Friday, August 17, 2012

Reader Friday: Open Forum

It's Friday, and this week we're leaving the blog open for general discussion. What's on your mind, writing-wise? We'd love to get a discussion going today based on your input. If you have any questions for our bloggers and readers, this is a good time to post in the comments.

Here are some possible topics for discussion (but feel free to add more):

What are you working on these days? How is it going? Are you having any specific stumbling blocks you'd like us to talk about?

Have you been submitting work? If so, how are you finding the marketplace? What's working for you, what's not?

Happy Friday, guys! And as always, thanks for being part of the TKZ community!

48 comments:

  1. Write what you know, flash.

    I decided to go with trying out a serial killer type novel. I guess I really should focus more on computer crime since I'm a software developer and the advice I hear all the time is to write what you know. But, my heart is set on murder and mayhem.

    I think I can do it though. I talk with my husband about it, and I'll just bounce something off him like, "So in chapter five this one investigator says to the other..."

    My husband, being the 30+ year veteran investigator, will go, "No honey, investigators wouldn't say it like that."

    Then I'd break out my voice recorder and hit record. "Really? So how would they say it?" BOOM, I got my "write what you know" down pat.

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  2. Diane--By background & education, I'm an accountant & energy commodities trader/ sales mgr. If I wrote what I know, I'd bore everyone to death.

    Lee Child said in an email to my ITW debut authors group that it's not "write what you know," it should be write what you fear. Writing is about emotion. If you have a passion for the murder & mayhem of crime fiction, you should continue to follow that pull. If you want to write out of your comfort zone--something I LOVE to do--then do your research & make it sound right like you're doing. You are on the right track. Plugging in to your passion is important to sustain you as an author.

    Your supportive husband sounds like a great resource for you. A huge plus all the way around, I'd say. Cheers!

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  3. Diane,

    The write-what-you-know rule tends to be a restriction in my opinion. I would suggest a better approach is to write what you love. No one would argue, for instance, that if you’re a lawyer and have a burning desire to write legal thrillers, your occupation can be a valuable asset in adding authenticity to your courtroom drama. But what’s more important is the story itself. If you’ve come up with a story that you love that incorporates all the twists and turns you crave from a good book, that will far outweigh the technical details. A different way to look at this is to study other genres such as fantasy or science fiction. You don’t have to travel in space or live in Middle Earth to write in those themes. You just have to love those type of stories. The technical details come from research.

    I’ve always said that if you took Lord Of The Rings and changed it to be a science fiction novel, it would be called Star Wars. The same basic story told by two writers who’ve never lived in the settings in which their stories took place. It was all created in their imaginations. The story always comes first. Good luck.

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  4. Thanks, Jordan. And let me add that, in my opinion, any great story can be picked up and dropped into a totally different genre, and still work. That's because great stories are about people, not technical details.

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  5. Or, write what you NEED to know. Where is it your writer's mind is telling you to go?

    Also, write who you ARE. Dig deep into your own well, of emotion and passion and concern.

    Also, fake it till you make it. A lot of stuff you can just make up. That which you can't, leave till later. I try to write a scene the way I think it would go, and if I need "authentication" I put in a dingbat and use that to remind me to research later. I don't want to stop the flow.

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  6. Jim, Who are you calling a dingbat?
    To me, write what you know just means that you'd better either know the field or get expert advice so you don't make a silly mistake. Like John Grisham, in Playing For Pizza, having his hero getting IV Vicodin, even though that drug isn't available for IV administration.

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  7. I always took write what you know from a slightly less literal perspective. I might not know what it's like to be a nurse, but I know how it feels to help someone who's been hurt. I can use that experience to provide an authentic feeling to my nurse character (and my best friend who IS a nurse to fill in the technical details ;) ).

    I'm reading this fabulous book called "Wired for Story" by Lisa Cron that applies neuroscience to how and why we respond to story. There's many wonderful points made in the book, but the one pertinent to the discussion is that we use stories to simulate experience. When we read a story, our brains respond as though we’re having the experience ourselves, as well as filing the information away as a possible solution to future problems.

    Subconsciously, our brains are saying, “Okay, so Harry Potter stopped a magical war and avenged the death of his parents by getting a good education and using Voldemort’s strengths against him. If we’re ever in a similar situation, this might work for us.” Hogwarts (sadly) isn’t real, but the experience of losing your parents is, so when people read Harry Potter, they also experience how to get over the death of a loved one.

    Writing what you know can be about your job, but it can also be about everything else that you’ve experienced in life so your readers can “know” it too.

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  8. "If I wrote what I know, I'd bore everyone to death."

    Hahahaha, Jordan. Me too!

    Thanks all, for the encouragement to stick with what I love to write. It'll keep me writing rather than getting me down in the dumps about a story I have no interest in telling.

    When people ask me how I can write about killing if I haven't actually done it, I just tell them I know what blood smells like and I've put a knife through a roast before. I'm pretty sure at this point I can use my imagination and draw from my senses.

    Chances are, most of the readers haven't done it either. :)

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    1. When an old boss of mine asked how I'd gotten so good at murder, I said, "Practice, practice, practice." He never asked me again.

      You've got the right idea, Diane. Keep the faith.

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  9. I'm currently writing the sequel to my debut book TO SEE THE SUN released in January. I'm having trouble moving on to two main characters. Though both were in Book 1, I didn't really "know" them. Now I'm finding it difficult to keep the first two MC's in their place...in the background. Has anybody else had that problem?

    As to writing what you know, it didn't work for me. The more I tried, the more I discovered how much I didn't know about what I thought I knew! What I'm writing now, the only thing I know for sure is my setting.

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  10. When characters start "acting up," it's a good sign, IMO. Something's bubbling up there. I once had a wife character who was, according to my outline, going to move to her sister's house. But when the scene came, she refused to leave. I argued with her for awhile. She still refused. So I let her stay. And revised the outline.

    Do some deep backstory. The late Harry Harrison did several books in his series, The Stainless Steel Rat, before deep backstory. He then did three "prequels" so he could find out what made his character the way he was!

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  11. Jordan, if I wrote what I knew, I'd have a blank page at close of business...

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    1. No way, Joe. You are a walking bestseller, buddy.

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  12. Diane, I couldn't write about what I know either. My background is in nursing, but I couldn't figure out a way to write funny mysteries with a nurse sleuth. A hairdresser is much more fun for my protagonist.

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  13. Peggy, are you writing a sequel with the same two main characters as the first book, or is the sequel a spin-off novel with different main characters?

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  14. If I write everything I knew the way I see it, it would be kinda trippy and weird and Monty Pythonesque. So I stick with the kind of thrillers that people are less likely to scratch their heads about.

    I am currently on the final draft of my first novella and it has been a fun exercise. One thing that was fun with this story, like was pointed out above, was when a sudden twist to the story I had not intended on popped in. It was as if I suddenly learned some scandalous bit of info my characters had been keeping secret from me.

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  15. Hi Diane- I vote you combine computer crime and serial killing- that hasn't really been done yet!

    Peggy, I have that trouble sometimes. I find that if a couple of characters are pushing their way to the forefront, there's usually a good reason for it. I've had characters who I meant to play a minor role in the story end up basically take it over, and that can at times be a good thing.

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  16. Nancy, this sequel is with two secondary characters from the first book, while keeping the two MC's from Book 1 in supporting roles, so to speak. Make sense? Most of the same folks who peopled Book 1 will flow over into Book 2, and, God willing, into Book 3.

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    1. In my Sweet Justice series, I found my bounty hunter was the character I couldnt leave behind, even though I had thought about focusing on different couples as I wrote forward. But just like in real life, the people you know come & go in your life. I trusted my gut & what I felt would make the strongest, most emotional stories going forward. Sometimes that meant dual plots, where the character journeys still carried the right story arcs for their respective story lines. That felt more like real life to me. The overall character arcs helped me frame the conflicts that best showcased each of their stories. I hope that makes sense.

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  17. TKZers -

    I find the "first page" submissions and discussions informative and engaging. Any thought of other similar exercises, e.g. "character introductions", "action scenes", "backstory insertion" or other?
    Just tossing out there for consideration - any interest or thoughts?

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    1. Great suggestions, tjc. It helps all of us to hear what followers might want to see. Gives us ideas. Always good. Thanks.

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  19. TJC, those are some good ideas. Thanks for the suggestions.

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  20. Peggy, romance writers do spinoff novels all the time. The first book in my Drift Lords series comes out Sept. 21. A secondary character from this story becomes the hero in book two. The main characters from book one still show up, but in minor roles. Ditto for book 3. And while each book is a self-contained story, there's also an overall story arc for the series as a whole.

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  21. Thanks, Nancy, that's exactly what I'm doing . . . or trying to do. It's hard, though, keeping those two MC's from Book 1 I spent so much time with from stealing into things too much now in Book 2.

    I think I need to do what Jim Bell said: take some time to do more background digging into my two "new" main characters.

    Thanks for your responses!

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  22. I have a couple of questions:

    1) How should I address you all? Is first name okay, or should I be using your full names? You all seem like you’ve known each other for years, but as a new reader and commenter on this blog I’m not sure what to do, as I don’t want to offend anyone.

    2) A question about character names. What advice can you give of what to do if the name you have for a long time character idea suddenly becomes connected with a real world event?

    I have a certain name for my lead, it’s the one I’ve used since I started working on this idea years ago and I like it. But in the past year a pretty big scandal has happened in this country and that name (with a different spelling) is the name of one of the key players in the scandal

    The character and the real person couldn’t be more different, they look different, they work in completely different fields (Character: Military Intelligence and Real Person: Business/Media), they aren’t even the same nationality, but I’m a little concerned that the name alone is ‘tainted’ and it could put off an editor, publisher, reader etc.

    I’m nowhere near even approaching a publisher (got to write it first!), but the name and the character are heavily linked in my mind. So any advice please?

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  23. Hi Matthew-
    Welcome! We're pretty informal here.
    As far as your question goes- I'd change the name just to be on the safe side. I've had to change names at the 11th hour for books a few times. I use fakenamegenerator.com if I'm ever stuck.

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  24. Hi Michelle,

    Thank you for the welcome, advice (and the website, that’s going straight in my favourites.)

    Changing a character name at the last minute sounds painful. Have you found that you can maintain a connection with the character when you’ve had to change the name? Or does something get lost?

    Most of my characters have basic nicknames as I’m in the planning stage, (The Contact, The Gunman, The Other Agent), which I use as a shortcut to the character when I’m thinking about them. It just so happens that the one person I named is the one I have trouble with. Ah well, guess he’s going to be The Lead for now.

    And just to add on the subject of “Write What You Know,” I got kind of hung up on this for a while until a writer friend of mine explained how she interprets it. It was something like this:

    “I might not know what it’s like to feel under pressure and afraid as a secret agent; but I know what it’s like to feel under pressure and afraid as a Mum with a sick child. In other words, we can all tap into our experiences and relationships and channel those into writing.“

    All the Best.

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    1. Matthew--Good to have you here & great questions. I had a main character, Payton Archer, who was an ex-pro football QB whose life I took inspiration from another player with real problems. My editor being from NY had Payton Manning in her head the whole time (completely wrong for my char) but she bought it anyway. You never know what ANYONE will have in their heads when they read your book. Only you can decide if this name is a risk or worth a try, but in the end, the main thing readers will love is your character, no matter what his name is.

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  25. Hi everyone,
    Time zones, alas,mean I am always late to the party! Matthew I agree with Michelle on changing the name - when I start a new project I draw up a name list and often I have alternates that I end up using after all. I also find I tend to get addicted to a particular letter and then discover I've named four minor characters all names starting with the same first letter...so I have to change them all over again! I think if you have a name that readers will inevitably associate with a real person (eg. Mitt Romney) or another author's character (say you had a Harry Potter in your thriller...) then I'd change it.

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  26. Oh, and on the formality front. I've actually only met one Kill zoner in person - Michelle - so funnily enough we don't really know each other that well in real life. Via the blog though I think our personalities come through:)

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  27. Matthew, I am sure they'd answer to most polite names. Personally I refer to them all by their spirit names:

    Clare Langley-Hawthorne - Her Royal Highness Lady Australiana

    Kathryn Lilley – Lilley of the Thrilly

    PJ Parrish – Perish Priestess

    Joe Moore – The Perfesser

    Nancy Cohen – La Coiffeuse de Mystère

    Michelle Gagnon – Blooderina

    Jordan Dane – AKTexachic

    Joe Hartlaub – Inspector Joe Jazz

    James Scott Bell – P. Marlow
    Bellringer, P.I.

    or are those their Big Time Wrestling names?

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  28. Matthew, please take note that Basil Sands lives in Alaska, very isolated and existing only on wild game and nuts.

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  29. Nancy, it may have already been done, but I've not read a novel like this ye. Whenever I read in the news about some nurse switching babies in a hospital, that just boils my blood. Women who can steal another baby out of another woman's womb scares the bejeezies out of me. I bet with a nursing background you could bring a lot of expertise to some serious twisting plot elements in a comedy about a mother sleuth finding her baby after such a horrid experience. Of course, she might be consistently thwarted by an evil nurse antagonist conspiring with the villain.

    Michelle, thank you! I'm actually using some of my skills and knowledge to build on the killer's MO. He is a cyber stalker, so I have that much going for me! :D

    I also would like to see what tjc suggested. Character intros is something I think would be fun here.

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  30. By the way in a slightly more serious vein, and since this is an open forum friday...

    Happy Birthday To Me! You can get my book FREE!

    This weekend my new eBook MIDNIGHT SUN will be free all day Saturday and Sunday at this Amazon Link.

    Tell your friends and neighbors, and their friends and neighbors, and the dog catcher, and the mailman and the....


    OOP....i hear footsteps outside...gotta go...might be dinner...where's my rifle?

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  31. I don't get tied to names much anymore, Matthew- plus, they're usually changed in the final editing stage, at which point I only have to deal with them at readings (although I have to confess to being stumped once when someone kept referring to a character by their newly changed name, and for a terrifying moment I had no idea who they were talking about!)

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  32. Basil, I'm looking forward to a Thrilly in Manilly, lol.

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  33. Thank you everyone. On the subject of names, it got me thinking.

    Have any of you had one of your character names become famous in real life after the book was published? Did your small town sheriff end up Secretary of the UN? Did your second murder victim win a medal at the Olympics? Or worse, is your murderer now the leader of a country?

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    1. No, but my first & last name got infamous by two people in a porn video (apparently) & another one with my name flipped around. The online hits & tweets make me cringe.

      And NO, Basil. I haven't SEARCHED for them...or seen the videos.

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  34. Alas for being a day late! What a great discussion. You guys are hilarious. :-)

    My WIP and hopefully first novel is a YA about a couple of teenagers who get magical powers, try to do the right thing and break magical laws, and go on the run from the mechanical mage-hunter things. All while trying to stop a big bad extra-cosmic monster from destroying Earth and every other world. No idea if anybody will want to read it, but it's sure been fun to write! I'm taking it through its fifth draft and fine-tuning it to the YA genre.

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  35. Thank you for the welcome and advice Jordan. I guess when it comes to naming characters I have plenty of time to make a decision.

    All the Best.

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  36. ". . . but it's sure been fun to write!" Welcome to TKZ, Kessie. Your enthusiasm will always come through to the reader. If you love what you write, it's impossible to hide it. Good luck.

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  37. I'm a lawyer. 90% of what we do is deadly dull. It is a jumping off point and gives my flights of fancy an authentic tang.

    Hey, I have a suggestion for a guest poster. Who should I suggest to?

    Terri

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  38. Kessie, your book sounds like fun. Basil, I like the spirit name you've given me. And Diane, Lori Avocato wrote a humorous series about a nurse turned insurance investigator.

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  39. Terri, just caught up with your comment. You can contact any one of us via email, which is on our websites. We'll noodle on the suggestion together.

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