Questionables: The Index

Every now and then, I throw open the comments to writing questions, and then take the next month or so to answer them all at length.  Below is a sorted list of all the answers up to July 1, 2019.  You can also search for “Questionable” since all the titles begin with that, and all the posts are tagged that.   There’s some repetition of questions in there–we’ve been doing this a long time and there’s been no organization so people couldn’t check to see what had been asked–but all the answers are there.  Organized.  Easier to find.  Progress.

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Questionable: What If I Write a Lot of Different Stuff?

Chacha wrote:
I have been writing for a long time, started self-publishing in 2012 . . . [G]iven that I have not yet found an audience, is it likely to kill me that all my stuff is not in the same style? . . . I’ve got romance novellas, romance-adjacent contemporary novels, historical novels. My published contemporary novels are in three (so far) different styles. Two are alternating-first-person POV. One is 3rd/omniscient. One is straight-up 1st person. . .

First, those things are not style.  Style is the way you sound on the page, your word choices and rhythms and world views, and chances are great that your style stays the same no matter what you write. I write ghost stories, romantic comedies, caper romances, demons, etc. but they’re all in my style; they all sound like Crusies. 

What you’re talking about is genre (romance, adventure, etc.). 

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Questionable: How Do You Focus on One Plot When Your Book Has Two?

CarolC asked:
You mentioned you needed to focus more on the Nita and Nick romance plot and less on the Cthulhu plot. Could you expand a little on how you do that? What makes the romance the main plot? My Cthulhu plots tend to take over.

The things that make the romance the main plot are that the major events and turning points are about the romance, the theme is tied to the romance, and the climax is about the romance.   Okay, that sounds obvious, so let’s look at this using Nita as the example because ARGH that’s all I think about these days.

Here are the turning point events:

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Questionable: How Important are the Rules* of Writing Fiction (*Really More of a Guideline”)

Jeanine asked:
I know you’ve said that every writer has their own process and they must discover what works for them. Nonetheless, in your discussions of the craft of writing, you often speak of guidelines for writing or, at least, for the finished product. For example you speak of things to avoid, such as prologues or flashbacks. Have you encountered any occasions where the writer completely breaks the rules or ignores the guidelines that you’ve established (at least for yourself), and what shouldn’t work, works brilliantly?

 

All the time. That’s why I slap the “many roads to Oz” disclaimer on everything I teach. 

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Questionable: Sociology vs. Psychology in Writing Story

Jinx asked about a Scientific American essay called “The Real Reason Fans Hated the Last Season of Game of Thrones.” by Zeynep Tufekci: 

“I read a recent article from Scientific American . . .  with a thesis . . . that the series broke its implicit promise to viewers because when it reached the end of the author’s previously published material, the new showrunners switched from Martin’s more sociological approach to plotting and character development to one that is common to most film and tv writing these days, with a purely psychological perspective.  So… individuals moving through their conflicts with others, in place of individuals within a social framework adapting to others and finding their place in a complex social world.”

Criticism and analysis can be thought-provoking and insightful, but it’s rarely good writing advice.  It’s not meant to be writing advice, it’s not craft, it’s theory.  So while Tufekci’s analysis is interesting, it’s not a practical application for writers (which was not her intention, so not a flaw in her work).  The essay reminded me of my PhD course work (no I never finished the dissertation) when I did a ton of literary criticism, then started to write novels, then did my general exams.  One of my profs said, “Your criticism really changed once you started to write fiction.”  Well, yeah.  After publishing, I was on the inside looking out instead of on the outside looking in.  Big difference.

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Questionable: Why Can’t I Write?

Deb asked:
I used to love to write fiction – fantasy and romance especially. I hoped to publish someday but mostly I just enjoyed writing and living in those worlds. I went through a divorce awhile ago and it rattled some of the carefree feel to my writing but I carried on, believing in the romance and fantasy and hoping for love again. Two years ago, my mom died and going through that and the fallout with my relationship with my dad just broke whatever it was remaining in me that could pretend or believe in the dream. I sit down and try to write fiction and it turns into memoir or how-to or similar. . . . [D]o you have any suggestions on getting my real/dreamer self back? I had resigned myself to the fact that this is the new me, like it or not, but lately I am mourning that loss and just not feeling okay with it.

First, what’s wrong with memoir or how-to?  I love writing non-fiction (as anybody who reads this blog knows, I LOVE the sound of my own voice) and I don’t see it as a second-choice genre at all.  If that’s where your inclination lies now, embrace it.

But you say you’re not okay with it, so my next question is “What is the story you have to tell that you can’t not write?”   

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Questionable: How Do You Start a Memoir?

Carol asked:
I have my MIL’s memoir draft. My question – Would it be a good opening for the memoir to have a “scene” of somewhat dramatic moment in her life? Then go from there. Make it a story of her story?

No.  Also no, and please no.  (I don’t quite understand “make it a story of her story” so I’m ignoring that for now.) Those flash forward teasers (on any narrative, not just memoir) are basically the author saying, “I know this is a really boring beginning, so I’m going to give you this to hook you, and then you’re going to have to slog through the rest.” 

The question I need you to answer before I can tell you how to start this memoir is “How are you structuring this?”

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Questionable: Is Collaborating on a Novel a Good Idea?

Danielle asked:
A friend recently approached me about collaborating. I think we could be great together but she is not a writer. She is a devoted reader and I trust her judgment. . . . What advice or resources would you have for someone taking on a partner? I don’t think she’ll be interested in the grunt work but in the plotting and world building.

In your case as described, I would strongly advise not to.  In fact, run away.

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Questionable: How Do You Move a Story Through Time?

Colognegrrl asked:
I am presently working on a manuscript that has been giving me hell. I know where I’m coming from and where I want to end, but in between are a lot of problems. The main challenge is to fill the time gaps, you know like “this scene is on Sunday and the next important thing happens on Thursday, but what did she do in between? She must have met the guy, she must have done this and that, it’s too boring to tell but how do you take the reader from Sunday to Thursday …?”

This is called a segue and it’s used all the time. The easiest way is to dump everything into a clause: 

“For the next five days, Jane tried to pretend she didn’t care, throwing herself into her work, but on Thursday . . . “

If stuff happens during that time, you may need a full sentence: 

“Jane snapped at her mother on Sunday, savaged a client on Monday, kicked a dog on Tuesday, wept helplessly at work on Wednesday, and then fired her assistant on Thursday when he said, ‘This has to stop.’ Except he was right, so she rehired him and then that afternoon went to see Richard.”  Worst case scenario: It takes an entire paragraph as summary.

The key is to find out if there’s any info in that five days that must be on the page.  If there isn’t, stick with the basics:

“Five days later, Jane . . . “

Questionable: How Do You Start and Develop Subplots?

K asked:
Do you start out knowing all of the subplots? Or do they tumble and bump into each other along the way? Are there certain ways you like to develop subplots? Or do they just come to you?  Are they villain driven?

As I believe I’ve said before, I don’t recommend my method. I never know what the hell I’m doing in the beginning.  I just write.  Characters show up.  Some of them are interesting enough they develop their own plot lines.  Some of those I have to put the kibosh on because they’re cluttering up the story (good-bye, Mort).  Some of them echo the main plot or act as a foil to the main plot, and they deepen what’s happening in the story as a whole, so I keep them (hello, Max and Button).  So for the first discovery draft, I just let them happen. After that, as always, I analyze. And to analyze I go back to basic plot structure.

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