Monday, January 30, 2017

Let Your Readers In

The latest issue of Writer’s Digest has a wonderful article on Archer Mayor. He’s a medical examiner, but technically he states his title is “Death Investigator.” Mr. Mayor writes police procedurals and because of his background and experience, he has a lot of ideas from which to draw.

Mr. Mayor said while leading a writing workshop he wondered, “What makes a happy reader?” His answer is allowing the reader in. Develop your plot and characters so that readers are pulled into the story – the story becomes their own.

He said, “You don’t want them to even know you are in the room.”

This statement hit home. While waiting for my second author presentation, those gathered early started to discuss my book with me. But before I knew, they were talking amongst themselves about the characters – like I wasn’t even in the room. It was a strange feeling, but I took it as a huge compliment. As Elizabeth George says, when people are talking about your book, they are talking about the characters. And that was what was happening. I had let my readers in. My characters were very real to these readers.

I am rereading the article on Archer Mayor, titled “The Corpse Stops Here,” because this author provides great advice and food for thought for my writing life.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lulu Titlescorer

I recently became aware of the Titlescorer feature on Lulu’s website. Lulu is a self-publishing website that allows authors of all genres to create, print and sell their books. I knew about them, but didn’t know that one of the features they offer for anyone is a non-scientific (but fun) title scorer. When you put in your title, it tells you the calculated success rate. Their website states:

The Lulu Titlescorer has been developed exclusively for Lulu by statisticians who studied the titles of 50 years' worth of top bestsellers and identified which title attributes separated the bestsellers from the rest. We commissioned a research team to analyse the title of every novel to have topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List during the half-century from 1955 to 2004 and then compare them with the titles of a control group of less successful novels by the same authors. The team, lead by British statistician Dr. Atai Winkler, then used the data gathered from a total of some 700 titles to create this "Lulu Titlescorer" a program able to predict the chances that any given title would produce a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. The fruit of this work is presented here, in the form of the Lulu Titlescorer: a program that you can use to gauge the chances that your own title will deliver you a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

Even so, this is not an exact science. Far from it. In fact, Dr. Winkler advises that the Lulu Titlescorer should, in practice, always be combined with use of your own low-tech judgment.

It is not an exact science, but let’s admit that the concept is fun.

I put in the working title of my next book and it scored only 10.2%. I put in a couple more ideas and they, too, came in at 10.2%. I came up with a title that sort of fit, and that came up at 26.3%. So I have been brainstorming to come up with a better title. Until early this morning when I went back to Titlescorer to put in another suggested title and I took note of the three drop down filters that I hadn’t paid too much attention to before.

This morning I did pay attention, selecting exactly what the first word was (noun, verb, adjective, etc) and exactly what the second word was. When I put in my working title, all of a sudden it rated 26.3%.

Having said that, the first thing I did before considering a title was run it by Amazon to see if/how many books had the same title. When I started my second book, I wanted the title to be Unintended Consequences. I put that in Amazon and whoa – so many books already had that title, and so I decided not to consider it.

Have fun playing with Titlescorer, but remember Lulu’s advice – this should be combined with your own judgment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Writing is therapeutic

I’ve been thinking about voice – again, and what makes my work different from the zillions of other mystery books that have been – are being – written? It comes down to voice. Only I have “my” thoughts, “my” feelings, “my” take on life. And that’s how An Unexpected Death, my first Caitlyn Jamison mystery came about. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a writer!  It was because I was upset and frustrated with what was happening in our country. I needed to express myself. But how?

Writing is therapeutic became my mantra. It helps us make sense of situations. And that’s how the story began. What was discovered after the fact was through the writing process my voice appeared. I was able to share my thoughts and feelings through my characters. And readers, I subsequently learned, love the characters.

Writer Meg Rosoff states, “…In our voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.” That is each writer’s challenge. Be true to yourself.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Writing is an art

My blog silence over the past month is due entirely to the fact I have been spending hours editing the first draft of my second Caitlyn Jamison mystery. Right now it is over 83,000 words filling 230 pages. That’s a lot of words to read, mull over, and decide – is each word, each sentence, necessary to move the story forward? Does each word, each sentence best describe what I want to convey? Are there better words, better sentences I could use? That is why we edit multiple drafts.

I look at writing a novel similar to an artist developing a painting. The first draft of a manuscript is like the artist’s first outline sketch. An artist then applies layers of color, layers of detail until the painting is complete. So, too, does a writer layer in “color,” and detail in the form of description, setting, action, and character development until the story comes to life and is complete.

As I work through my first draft, I consider have I provided enough layers of character and setting description to bring readers into the story.  That is something I ponder at the end of each day. And at the end of each day, thoughts come to me about what could be added that could better describe a character, setting, or move the plot along.  I keep my writing journal close at hand and jot down those random thoughts as they come – then consider them at the next day of editing.

Of course I worry. I worry about whether the picture I am painting will satisfy my readers. I think about them a lot. They let me know they are still out there waiting. In the last week I have had four people ask about how the next book is coming and to make sure that I am continuing with the same characters.

My challenge is to “paint” a picture of the characters and setting that will get readers back into the characters and setting, as well as providing them with a story line they will enjoy.