[…] A writer is working when he is staring out of the window. — Burton Rascoe. I’ve been frustrated at the keyboard lately, struggling to get the tone of “The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill” right. After several weeks of experimenting with different solutions, I’ve decided it’s time to do nothing. By doing nothing, I can […]
Archive for August, 2016
I first discovered C. Hope Clark through her Funds for Writer’s weekly newsletter. Soon I began looking forward to Friday afternoons, waiting for the newsletter to appear in my inbox, full of markets to peruse and advice about making money from writing.
After waffling back and forth for several months, I broke down and ordered her book, The Shy Writer Reborn. It is still my favorite writing go-to guide several years later. The poor volume is dog-eared, highlighted, underlined and hasn’t been shown any respect. It’s a book I learn from each time I open it up.
And then, I read Edisto Jinx, and fell in love with Hope’s Edisto Island Mystery series. Like the gift that keeps giving, Hope is the author that keeps delivering, be it writing that draws you right into the pages of the story, or through her wise words of wisdom about how to develop and market our world of words.
To celebrate the release of her newest book, Echoes of Edisto, Hope is our guest blogger today, sharing her thoughts about the charm and challenges of writing a series. This guest post originally ran on Trisha Faye earlier this month. To reach out to those interested in writing, we’re reposting today on Writer’s Zen.
Enjoy these nuggets from one of my favorite authors, C. Hope Clark.
The Charm and Challenge of Writing a Series
By C. Hope Clark
A good mystery series grips me as reader, reeling me in to devour every book the author’s released . . . and to buy every pre-order often months ahead of release. As an author, molding a series carries a similar sense of charm and magnetism. I love sitting down to the desk with characters who feel like family.
Authors spend a tremendous number of days, weeks, even months, sculpting the world of a series. The place, the time period, the main characters and those sidekicks and secondary players that give this recurring world depth and flavor all add to this compilation that will hopefully maintain readers itching to buy book two, three, or like Janet Evanovich, 23 books in the Stephanie Plum mystery series.
First, let’s consider why readers love series. What is the magic formula that returns them to the same characters time after time?
Familiarity: Everyone loves to return to a place where they are remembered. To some it’s like coming home. To others, it’s more of revisiting a comfortable setting full of people we already know . . . people we understand, somewhat predict, and can let down our guard with. Instead of walking into a strange place full of the unfamiliar, we fall right back to where we left off, understanding the jokes, weather, buildings, traffic and community.
Ease of choice: With too many books to sort through for our next read, readers will leap toward the next in a series rather than a new author. Reading a series reduces the frustration of choosing something new that might not be worth the investment of time and money.
Accomplishment: While silly to some, readers find a sense of achievement in keeping up with a series. Not only do they feel they understand the players more intensely, but they also feel closer to the author. Becoming an expert in a series makes a reader feel a kinship with the creator.
Momentum: We live in a time of bingeing. Video games, television series on Netflix, movies sequels. Watching all the Lord of the Rings in one day sort of bingeing. A thrill shoots through readers when they discover an author with multiple books already published, and that thrill deepens when those books are a series. We like sliding from the end of one book to the start of another.
But from another angle, what drives an author to stick to one world and write about the same characters? The same feelings as readers do, maybe with a different spin.
Familiarity: Having a world already created enables stories to build upon the previous releases. The author already knows the behaviors, settings, clothing styles and weather. There’s a comfortable use of assumption that isn’t allowed in a stand-alone novel or the first in a group.
Ease of choice: Many characters return, giving the story a foundation from the opening page. Authors can more quickly select characters to make decisions because they can base action and reaction upon established behavior and past experiences. There is a sense of ease to writing in a world already designed, tried, and tested.
Accomplishment: A satisfying delight comes from writing book four, five, eight, or ten in a series. While an author can write the same number of stand-alones, the fact they’ve perpetuated the same package for so long, with readers following and begging for more, carries a serious feeling of accomplishment. Sue Grafton could have written 24 different books with 24 different characters, but instead she wrote 24 books about Kinsey Millhone. Which is more memorable?
Momentum: A story jumpstarts quicker for an author when the setting and players are already waiting for their marching orders. A book has a story and a character arc, with both changing over the course of the tale. A successful series has not only individual book arcs, but also a series arc, where the characters deepen, grow, learn, and change . . . maybe even the setting shifts as the series propels itself further. Each book is a stepping stone. When arcs quit occurring in a series, when the characters stop evolving, the series falls flat.
But there is a writing challenge in continuing a series. At first blush, a series appears simpler since, after all, a lot of the work has been done in the earlier books. However, series carry their own difficulties for the author.
Originality: The reader knows the world you’ve built. While they want more of the same, they also want fresh material. How do you take the familiar and infuse novelty into it without undermining the foundation?
Evolution: The reader enjoys this series’ universe, but they don’t appreciate it remaining static. Where is it going? How is it growing? What occurs in book four versus book three that changes the experience for entertainment’s sake, but also without disturbing enough of the old that keeps your reader coming back?
Character Growth: The protagonist in the first book isn’t quite the one in book six. A lot of water has flowed under that bridge, and each experience in each plot has changed that person. Novels cover life-altering, mind-bending events. Upheaval and confrontation make human beings adapt to circumstances as part of an evolutionary process instilled into our DNA. We try not to make the same mistakes, and we try to learn lessons that will make our futures easier, safer, and brighter. The difficulty for the writer is to continue these changes from book to book, piling on the education, while keeping the character likeable and familiar enough for the reader to still love.
Series have their charms and challenges. They remain keenly appealing to reader and author alike. It’s human nature to return to the familiar. However, sometimes the author has to shake that series up a bit to keep it crisp and spunky. And the reader, whether they know it or not, don’t want that world to be so familiar that it’s no fun to return to.
BIO: Hope Clark has written six novels in two series, with her latest being Echoes of Edisto, the third in the Edisto Island Mysteries. Mystery continues to excite her as both reader and writer, and she hopes to continue as both for years to come. Hope is also founder of FundsforWriters, chosen by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com
You get to ask strange questions, if you’re a writer. A lot of the times, the questions are the purpose in themselves. Sometimes, you even get real answers. I just finished perusing an internet’s worth of Lichtenberg figures. Yup. The marks left behind–on objects, or on people-by a lightening strike. There aren’t a whole lot of…
Carmen Welsh, a multi-talented writer and artist, is a guest blogger today at Writer’s Zen. This post originally ran on Trisha Faye and we’re reposting today at Writer’s Zen. Join her as she tells about an experience she had during her MFA program. Defending your genre may be an issue that other writers encounter. See how she handled the dilemma facing her and how she defended her genre with strength and professionalism.
Defending My Genre
In the MFA program, before each semester, we must submit a 25-page manuscript. The reason for this is so we can, during the then days on the university campus, workshop that particular piece.
In the entire MFA student body, all three genres are usually represented: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Many come from other states as well as other nations. Most of the student body stayed in hotels or university-sanctioned inns during the ten days. Our workshop classes consisted of four to six students on average. Each class taught by a mentor according to the workshop students’ genre.
In this third semester, we were all female, including our mentor. As somebody who started out in childhood with mostly male friends, because many female peers weren’t into comics, video games, and/or drawing super-heroes/super-sheroes if one was in art class. I remember classmates during grade school who often acted mean to me or any girl that did not fit a certain mold.
However, as an adult, I have since ended up with friends nearly split down the middle, gender-wise. I went along with the sisterhood hype of my graduate school friends and workshop buddies.
Perhaps it would be a good thing for once to be in an all-female group, I thought the first week.
The first few days involved discussing what we each had written/submitted by email and feedback we received from each classmate. Most of my feedback made sense, sounded intuitive, and, during the feedback sessions when the writer must remain silent, I took a lot of notes. I made many changes to the writing.
It was probably by the second week I began to get a sense the mentor wasn’t exactly on board with my story. Not with its ideas, just the overall existence of it. I can’t say what those social cues were because they ran as an undercurrent within her feedback and constructive criticism.
One of my classmates, who didn’t know me well at the time, seemed to side with the mentor. Two of my classmates that did know me and knew my writing beforehand because they both read my blog, defended the draft.
Each day in workshop, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. It wasn’t even the nervousness of work-shopping my prose baby, it was an inkling of disapproval. As if I shouldn’t be using such a literary device.
Eventually, I didn’t feel confident in approaching the mentor. I seemed to receive a sense she wouldn’t listen even if I wanted to discuss my concerns. I panicked because I was in my third term, a pun-intended critical time as this would be when all third-semester students worked on a Critical Essay, a precursor to writing one’s thesis. I wondered if I might have to drop out this term. I couldn’t picture this mentor assisting me on such a crucial paper, not with the way she reacted to what would become my Master Thesis. My confidence in the mentor fell each time her comments about my draft meant more on changing it completely rather than fixing it. I wondered if I might have to take an extra term to graduate.
I went to the program director and asked if I could speak with him. At the end of the day, back in my hotel room, I emailed him a professional rant. The next day, right after morning seminar, I approached the director and he took me aside. He explained that he must get the mentor’s side of the story, which was fair. He also explained that because we were all writers (the entire faculty are professional authors in different genres), we tended to overreact when it came to criticism. His friendly and teasing manner put me at ease but I still worried about the mentor’s reaction.
During workshop, my insides felt in knots and crumbled pieces. When workshop finished for lunch, the mentor asked me to stay behind. My friend from our first semester together, looked back at me with worry. I thought, and I think she did too, that this felt a lot like detention. I made sure I remained as calm as I could.
The mentor lit into me. She was annoyed I actually ‘went behind her back to speak to the director when I should have come to her first’. I was angered. I am almost forty. I was done being talked down to. She continued her tirade that if I couldn’t handle constructive criticism, how far would I go as a writer? That’s when I stopped her and explained that I have a number of publications to my belt and have attended writing workshops since the late 90’s. I understood the model, how it worked, and that many of those classes had taught me plenty about the business of writing.
Those early ideas to take my writing seriously were given to me first by a caring English professor who directed me to my first Creative Writing professor. I never thought it could become a career choice. I didn’t even know that “furry” was a genre!
The mentor wanted me to change everyone in my story to human, including my male protagonist, but to keep only my female protagonist as a canine! She also explained that from the dog’s POV, she could observe human behavior from a distance. I told the mentor that wouldn’t work because there was supposed t\ be a romantic involvement between both protagonists and how would that look if she remained a dog and he was now a human? I told her I didn’t write those things and I didn’t want to be known as THAT kind of writer.
“But you won’t find an audience unless you change it! People will think this story is for children!”
“Not true. I thought of my stories as a hobby. But a professor changed my thinking when she encouraged me to continue to write these kinds of stories and to find the markets for it.”
“And did you find that market?” she asked.
“I did! Because rejection after rejection, I finally found my first publisher in September 1999.”
I told the mentor that once I began to navigate freelance writing did I learn there was a market, a genre called “Anthro” or Furry. Because of this market, I found a fandom that would embrace my writings. That would respond to my art work.
“There is an adult audience for this genre!” I said. “And I’ve worked with editors. I know how to take criticism. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be published!”
“But I just wanted you to change the premise to science fiction!”
“I love SF and Fantasy. I love the film The Secret of NIMH and read the book it’s based on: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I also watched several versions of The Island of Dr. Moreau. I tried having humans and dogs coexist within this story and though that might work for my other stories, it didn’t work in this one. Believe me, that was the first draft! I tried and the story just wouldn’t work. Once I removed the humans is when the story hit its stride for the first time.”
I gave her the abridged version about this novel as an idea I came up with back in sixth grade summer school. If after all those years, I have been working on this project on and off, don’t you think I have tried different ways and writing styles to tell this story? The more the mentor asked questions and the more I explained my position did I see her expression change from anger to disappointment to realization to understanding.
I also told the mentor that not only did I learn about a genre and fandom I didn’t know existed, but, I also joined a writer’s guild where all the members write in this genre (Shameless plug for the Furry Writers’ Guild) and that I have been a member for almost five years.
“You’re part of a guild?” she asked.
Her face changed. “Every writer needs a community.”
“And I found mine.” I said.
Lunchtime was an hour and my mentor now showed a renewed interest in my story. We went to lunch together. The more I explained why I wanted my story in the historical genre is when she began to ask me the right questions and give me the right feedback. We discussed what book lists I should annotate.
The program director later told me in private, “I see you two made up. See? You were overreacting.”
When I presented my idea for a critical essay about Aesop influencing anthropomorphism, the mentor approved the topic.
But when friends in the program (many I later graduated with in 2015) asked what happened, they became angrier than I felt. They understood the mentor’s earlier ideas would have undone the entire premise for my thesis. My family was also angry, as well as coworkers and my supervisor, all of whom had read chapters here and there from the fledgling draft and were familiar with my body of work.
Upon finishing the ten days and returning to my job, my supervisor wanted me to tell her the whole story. Her expression agog, she said, “I don’t think I could’ve been as calm as you. Oh my G*d, you went Julia Sugarbaker on her!” I laughed at the Designing Women reference.
UPDATE: A chapter from the manuscript has been published as the short story “Night Sounds” in the literary journal Prick of the Spindle Issue # 9. It’s available not only on its official website but on Amazon.com in print and as an e-book. Carmen Welsh plans to polish the completed manuscript this year.
Carmen Welsh holds an AA in Art Education, a BSc in Web Design, and a MFA in Creative Writing. She’s published short stories, illustrations, essays, and articles in fanzines, e-zines, online journals, and in print journals. She’s an official member of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) as well as the Furry Writers’ Guild. Four out-of-print stories became podcasts or reprinted. Her latest short story is “Night Sounds” published in Prick of the Spindle.