrust of Bill's hips. Leah occasionally met Bill's eyes as he watched her with Steve, sharing a knowing grin. It was daring enough that she was having sex with a man she'd only met an hour ago—to be doing so in public only added to the thrill.

Leah was very glad she'd worked up the nerve to contact their host, Ron, by instant message. She'd chatted with him for hours, asking questions, flirting and allowing herself to be cajoled into coming to this party. Actually showing up tonight had been scarier than facing any armed criminal or supervillain.

She'd been shaking when she knocked on the front door. A bearded man in his forties had opened the door. Leah had introduced herself with the pseudonym she'd given him online. He'd introduced himself as Ron and invited her in. There were a dozen people in his living room in various states of undress. Two large mattresses took up most of the floor space. Ron had introduced her to them all, but she'd been too nervous for the names to stick in her memory.

The next two hours were surreal. Leah watched with fascination as men and women made love right in front of her, mostly couples, but occasionally threesomes. Leah didn't participate. She was still too nervous—and frankly too caught up in watching at first. She'd seen porn videos before but had never witnessed other people having sex in front of her. It was startling and a little shocking.

It was also arousing. She found herself squirming in her seat, feeling flushed with excitement. Her nipples were erect, and she could feel the moisture between her legs. By the time another man named Steve had arrived, her arousal had trumped her nervousness.

Steve had wasted no time before inviting her to play with him. She'd agreed but wasn't ready to do so quite so publicly. He had smiled, taken her hand and led her upstairs to one of the bedrooms, where he'd taken her in his arms and kissed her, beginning the slow seduction that had led to this moment.

And then, of course, it all went wrong....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How I Write: Ideas--Where Do You Get Them?

Welcome to the inaugural post in the How I Write series. This series of posts is the brainchild of Ansha Kotyk, who--along with the other participants, including Yours Truly--haunts the forums (registration required) of the Romance Divas website. We'll each be posting on the same topic each Wednesday for the next two or three months--longer, if it goes well and we're having fun with it.

So, today's topic is ideas. Specifically, where do I get them.Or more broadly, where does any writer get them. SF writer Harlan Ellison once famously replied, "Poughkeepsie." But he's infamous for not suffering fools gladly, and many a writer tires of being asked just that question.

The answer is that ideas are everywhere. They're thick on the ground, a glut on the market. It's not getting an idea that's difficult, it's turning an idea into a completed story. Most professional writers will tell you that they have more ideas for stories than they'll ever have the time and energy to write--something many non-writers don't seem to understand. More than one famous writer has been offered an idea in return for his doing the work of turning it into a story, after which the idea man and the writer will share in the bounty sure to flow from this partnership. That's rather like handing a sculptor a block of wood or marble and saying, "You make a sculpture of a dolphin, and we'll share the profits when it sells." Not a very enticing offer.

I have files full of ideas on my computer, and partial stories. I have notebooks scattered around the house with notes, story synopses, and short character bios, all of which could be turned into stories eventually. Some I've had in my mind for years but have never found the right way to spin into fiction. Others come to me and get turned into stories almost immediately.

But the question is: where do I get them.

I get them by looking at the world around me and asking questions. You can look at your family, your friends, your co-workers, strangers; you can look at the neighborhood, your home town, your nation, or the world. You can look at the news, or other works of fiction. You ask, "What if?" And then you consider the possibilities. What if things were different, in small ways or large? What if people behaved different, individually or collectively? What if two very different people were attracted to one another?--leads to any number of romance stories. What if you received an invitation to a magic school?--J. K. Rowling created Harry Potter. What if some new technology made it impossible to conceal your thoughts from those you loved? What happens then?

Another good question is, "Why?" When you notice someone doing something eye-catching, unusual or odd, ask yourself why. Why did that happen? What would motivate someone to do what you observed? What was his purpose? What was his goal? Discard the mundane answers, the easy, off-the-top-of-your-head answers. Dig deeeper. Look for something more intriguing.

What if? Why?

I'm partial to speculative fiction (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, comics and superhero stories). What if a young woman with superhuman strength wanted to try bondage? Who could bind her? How? Bound by Convention was the story I wrote to answer that question for myself. What if someone defaults on the payments for his multi-million dollar starship? Well, someone would have to repossess that starship for the bank, wouldn't they? I just finished the first draft of a novel about that someone. A dozen other writers could tackle the same idea and produce a dozen other stories--better or worse or just different.

The idea is just the starting point. What you do with it is what matters.

Next Week: Character/World-Building

Below is the current list of contributing writers to the HOW I WRITE blog series.
Click a link and find out HOW I WRITE!  (in alphabetical order, check us all out!)
Kendall Ashby Corbit- Rated R
Kristine Asselin – Rated PG
Tatiana Caldwell – Rated R
Jennifer Carson - Rated PG
Isabelle Flynn - Rated PG
Ansha Kotyk – Rated PG
Laura Pauling – Rated PG
Alexia Reed – Rated R
P.M. Rousseau – Rated R

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It's June Already?

Wow. Time flies when you're up to your elbows in a novel. I began my second novel, a science fiction story, at the beginning of April. By the end of April I had 60,000 words done. May went rather slower--about half as fast, in fact. By the end of May I finished the novel with 98,000 words. It's not done, of course. Not by any means. That was just the first draft.

I'm letting it sit for a couple of weeks. I'll spend the next two weeks* working on short stories. Then I'll print the novel out, and go over it, rearranging a few scenes, maybe tightening some and lengthening others, and cleaning up typos. That'll be the second draft.

Then I'll let my spouse--and my first reader--have a look at it. Assuming Spouse doesn't point out any major problems, I'll give it another quick polish and send it out into the cold, hard world in search of a home. That should take me until the end of June.

At which point, it will be time to start a third novel. My goal for 2010 is to get four novels written and circulating. The longer-term goal is to do the same every year for the next four years. That should result in 20 novels in the hands of publishers, which means a) I'll have that much more practice** at plotting and writing novels, and b) with practice and persistence, the odds should be pretty good that I'll have sold at least one. And to a major New York publisher, mind you. That doesn't count shorter novels I may or may not write and submit to smaller, possibly online epublishers.

In the mean time, I intend to start posting to this blog more regularly. Beginning on the 16th of this month, I'll be posting every Wednesday on the topic of How I Write. I'll be participating in a multi-blog effort, wherein all the bloggers will be posting on the same topic each week. It should be fun, and with any luck, educational for everyone involved. Stay tuned for that!

*I spent most of the last week suffering from a summer cold and doing very little writing.

**Assuming I'm starting from scratch (which isn't true), and assuming that, as it is often said, a writer has to produce a million words of crap before writing anything good, twenty 100,000 word novels is TWO MILLION words. Given that I've already sold a number of shorts, I like to think that I'm closer to breaking in than that. But the only way to find out is to keep writing and pitching, so that's the plan.