Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Long and The Short of It

by Janis Susan May

Whenever I am asked to blog, I start to panic. My gracious host/hostess tries to be reassuring and says, “Oh, it’s nothing – just two or three hundred words, that’s all.”

Two or three hundred words? That’s ALL? There are days I can’t convey “Good morning, I would like some coffee please,” in two or three hundred words. Two or three hundred words are nothing.

I suffer from hyper-verbosity, and someday someone should host a telethon for those of us who can’t say anything succinctly. It’s a curse. I had sold two full-length novels before I ever sold a short story – and then it was almost six thousand words long! Give me seventy five thousand words and I start to feel comfortable. One hundred thousand and I’m as happy as a… well, whatever is the happiest you can imagine.

I never cease to marvel at those writers who can condense a world, a story, a relationship and unforgettable characters into just a few thousand words. Category romance writers leave me open-jawed with admiration. Give us both the same characters and set-up; they create a tight little story focused on two people and the flowering of their relationship in just fifty thousand words. I take the same information and eighty thousand words later I’ve woven in not only their love story, but the feud between their grandparents, the history of how their town was settled, why the mayor is a crook and the best way to do laundry in hard water, and am just really getting started! Novellas? I call them chapters.

Someone once said that short stories were miniatures, limned with tiny delicate strokes and that novels were murals, painted with broad brushes. What does that make me? A paint sprayer?

Whatever it is, I like it. I like making the big gesture, telling not only the big story, but all the little stories that make up the big story. Why do certain characters feel that way? It isn’t enough just to state that the hero hates the color purple; to make him real to us we have to know why he hates the color purple. (Make up your own reason for this example – my current hero has no prejudice against purple, at least, not that I know of!)

I’m not saying that writing short is easy; quite the opposite. I’ve tried and I’m not very good at it. I admire people who can, and I know how hard they work at it. One of my dearest friends writes children’s books that run from a thousand to fifteen hundred words. Once I wrote a seventy-five thousand word mystery in just about the same amount of time as she wrote one of her children’s stories. Certainly I typed harder and faster, but I don’t know which one of us worked harder. She is amazed that I can produce so many words and create complex worlds. I am amazed that she can do so much with so few.

See? I told you. This short little blog entry (“… just two or three hundred words, that’s all…”) has already grown to almost six hundred, and I haven’t even begun to write about what I really wanted to say. However, out of consideration to you, I’ll let that wait for another day. Besides, I really do have to research why my heroine’s town’s mayor is a crook and why she has to do her laundry in hard water!

Hyper-verbosity. Someone really does need to do a telethon for us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making characters real: problems and crises

Clara Bow in 'Wings' (1927) (sourced from Wikipedia Commons)One of the ways you can make characters 'real' to yourself and to your readers is by giving them problems: real issues they have to struggle against and which readers can appreciate, empathise with and care about. To add to conflict and interest, characters can have more than one problem or issue to contend with.

Here are some problems characters can have:

1. Divorce - getting one, being divorced, starting over.

2. Being widowed - guilt, grief and starting over.

3. A child dying - for an added twist, the theme of a child given away at birth to adoption or who’s lost touch with parents through separation or divorce. Feelings of a the feeling that parent when that child dies or is killed. For child given away to adoption, now that child will never get in touch.

4. Identity - race, class, families. Who parents, sister, brother, grandmother, etc., are or were. Also what were their true natures?

5. A stranger who claims to be a relative getting in touch for first time or after a gap of many years. A missing relative suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

6. Loss of a job, parent, family member, home or lover.

7. Guilt - real or imagined.

8. A secret - it's being discovered, having to tell it, needing to keep it, having to overcome it.

9. Emotion - jealousy, possessiveness, inability to feel, coldness, anger, blinding hated, feelings of being unfairly treated or victimised, resentment, smothering love, fear of being left alone.

10. Time - juggling lives, fiting everything in, deciding when to have a child, deciding when to change jobs or when to move.

11. Neighbours or others’ dislike and resentments. Possibly some active and dangerous hatred.

12. Nature and environment - storms, fire, flood, dangerous animals, dangerous seas and skies. Quieter problems of nature - for instance for a sculptor: will this stone or wood crack? Or for a photographer: will this light or scene last?

13. Relationships - older man and younger woman, younger man and older woman, different faiths or cultures, different classes. The relationship of young man or woman with a stepchild older or as old as himself or herself. The relationship of a stepparent to a stepchild, or between new step-siblings - a sudden new sister, for instance, or brother.

14. Ill health - the character's own, or the illness of a parent, brother, sister or lover.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Trailers And Other Ways To Promote

To start with I'll say I'm weeding my way through all of this and finding I really like making bookmarks and things like that. My newest venture was to have a book trailer made.

I think it came out good. I still have question like:

Will this help me reach readers?
Will they like it?
Does this type of promo and mailing out bookmarks help increase sales?
Another thing is I have a short story out with and a novella out with, should promoting them be any different?
So chime in and let me know what type of promo works best for you?
What as a reader do you like to recieve as promo items?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making Time to Write

Where did April go?

Or for that matter the first three months of the year?

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old but time seems to fly by faster with each passing year. I know it’s my imagination because there’s the same amount of time in each day and month every single year…nevertheless, sometimes it gets me into a panic. How can I find more time to devote to my novels?
I stopped writing fiction (well, other than short stories) for almost ten years so these days I feel more compelled to make up for my lost time.
So here are some ways I’ve found to squeeze in more writing time. Hope some of them will work for you too.

Make It a Priority
If you’re serious about writing, it shouldn’t be too hard to put it on your ‘must do it’ list. Look at it as a chore you have to do, no questions asked.

Give up Something Else
One of my hobbies is gardening and as I live in an area where the growing season is short, I tend to get carried away once it’s time to head outside again. However, now my fiction writing is back in full swing, I’m looking for ways to cut down on garden chores. Now I can still enjoy my hobby but it doesn’t compete with my writing time.

Push Yourself
Back in the old days, I used to work on one project at a time but I’ve changed my approach. Right now I’m working on contemporary romance and three novellas. If you don’t think you can do it…and I didn’t, give it a try. It’s easier than you really think.

Write Anywhere
I was once the sort of writer who needed complete silence or I couldn’t write a word. Now I like either music playing in the background or I’ll even watch TV as I write. Train yourself to write just about anywhere and you’ll get more done. And be sure to take a notebook with you wherever you go. Pull it out when you’re waiting at the dentist’s office, even getting your hair colored.

Dinner in a Dash
I love to cook, but when I’m in the middle of writing a new book, I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen. I also use the time after we eat supper to write fiction so I don’t want to waste time washing dishes either. My answer; plan a week’s worth of meals at a time and stock up the freezer or even pull out the slow cooker.

And here’s a book I highly recommend The Everything Meals for a Month by Linda Larsen. Believe me, it’s a writer’s best friend.

If you’ve found some more ways to squeeze in more time for writing, leave a comment. I’d love to hear your tips.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author of A Sterling Affair, Death Likes Me, and The One and Only. A Sterling Affair will be released in print by The Wild Rose Press on June 5th. Her newest book, Sleeping with Fairies, will be released August 3rd by The Lyrical Press. Read excerpts and learn more about Susan at

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