You’ve Written a Book, Now What?

Completing a book is a big deal and the work that went into the project from the first word to “the end” is nothing to be sneezed at. But the work doesn’t end there. For beginners, the next steps can be intimidating or confusing. Whenever I go to a con, a retreat, or even a NaNo wrap-up event, I meet writers who are finishing up their first book, or looking into self-publishing for the first time, and I get drawn into long discussions about the industry and how to safely navigate it.

Obviously, this is information people are looking for.

I got all my thoughts on the matter together and wrote them down. I came up with a cute 100-page handbook. It covers the basics, answers the beginner questions, and is designed to alleviate the confusion and stress and set writers on the right path.

There are 4 chapters.

Editing and Revisions covers how to find an editor, what order to tackle your editing and revisions in (because there’s no sense fixing all the commas if you’re just going to rewrite the scene later), the difference between editors, beta readers, and proofreaders, and how much a professional editor should cost you.

Choose Your Own Adventure looks at how traditional and self-publishing work, the querying process for traditional publishing, and the pros & cons of self-publishing. Most importantly, I go over how to spot those scammy presses that pop up faster than we can report on them.

If you’re going the traditional route, your journey is fairly simple after the querying process. The publisher takes care of cover art, final edits, layout, printing, shipping, distribution, all of it. So, chapter 3 looks at the basic mechanics of self-publishing. I go over what each step should cost if you choose to hire someone to help you with layout, covers, or illustrations as well as some basics for if you want to tackle it yourself.

Lastly is the chapter on Marketing and Promotion which looks at what you can do before, as, and after you publish. I go over how to set up a blog or website, and a Facebook author page, and what you can post on each. I also touch on launches and readings and on conventions and craft sales.

You’ve Written a Book Now What? is available for e-book pre-order (with a March 31 release date) from Amazon. The paperback should be ready around the same time (just have to add the page numbers and edit the ToC). Of course, with the current global situation I strongly advocate you order the e-book (and e-books of anything else you’re looking to buy for the next few weeks). Let’s help keep warehouse workers, the printing staff (because it’s print on demand), and the delivery folks as safe as we can by minimizing our online orders during this time.

And while I’ve got your ear (or your eye as it were), if this shut down has put you in a financial bind and you want something to read, please reach out to me. I have some coupon codes available for Rose Garden, my stand alones, and even my middle grade series The Underground if you’ve got avid readers home from school.

Stay safe out there.

 

Keeping Kids Busy At Home

With the Corvid-19 outbreak and the variety of social distancing measures being put in place, a lot of us are going to be stuck at home for 3-4 weeks with our children. Now, I love my kids but their 6 hours a day, 5 days a week at school is the only reason I’m sane, especially in this weather. See, in the summer, they go out the door and they run and jump and be noisy out there where there is lots of space and lots to do.

It’s still below freezing here. That makes this harder.

Add to that, the libraries, play zones, malls, pools, and movie theatres are closed. So, all those things I was doing with my kids during school breaks to keep them busy? Nope. Off the table. Health care professionals are advising no playgroups/playdates either. Stay home.

There’s always screen time, but at some point you need to charge batteries and do we really want our kids playing video games or tapping away at their tablets for 8+ hours a day? So, I’ve been brainstorming a list based on past snow days, school breaks, etc. of things that will entertain my kids, at home, for the next three week.

  1. the school is sending home a work packet. We’re going to aim for 1 hour each day, wherever it fits in, for school work. This may include recorder practice (save me)
  2. screen time – yup, they’ll get it. Generally we limit to 30 minutes video games on the weekends and 20 minutes on school nights (about 1 campaign mission on Halo: Reach on weekends or 1 firefight on a school night). They’ll probably get a full hour each day. Plus a lot of movie nights since bedtime won’t really matter. Also, there’s a coding website for kids called Scratch and some free video editing apps for stop motion animation that we might check out.
  3. Arts and Crafts: my kids have fairly free access to the basic colouring stuff. It’s going to take a little more than that after the first few days:
    1. Finger painting – why not? we have to wash up more often anyways
    2. I have a giant roll of paper so I can just cover the floor and let them paint, colour, whatever on it
    3. STICKERS – bring ’em out and let them go crazy (just not on my floors or furniture)
    4. Bring out the special crafts like painting Christmas ornaments, the wooden picture frames I have saved for emergencies, etc.
    5. Dye eggs for Easter. Heck, don’t wait for Easter. Hard boil some eggs, let the kids draw on them, then eat them (or make egg salad). Bonus – get them to draw villains and monsters on the eggs then they get to smash the bad guys
    6. Make your own puzzles – get them to draw a picture, fully coloured, minimal white space, then glue it to an old cereal box for rigidity and cut into pieces. If you have more than one kid get them to put together the picture made by a sibling
  4. Bath time – bath bombs, tub toys, bubbles. Try extra bubble bath mix and glow sticks then turn the lights off. There are other recipes online for types of slime baths and for tub safe paints. I might have to give those a try.
  5. Chores – mostly, get them to clean up after their activities (if it’s day-to-day stuff like toys or crayons they do it themselves, if it’s a big activity get them to help you). Also invite them to help with the dishes and then load the sink with extra soap and all the plastic stuff and let them play, or play match the socks. Sometimes you won’t be able to make it a game, or your kids are like mine and are too old to fall for that anymore. Chores are important. Work alongside them, model a good work ethic, talk about how knowing how to keep the place clean is an important life skill, use that time to talk about stuff, let them watch videos on your phone while they wash dishes.
  6. Cooking/baking – whatever you’re making, they can help. Teach them to measure and read a recipe. Make an old family recipe. Make fun stuff. Make “we need to eat” boring stuff. Turn snacks into something fun (celery becomes ants on a log). Make meals like tacos or subs or pizza where the kids can build their own (mine like pitas and burritos too).
  7. Read to them. Have a quiet reading time where everyone gets cozy on the couches or in mom and dad’s bed and reads their own stuff. Check out some audiobooks from the online library and listen while you do chores. There are some celebrities reading kids books on Youtube already and others who will be live streaming at various times of the day for the next few weeks. Scholastic books (the book fair people) have special online resources right now.
  8. Play outside when you can but practice responsible social distancing.
  9. Design a comic book

Stay safe, stay sane, and take some time for yourself too.

The 2020 Supportive Creative Challenge

I have a challenge for you. Yes you. You artists, photographers, novelists, poets, playwrights, actors, sculptors, potters, creators of all stripes. I have a challenge for you.

When was the last time you gave another creator a shout out? Why? How many? On what platform? When was the last time you recommended a fellow local creator? A small-timer? An ‘I’m just starting out’ friend? An indie?

It’s late fall and everywhere professional organizations are releasing best-of lists and honouring folks with awards and accolades. Best photos, best art installations, best novels … are they really? Or are they just the best ones to be noticed? The best ones with lots of financial backing? The best of the ones with professional distribution and media attention?

I belong to a non-profit author’s collective. We’re supposed to support each other. We’re supposed to offer each other advice and assistance so new authors don’t get scammed, so we don’t publish with horrible blurbs or ugly covers, so we can split the costs and risks of promotional ventures. We’re supposed to shine a light on each other so more readers can find us. And too often I feel like I’m holding all the candles.

I’m burning out.

It’s my job to find events, pay the fees, find authors to split the costs, coordinate people coming and going from events, set up times, displays, and so on. It’s my job to post people’s readings and launches to the public page, to say “hey, there’s a new release here, check it out”, to add people’s covers and links to their albums so their books are visible. I share events. I invite people. I walk from table to table at conventions and invite new authors to join us.

I love my job. I signed up for this. I volunteer to do this. And everyone I work with is full of thanks and gratitude, and for the most part, they are polite, cooperative, and on the ball. (And since I know a few will pop over to read this, I honestly have ZERO complaints about the work I have done on the group’s behalf these last 5 years).

I’m not saying any of this to complain. I’m not. I do my job and I don’t expect others to do it for me. What I’m talking about here is the above and beyond. I’m talking about the Tweet that went across my feed today asking for #canlit recommendations, the one I retweeted with my own list of local 2019 releases attached. I’m talking about the threads in writing groups asking for favourite authors, new release recommendations, favourite book you read this month, etc., the ones I respond to ONLY with the names and titles of local indie authors, or indie authors I chat with online on a regular basis. I’m talking about having a reader in front of me at a convention and writing SOMEONE ELSE’S NAME on the back of my business card so they can check out an author who isn’t me. I’m talking about loading every new release by every author friend I have onto my grandmother’s tablet every other week because she’s a voracious reader and a random $2.99 ebook sale on someone’s dashboard might be the difference between them writing the next book or giving up.

So, when was the last time you did something like this? When someone asks you to recommend a photographer, do you pull out the big-business’s information or the up-and-comer? When someone asks you for reading recommendations do you repeat what Oprah said or do you suggest someone local, someone self-published? Do you buy your friend a mass-produced print from Target for their house warming or a print by a local photographer?

Maybe it’s just the way I grew up. We had paintings and prints and art in our house, the majority of it by local artists we found at flea markets and street festivals. The giant oil painting in the living room was done by my friend’s father. It’s brilliant. I don’t think he ever got a gallery showing. He deserved one. We bought locally authored books from small presses long before self-publishing started. We frequented small, locally-owned stores over chain stores long before #buylocal got a hashtag. We went to indie muscians’ CD release parties and stopped to talk to authors sitting at the book store with a table full of books to sign. I grew up valuing local, and indie, and handmade. I want to share that with others.

So, what’s the challenge?

I want you, Dear Creator, to boost other creators. I want you to spend 2020 lifting other people up. I want you to seek out “what should I read next” posts and list self-published authors as recommendations. I want you to tag your artist/photographer/crafter/maker friend in every post that might land them a client. I want you to review local short films and local music videos and locally authored books. I want you to visit local coffee shops and shop at local Mom and Pop shops.

Challenges are supposed to have a number, right? Something catchy? 20 in 2020?

I honestly don’t care about a number or a catchy title. I want you to put your favourite creators and artists and authors on blast. I want to start word of mouth wildfires. I want you to push yourself. Do 20 in the year. Do 20 every month. Do 20 every week. Do what your time and energy and budget will allow for. Help as many people as you are capable of.

We’re all awesome at sharing #shoplocal memes. Now lets support local in more active ways – share, recommend, review, buy when possible, show up when possible, and help shed some much deserved light on as many awesome creators as possible.

Who’s with me?

Too Good to be True

I encountered two inter-connected stories this past week or so that got me thinking.

First, a newer author was talking online about their attempts to garner reviews, blurbs, or any kind of attention from several well-known, high-selling authors in their genre. Each attempt was met with polite form letters from secretaries or assistants thanking them for their interest and stating the “professional” author simply had no time to take a personal interest in their writing.

It’s a bummer, I know. I’ve given away copies of a few of my books to different visiting celebs with no tangible results and no way of knowing if they ever read them.

The thing is, someone like Stephen King or JK Rowling or any other big-name author probably is too busy to answer every single piece of fan mail personally. They get letters by the boatload and they’re probably evenly split between fans telling them how wonderful they are and aspiring or newbie authors asking for advice, help, or a good word. They can’t do it for all of them so they have to make a policy of not doing it for any of them. Not to mention, things like endorsements of other authors’ books are probably restricted by their publisher in some way.

And yes, I literally mean TOO BUSY. I mean 6-8 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, in a chair, at a desk, putting words on paper or editing words already on paper, plus meetings with publishers and agents, plus meetings with the film people, plus scheduled public appearances, plus family time, plus eating, sleeping, showering, and travelling, plus personal destress time … and I’m probably missing a hundred little things. They’re people. They have lives. And they don’t owe complete strangers anything.

The second story is much closer to home. I was at Memory Keepers today with three other lovely ladies (one is the librarian in charge of the group, the other two are old enough to be my grandmothers and they are wonderful). We were discussing future meeting dates and how the Monday evening creative writing group was doing.

One of the older ladies, I’ll call her Marie (that is not her real name), was considering going to the evening writing group but wanted to know if a specific lady was a regular attendee. She was talking about a local author, whom I’ll call Karen (also not her real name). Marie does not particularly like Karen and doesn’t like doing writing-related events at the library if Karen will be there. Why is this connected to the first story? Because the librarian said, “No, Karen isn’t a part of that group. She’s too good for our little group. She’s a professional.

Looking back, she didn’t do the self-publishing workshop in our area a few years back either, and as far as I know, she only does workshops if she’s leading them or if an author she considers bigger than her is leading them.  To be fair, she’s a prolific writer, and she works from home as a full-time writer. She claims she makes a decent income from online sales.

What is the difference between “Karen” and JK Rowling? Probably about a million titles sold. And a few movie deals. And a general level of recognition. Yeah. I get that. I mean, what is the difference between Karen being too busy for local writers’ groups and workshops and JK Rowling being too busy to send a random writer a blurb for the back of their book?

I’m a professional writer and I’m busy. I write multiple hours a day on top of raising two kids, keeping a house, editing for myself, freelance editing, marketing, sales and shows, extended family obligations, my own personal needs like eating and sleeping, not letting my marriage fall apart, keeping two pets alive … but I find time to be a part of local writers’ groups (like Memory Keepers) and online writers’ groups. I don’t post every day. I don’t answer every question. I can’t mentor anyone. I can’t volunteer to beta read anymore. I barely have time for reviews! So I get it. I understand what it is to be busy. But I try to be a little active in the writing community. There are people newer than me, less experienced than me, and if I can steer them clear of some of the common mistakes, I will.

I get the feeling that Karen isn’t too busy. I’m sure Karen could find the time for a 2-hour meeting once a month. Everyone has different loads and different abilities but I do know Karen and I’m sure she could manage it. She doesn’t want to, and that makes her come across as better-than-thou, whether she means it that way or not. Whereas I’m sure many big-name authors miss the little interactions with the community, the critiques and the reviews and the give-and-take and the fan mail – the things they genuinely don’t have time for.

I wish we didn’t have to put our nose so hard to the grindstone to make this whole thing work. I wish big-name authors had more time for the little guy. I wish successful little-guys would stop emulating the big-name authors and stay in touch with their local and online communities. I wish the community was important. I wish we could all spare more time for each other. I wish I could mentor and volunteer more of my time but the tasks that make money are the ones that take priority right now.

The little guys, all we really have are each other. So most of all, I wish successful local (to wherever they live) indie authors wouldn’t get too big for their britches and stay in touch with the up and comers. We all started somewhere. Let’s not leave each other behind.

Writing Collabs

I see this a lot in writing groups: “I’m looking for someone to co-write a book with me” or “Anyone want to collab on a project?” or more general questions about sharing experiences with collaborative writing and how to make it work.

I can answer those more general questions.

First of all, when you are cowriting, you need an idea that appeals to both writers in a genre both writers are familiar with and comfortable in, or at least a genre one writing is familiar with and the other is willing to explore. You need to be on the same page (no pun intended) regarding the plot and overall direction of the book.

When I was cowriting, I was a teenager. My best friend and I were creating a massive fantasy world together with complex magical systems and a large ensemble cast. It was self-insertion, big time, with the main characters being based on she and I, and the majority of the cast based on our friends in some way. It was something fun that we worked on during lunch and on the weekends. She was the inventor, she came up with cool scenes and plot twists and world-building facts. I was the archiver, I kept track of the information and blended it into a coherent story and a stable world. She was also the artist, drawing pictures of characters, scenes, and the map.

It worked for us. Until we graduated and life got in the way and she handed it all over to me.

I haven’t done any further collaborations (and I will explain why later in this post) but I did work for many years as a ghostwriter and some of the tips are the same. Like, a good contract makes a good friend. Even if you are working with a friend or family member whom you trust (unless it’s your spouse, but even then …) have a contract laying out who will do what, how decisions will be made when you disagree, the approximate timeline for each draft, how often you need to check in with each other about the project, the credit/payment split for after its published (no, really, settle that before you put even a single word on the paper, not after its written and ready to be published), who owns the rights to what, how much of it you can share publicly, and what will happen if one of the other backs out of the project. Both of you need to sign it and have physical copies of it.

Be open and honest about what you want to do, what you feel your strengths and abilities are, and what you expect the other person to do. Too often, people are asking for collaborators when they really want ghostwriters. The difference? Collaborators are both active participants in the worldbuilding, writing, and editing process – maybe in different ways, maybe not in perfectly equal proportions, but they are both involved every step of the way, and they receive equal or near equal credit for the work. Ghostwriters receive an outline or summary from a client and do 100% of the writing and self-editing phases, sometimes they even do part of the outlining phase too. Someone who knows they want a ghostwriter generally offers a lump sum in exchange for full rights. Someone who is trying to disguise a ghostwriting contract as a collaboration will say “I’ll come up with the idea, you write it, and we’ll split the profits 50/50”. If you’re going to do all the work, get paid up front and let them do what they want with it, or do your own thing and keep all the money – only agree to a royalty split if they’ll agree to a fair labour split.

Collabs are difficult things. You are taking two authors with different ideas, different experiences, and different writing styles, and trying to create a single book. Back in high school, the style part wasn’t too big a deal – we were still trying to find our creative voices so we were experimenting together, exploring possibilities and variations until we found what we wanted. But we had a lot of long, sometimes tense, conversations about how to blend our ideas. Dragons were vetoed, she didn’t want full-size dragons in this series. Since it started as her idea and I was invited in, I had to let that one go. We argued about types and levels of powers for different characters, about how they would react in different situations, about the outcome of different story arcs …

When you write, you get attached to characters, to snippets of dialogue, to scenes, and you don’t want to cut them in the editing process. That’s where the saying “kill your darlings” comes in. For the most part we approached these problems logically, picking the solution that made the most sense for the story as a whole, but sometimes it was hard. I’d have an idea and it would hurt that she didn’t see the genius of it. And I’m sure my reluctance or refusal to consider some of her ideas stung her as well.

This leads me into why I haven’t done a collab since then, or the biggest reason anyway (I also have no time to deal with that level of project right now). I don’t trust anyone enough to work with them on a writing collaboration.

It comes down to trust. Trust that they will hold to the contract. Trust that they won’t dismiss your ideas and then steal them for another project. Trust that they won’t walk away partway through. Trust that they will listen to you with an open mind and keep disagreements civil and logical.

I don’t understand how complete strangers on Facebook can jump into a writing collaboration project together. I just … how do you know if you like the other person’s ideas? Or their writing style? Or the level of graphic content they want to include (violent or sexual, too much or too little)? You don’t know.

Do these people asking strangers if they want to co-write hold job interviews to find the right person? Do they settle for the best of the bunch or do they hold out for the right person? Is it like hiring a secretary or finding a spouse?

Writing is a deeply personal thing for me, even when I’m writing fiction. I throw myself into it. It is a passion. If I’m going to work with someone, it has to be someone I can trust with those deep secrets, those hopes and dreams, those vulnerabilities and fears.

To be honest, I do miss those long walks while Steph and I talked about Zoedar, brainstorming and creating together. And I think, when my kids are grown and my husband is retired, and my life doesn’t revolve around keeping small things alive and bills paid and food on the table anymore, maybe I will find someone who will take long walks with me, someone who wants to take on the vast process of co-writing a book or a series. Until them, I’m going to knuckle under and get through the mountain of projects waiting to be tackled.

And I wish all the co-writing teams out there the very best of luck and success.

Long-Term Writing

I started writing my debut novel in May of 2014. By November I was publishing it (keep in mind that this wasn’t the first novel I wrote, just the first novel I published). Pieces took me less than a year to write. Both were just under 70k,

The Rose Garden took me 4 years two write 5 books, and that was with a MAJOR plot-driven road-block while writing book 2. They ranged from 64k-95k. The Underground took me 3 years to write 8 books of 20-32k each.

But Zoedar? I started the Zoedavian Chronicles with my best friend when we were 15 or 16 – half a lifetime ago. I’m 32. I’ve literally been working on this series for half of my life.

Why? Since May of 2014 I have written and published 19 books and 3 short stories. Why is it taking me 15+ years to write a 4 book series?

Well, book 1 of The Zoedavian Chronicles is roughly 83k, longer than all but 2 of the previous books I wrote. Book 2 is roughly 97k, equal in length to the longest of the previous books I wrote. Book 3 is shaping up to be 130k – longer than any single book I’ve written, nearly as long as the ENTIRE Underground series combined.

The 5 book Rose Garden Series is approximately 382k combined. This 4 books series looks like it will be at least 410k. So yeah, length plays a huge roll in how long this is taking.

Also, 410k? At 15 years old? There was no way I could have finished a project that large at that age and had it be any good. (Trust me on this. I wrote a MASSIVE vampire project in high school and it’s not salvageable – believe me, I tried).

The biggest reason this project took me so long? I wasn’t ready. I keep telling writers to write crap, and I mean it. That garbaged vampire series taught me A LOT about writing. But I knew in the back of my mind that I was writing crap, I was writing practice pieces, and THIS project called to me, I knew it was special, I knew it held potential.

And I knew I didn’t yet have the ability to write it.

I tried a few times over the years, starting it, outlining it, refining it, revising it. I made so many changes as I learned more about history, religion, cultures outside of my own, and how writing fiction ties into politics. I’d play with it awhile and then put it aside. I’d make some changes to the outlining or the world-building and then put it aside.

Then I started both Rose Garden and The Underground and I knew I had to finish those series completely before I started any other large-scale projects. Even though, by that time, I was itching to start on this for real.

I’ve gone further with this project than I ever have before. I’m still making changes, with the help of a talented, dedicated, and thoughtful beta reader. I still add to the worldbuilding. I still doubt if I’m ready to really tell this story. But now is the time. I feel good about this. It’s coming together.

Writing a book or a series that takes FOREVER is a unique challenge. You have to stay motivated to work on a single project for a lot longer. You have to resist the urge to eternally edit/revise and never finish writing. You have to be strict about cutting everything that isn’t necessary because over the years I have fallen in love with countless facts and fun bits that don’t further the story. They will find a place somewhere, but not here, not now. And you have to be willing to let go of things that no longer work, like beloved character names or plot twists. And you can’t give in to the urge to rush through it. I’ve been working on this a long time, I am not going to ruin it now by rushing things.

 

It’s Just a Dream

While this is a semi-common question in any writers’ group, I have seen it or a variation of it pop up three of four times in the last two weeks in one specific group.

What if my main character wakes up at the end of the story and it was all just a dream?

New writers seem particularly interested in this and ask if it’s doable, if readers will be okay with it, or how to do it well.

In general, my answer is NO. Don’t do this. Let’s look at the reasons why the answer is no, and then look at ways you could still explore this trope without upsetting the reader.

So, why is my answer a fairly hard no? First of all, it’s lazy writing. A lot of writers fall back on this when they have pushed their main character too far, stuck them in an inescapable corner, taken something critical from them, or done something unforgivable to them. But it’s okay! It was just a dream! See, the character is fine. No. Just no. If you’re going to be mean to a character, commit to it, don’t flinch away from it, and don’t cross boundaries you or your reader aren’t comfortable with in the first place. As for inescapable corners – go back, redo your outline, fix the plot holes, put some work into your writing and fix it so the hero can fight or think their way out.

Second, it’s not as neat, cool, unpredictable, or surprising of a twist as you think it is. Alice in Wonderland is perhaps the most famous of these stories where Alice is written into an inescapable situation (at least in the movie version, I’m rustier on the written version, apologies) and wakes up. There’s supposed to be a lingering question as to whether it was a dream or not, but considering that her body never moved from her sister’s side? The Wizard of Oz is another, this time the adventure being the dream/hallucination of the main character while she’s knocked out. Again, there is some question as to whether it was fully a dream or not, and in the books at least, she does go back, and in Oz, they know she was really there. The relationship between Oz and our reality is blurry, and the question of Dorothy’s body during all of this is, as far as I know, unanswered.

Third, you’re cheating the reader. Every hobby has a cost. The cost of supplies, the cost of time, the cost of effort. Reading comes at the price of the book (or a trip to the library), the cost of the time it takes to read that book, and an investment of interest, emotion, and attention. That’s why you write engaging characters in the first place, isn’t it? You want the reader to care what happens. You want them to be scared for your character, to cheer for them, to flip another page to see what happens next, to find out how the character escapes or succeeds. As a reader, when I have invested several hours of my time, as well as emotional energy into a character and a story, I want a satisfying ending. “And then he woke up” is not satisfying. But why? Simple. Because none of the trials, stresses, or dangers that I was invested in, none of the risk I was worried about and none of the rewards I was cheering for, matter. They were never real. So, why did I bother reading this book if none of it mattered? And why would I bother picking up anything else by that author?

But, sometimes dreams can be useful, as short term or long term plot devices. How do you use them properly? (And by properly, I mean, in ways that won’t upset your reader).

  1. Short dreams – dreams that are used to show the character is haunted by or scared of something, dreams that reveal snippets of memories, dreams that reveal prophesies or warnings – these are good, useful plot devices. They can deliver manageable chunks of backstory, they can provide foreshadowing, they can develop a character. I tend to make sure my reader knows it’s a dream – either by adding obviously surreal elements or by saying straight out “she knew it was a dream …” or “that dream always haunted her” or “the memory of the dream stayed with her when she woke” at the start of the dream sequence. This isn’t necessary if the dream is short enough.
  2. Dream entering as a superpower or ability – When a character can mentally enter the dreams of another through psychic abilities or magic. Again, this can be useful for sharing memories or backstory, both with the reader and between characters. It can be used to show how a character could tamper with someone’s dreams and the effects of that. Or, the dream world could be a physical realm with its own rules of engagement and physical risks (like dying here means you die out there sort of thing). This makes it less of a cop-out and more of a portal fantasy. Again, make sure the reader knows when they are in a dream and when they are in the real world.
  3. Replace the dream with a book, a magic realm, or a computer simulation – like The Matrix or The Neverending Story. In Altered Carbon, they had digital spaces too. Again, make sure the reader is aware of the setting, and changes in the setting. One of the reasons that The Matrix worked was because what Neo thought was reality was the simulation and he was woken up early in the movie as part of the plot of the movie – not as an escape from the plot of the movie. You also have characters moving willingly between reality and simulation.

The biggest thing to remember is that readers want REAL STAKES. If you cheat them out of the ending, then the stakes, the risks, the dangers, the growth of the characters, it all means nothing. If you are going to use a dream world, or some variation of it, the stakes have to remain real, the risks have to be real. Don’t cheat your story by weakening the impact of your climactic scene.

Other points to remember: own your story and your writing choices, don’t flinch away from difficult situations or choices; clarity is key, make sure the reader knows at plot appropriate times when characters are dreaming and when they aren’t; waking up isn’t a fix for plot holes or bad writing, do the work, fix your story, find a way to get the characters out.

Comma Little Bit Closer

Sorry, I’m a sucker for a good pun … and a bad pun…

Today I want to talk about punctuation specifically as it applies to dialogue. Authors should keep in mind that the US, UK, and Canada may have slightly different rules for this. I’m Canadian, and I read mostly works published and formatted for a North American audience.

Quotation Marks

North American industry standard is to use the double quotation mark to indicate spoken dialogue. “Like this”. Depending on the font you use, they will be curlier or straighter. ‘Single quotation marks’ are used to indicate thought (more on thought and inner dialogue later) or indicate that a word or phrase is being stressed or singled out in some way. (No, not ‘those’ apples.)

Dialogue Tags

A dialogue tag is the ‘he said’ or ‘she asked’ that is put before, after, or in the middle of the dialogue line to tell the reader who is speaking it. Generally, they are separated from the dialogue with a comma.

“Talk first,” she said. (Here, the comma is inside the closing quotation mark and the s in she is lower case)

He said, “Talk later.” (Here the comma is before the opening quotation mark and the t in talk is upper case)

“Can we compromise?” she asked. (Here, the question mark replaces the comma but the s in she is still lower case – this also happens when an exclamation mark is used)

He said, “No, we cannot compromise!” (Here, the comma remains between the tag and the opening quotation mark, even though the period is replaced by the exclamation mark. Note, too, that the period in example 2 and the exclamation mark in example 4 are inside the quotation marks)

“Please,” she pleaded. “I just want to know what’s going on.” (Here, the comma comes inside the closing quotation, as in example 1. The period between the tag and the second portion of the dialogue can be a period or a comma, but it must come before the opening quotation mark)

Using words other than said is a contentious point of debate in the writing community. My preference is to let the spoken words and the action/description tags (which I’ll talk about next) convey the emotion and intent of the dialogue. However, if used sparingly throughout the book, words like pleaded, moaned, groaned, gasped, chortled, etc. can be useful in conveying tone of voice.

 

Action/Description Tags

When you replace the ‘he said’ with an action that happens alongside or immediately following the dialogue or replace it with a description of the scene or the character’s emotions, the rules around the tags change.

“Talk first.” She slammed her hands down on the table. (The comma has become a period because these are two different sentences now instead of parts of one sentence)

He shook his head. “Talk later.” (Again, 2 sentences separated by a period)

“Can we compromise?” Her lip trembled as she struggled to hold back tears.

His chair dragged loudly over the floor as he burst to his feet. “No, we cannot compromise!”

 

Combined Action and Dialogue tags

When you combine the ‘he said’ with the action he is performing as he speaks, the rules shift slightly again.

“Talk first,” she said, slamming her hands down on the table. (Here, the comma inside the closing quotation has returned and the action is added to the sentence with another comma)

He shook his head and said, “Talk later.” (Here, the comma before the quotation mark is back and the action has been added before the tag, joined with an ‘and’)

“Can we compromise?” she asked, her lip trembling. (The ‘s’ in she is lowercase again, indicating it is one sentence and the action has been added with a comma)

 

Speeches

Sometimes a character talks too much and the dialogue requires paragraph breaks. To show that the same person is still talking, you open the quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but do not close them until the end of the speech.

He stood before the crowd and began to speak. “My dear friends, it is an honour to speak before you today. Lots of talking. Talking. More talking. Gee this guy talks a lot.

“That is what it is so important to address this issue today. So, I’m going to talk about it a lot. And some more. I have a lot to say!

“I don’t want to keep you all day, but I like the sound of my own voice so I’m going to talk a little longer. So, thank you for coming to listen to me.”

 

Adverbs

Adverbs generally end in ‘ly’. They are words that add a condition to another part of the sentence.

He ran. He ran quickly. He ran desperately. (Quickly and desperately are adverbs).

Adverbs are overused in writing. One suggestion I came across was to use an adverb if it turned an expectation on its head.

She smiled. We know a smile means happy so saying “She smiled happily” is a waste of a good adverb. It doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence or clarify a detail. “She smiled sadly” on the other hand means something very different from “she smiled.”

In dialogue, we often add adverbs to the end of a dialogue tag to add emotion. “He said sadly” or “She said happily”.

As I mentioned with words other than said, I prefer to let the dialogue itself, the actions, and the descriptions, do the heavy lifting. Adverbs in dialogue tags should be used sparingly.

“Talk now,” she said angrily. (because the adverb is tacked on the end, there is no change.

Angrily, he said, “Talk later.” (Again, no change, except to add the adverb to be beginning with a comma.

Don’t combine adverbs with words other than said. Shouted angrily. Sobbed sadly. Cried loudly. One or the other UNLESS it is required (and really, really consider if it’s necessary) for clarity in some way.

 

Thoughts and Inner Dialogue

There are several options, and all of them are correct. The key to writing a character’s thoughts or inner dialogue, or to writing telepathic exchanges in fantasy or speculative fiction settings, is consistency.

Option 1: single quotations. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. ‘But what I think is written in single quotations,’ he thought. (Note that the comma usage around the quotation marks is the same whether it’s double or single.

Option 2: italics, no quotation marks. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. But what I think is written in italics, he thought. (Note that the comma usage at the end of the italics is the same as if there were quotation marks)

Option 3: italics with either single or double quotation marks. “Speech is written with a double quotation,” he said. ‘But what I think is written in single quotations,’ he thought.

I use option 2 for thoughts and option 3 with single quotations for telepathic dialogue. Whatever you choose, you must use a single option for the entire book to avoid confusion.

 

Written Communications

Emails, text messages, PMs on social media, scrawled notes, written letters … sometimes our characters need to write things down or read things that are written down. As with thoughts, there are a few ways to do this, and consistency is key.

Option 1: single quotations

Option 2: italics

Option 3: italics with quotations

(Do not use the same format for written communication as you do for thoughts)

Option 4: Bold

Option 5: Other punctuation marks. In The Underground I use ~ for short messages like texts. ~Answer your phone. ~

Option 6: Block quotes/modified margins – this is when you adjust the margin, so the body of the text has a 1” margin on left and right but a letter or email (especially if it’s several paragraphs) has a 1.5” margin on left and right

Option 7: Use the narrative to indicate it’s written (He read the letter) and use the same quotations as a speech

 

Questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll answer it for you. If you feel I’ve missed a special case/type of dialogue or if you have other options for thoughts and written communications, comment and let me know.

The Story Bible

That’s not a typo. I’m not talking about Bible stories – I’m talking about story bibles, or story canon. A story bible is a document, folder, or other reference device used by writers to keep their fictional world straight and consistent.

But how do you create one?

Start by recording all the unchangeable facts about your “world” – how your magic works, the climate, the seasons, the calendar, distances between locations, etc.

Next, make a list of characters – their birthdates, gender, name, family connections, backstory. Add to this how they are tied to various plot lines or other characters (best friends, romantic interests, enemies, allies).

Make a list of changeable facts – government, titles, corporate positions, allegiances, etc.

Lastly, make a list of all major plot points, the dates they occur, where they occur, who is there, and how that event changes any of the above facts.

Add to this as you add characters and events.

Why do you create one?

For consistency. Sometimes you have a single author building an extensive universe and a world bible will help them keep their facts straight. It is essential if you have a co-author so you can both stay on the same page. It is common for TV shows as well, where they employ multiple writers, often with a different person handling each episode. Events from each episode are added to the story bible so the next writer knows what has happened, what everyone knows, and the key personality traits and plot points.

It’s all about keeping your facts straight.

Prolific Works

I received a troubling email this morning from an app/site called Prolific Works.

prolific1

The rest of the email was simply inviting me to click the link to upgrade my account. So, what’s so troubling?

I’d never heard of Prolific Works before today and I’ve never given them permission to distribute my books, let alone give my books away.

I went to their website intending to search their database to see if my books were indeed available there or if this was some new site trying to get me to sign up. It’s a little of both. First, though, I couldn’t search via their website, I had to download the app.

I downloaded the app and registered (I will be leaving a review before I delete my account and the app later today). I searched my name and bingo! 1 result listed under fantasy.

The good news is that the only book they have listed is a short story that I offer for free on Smashwords and their associate sites. Which gave me pause. Perhaps this is a Smashwords affiliated distributor? Turns out they are not.

I emailed Prolific Works next and this was their reply:

Hi Casia,

Sorry for the confusion regarding this message! Our company used to be called Instafreebie, and it looks like you ran a giveaway on our site in 2017. Our system automatically generates these emails, so it didn’t realize that you haven’t been active since that time. You do have one book and one giveaway on the site, and the book is called “Roses of Airon.” If you don’t plan on using our services in the future, I’m happy to deactivate your account for you! Again, I’m sorry for the miscommunication, and you won’t be receiving an email like this from us again. Let me know if there’s anything else I can clarify for you.

Aha! So, in 2017 I ran a freebie on my free short story, a prequel to a series I recently finished. If Instafreebie sent me an email about the change in name, I didn’t get it, because I didn’t get any results from the giveaway I ran with them at the time. But in the last 2 years, apparently, the story has been downloaded 200+ times. Sadly those downloads have NOT translated into sales for me. There was no “end” date on the giveaway, which is how it was still live on their site.

I have replied to their email, asking them to deactivate my account.

In the grand scheme of things I’ve lost nothing in this ordeal. The readers who downloaded my short story for free were never going to purchase my books, no matter where they downloaded it from. I’ve written about Free Culture before, and how it is killing the arts, and this is further proof.

I’m glad this turned out to be harmless. I’ve received some predatory emails in the past from sites that want to publish my work for free for their profit. If you have free stories and want to put them on another platform, you can look at Prolific Works. I’m in no position to review, rate, or recommend them, but they’re out there.