Brain Science Offers Solutions for Writer’s Block

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Have you ever sat in front of your word processor, waiting in vain for words to flow? How can a writer reclaim her creative muse when her “boys in the basement” go radio silent?

This topic–breaking through writer’s block–is of particular interest to me. I’m one of those people who alternates between periods of intense, almost compulsive creative activity, and long stretches of floundering in a creative trough. So it was very heartening to read that  science offers strategies that can help people like me produce more consistently.

Rewiring the brain

In an article published in WD in 2012, Mike Bechtle argued that mere willpower is not the most effective solution for breaking through writer’s block. He suggests that we rewire our brains to get back into the “flow”.

Here were my major takeaways from Bechtle’s article:

  • Write first thing in the morning, when alertness and energy levels are typically at their highest. (My note: If you can’t write first thing in the morning, try to write at the same time of day every day. Your brain will “learn” to kick into gear at its regular writing time)
  • Fuel your brain with a nourishing breakfast (Think eggs and fruit, not an apple fritter)
  • Limit distractions (Don’t check email or messages before writing, and don’t read a newspaper, turn on the TV, or listen to radio, either)
  • Keep writing sessions short (The brain can focus intensely for only short periods of time, according to Bechtle)
  • Apply glue to butt (Stay seated while writing, that is!)
  • Don’t set your expectations too high

Other strategies

In my first foray as a fiction writer back in the 90’s, I was a contract writer for the Nancy Drew series. The schedule for those books gave me little leeway for writer’s block. As soon as the chapter outline was approved, writers were given six weeks to complete the novel. Six weeks! I had to write those stories so fast, I felt as if I was hurling words at the word processor. Every project was a race to the finish line. “Writer’s block” was a foreign concept.

Then my editor left, and the publishing landscape changed. I stopped writing NDs and began to vaguely contemplate writing something on my own. Inertia quickly set in. Months became years, and I hadn’t written anything new.shutterstock_156007538

15 minutes a day, that’s all we ask

I happened to read an article by Kate White, who is an author and former editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Her advice to getting started? Write 15 minutes per day, first thing in the morning. No. Matter. What.

To act on Kate’s suggestion, I had to set my alarm for five a.m. instead of six. That extra hour gave me enough time to down a cup of coffee and generate 15 minutes of quality writing time, before I headed off to my day job.

White’s advice worked for me. Fifteen minutes of writing daily eventually became an hour. Soon I was producing a minimum quota of a page a day.  (Yes, I know: a single page a day isn’t impressive as a quota. See the last bullet point of the previous list about lowering expectations.) A few months later, I had completed the first draft of my new novel.

Your strategies for breaking a creative logjam?

How have you broken through a creative dry spell in the past? Any tips you can share with the rest of us?

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Religion in Mysteries

While at Malice, I was on a panel about Religion in Mysteries. It’s a topic I really hadn’t thought about before. So how do mystery writers handle this subject? Fellow panelists were authors whose protagonists included a hospital chaplain (Mindy Quigley), a minister (Stephanie Jaye Evans), a rabbi (Ilene Schneider), and a Scotland Yard Detective (Anne Cleeland).

clergy  priest  rabbi

What made my series different was that my sleuth Marla is a hairdresser. As I told the crowd, women see their stylists a lot more often than their clergymen. They willingly confide in their hairdressers and overhear juicy conversations in the salon, whereas people confess to priests or to chaplains on their deathbeds. So while people approach the ministry to be absolved for their sins, Marla has to worm their secrets out of them. Thank goodness she’s a skilled conversationalist.

The moderator posed some interesting questions. If those other protags were not clergy, would it matter to the series? And if my heroine was more religious, how would that change things? Ask yourself this question about your main character. In Marla’s case, it would make a big difference. She’s not particularly religious but she has a basic belief in Judaism and follows the traditional holidays. As the series progresses, so does her romantic relationship with Detective Dalton Vail who isn’t Jewish. This probably wouldn’t happen if she were more devout. They enter into an interfaith marriage where they respect each other’s traditions and beliefs.

Here’s another question to pose to your characters: How does their view of religion color their view of the world? Marla’s outlook is more expansive. She encompasses other viewpoints with tolerance and understanding. A priest or rabbi’s attitude will be focused on their own kind, while a hospital chaplain has to minister to patients of all faiths.

What role does religion play in your books? Is it a central or peripheral part of your plot? Does religion influence your protagonists’ search for justice?

How important are your protagonists’ careers to the stories? Would the slant be different if they were police professionals or hairdressers or members of the clergy?

Do holidays play a role in your stories? I’ve had Passover, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and New Year’s in my series, if you count the book I just turned in. Holidays in my books are where friends and families gather and where their ties are strengthened. But you could easily have a contentious family gathering where tensions escalate instead.

seder table    seder wine

Perhaps this thematic content is something you haven’t considered before. But as a writer, your views of religion and sense of right from wrong color your perceptions. Do they influence your protagonist’s view as well?

Read my report on Malice 2015 here: Malice 2015

Contest Alert!
Enter May 7– 21 to win a signed copy of bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan’s historical mystery, Death of a Dowager, and a $15 FANDANGO gift card to enjoy a movie this summer. Two runners-up will each win an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2). http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

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Five Inspired Gifts for Writers

If you’ve ever struggled to find a perfect gift for a writer friend, Buzzfeed has come up with a list of 32 suggestions. I surfed the web and turned up five more interesting gift ideas for the writer in your life:

1. Aqua Notes

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Every writer knows that some of the best ideas occur to us while we’re in the shower. Aqua Notes notepads contain waterproof sheets of paper– now you can scribble down those great ideas before they go down the drain.

 

 

 

 

2. Antique Book Leather Case for a Smart Phone

1iphonecaseThese distressed leather cases for smart phones make it look like you’re toting around a vintage book. You can even customize some of these cases with your own text.

 

 

 

 

3. Bamboo Bathtub Caddy

1bathrub A spa caddy lets you read in the tub while you’re drinking a glass of wine. What could be better?

4. Shakespeare Insult Generator

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My favorite. The Shakespeare Insult Generator suggests creative ways for telling off any “obscene rump-fed horn beast” who cuts you off in traffic. I had to buy one for myself.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Night Writer LED Pen

How many times have you wished you had one of these? These LED pens let you write in the dark without disturbing others.

Let us know if you have any more gift ideas to add to our list!

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Character Development from the Heart

Welcome to guest author Joanna Campbell Slan. Joanna is the creator of three mystery series and winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Literary Excellence. She has been a television talk show host, an adjunct professor of public relations, a sought-after motivational speaker, and a corporate speechwriter.

Tell Me Who You Love: Character Development from the Heart
Joanna Campbell Slan

Here’s the Test

There’s an old adage: “Tell me who you love and I’ll tell you who you are.” It’s a great test to apply to our characters. Ask yourself, “Who or what does my character love?”

What Characters Are Driven to Do

Love is not only powerful; it also makes fools out of most of us. As authors we can use this primal drive to explain situations that would otherwise seem absurd.

Think back to Gone with the Wind. In the book, it’s Scarlett’s love for Tara that compels her to marry one unsuitable man after another. It’s her love of family that sends this fragile flower out into the fields to work like a common laborer. And her love of Ashley Wilkes forces her to remain beside his wife, Melanie, even as the Yankees approach.

Love Causes Conflicts of All Sizes

We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, but love for life’s small pleasures can also cause our characters problems. Kiki Lowenstein loves food. Especially desserts. In many of my Kiki books, this amateur sleuth’s attention gets side-tracked when someone waves a particularly luscious treat under her nose. In one book, a nasty crafter ruins Kiki’s artwork while Kiki is too busy eating a gingerbread cupcake to keep an eye on her materials.

Telling Versus Showing

Of course, it’s not enough to tell our readers that our character loves someone or something. We have to show this emotion in practice. One way is by forcing our characters to make tough choices. When Cara Mia Delgatto adopts a Chihuahua with a broken leg, she doesn’t need one more complication in her life. However, she’s willing to adjust her world to accommodate the ailing pup because he’s a rescue dog, and Cara is all about second chances.

How our characters spend their time is another way we show what they value. If a character doesn’t spend time with his children, readers might assume they aren’t an important part of that character’s life. However, if a tattered family photo falls out of the character’s wallet as he pulls out a dollar bill, we have to believe his children matter, but something keeps him away from them.

Characters can demonstrate their love by their reactions. Perhaps your character’s voice changes when he’s talking to his wife. Or maybe your protagonist gets teary-eyed when coming across a man’s jacket in her closet. These responses show the reader a powerful emotion at work.

The next time you create a character, ask yourself who or what this particular player loves. Make a list. Using what you learn will help you build a more realistic, well-rounded character that readers will relate to.

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JoannaSlanJoanna Campbell Slan is the national bestselling and award-winning award of twenty-books, both fiction and non-fiction. She has taught writing at Illinois State University, to executives at large corporations, and through Internet courses. She currently writes two mystery series.

Contact her at http://www.JoannaSlan.com or http://www.fb.com/JoannaCampbellSlan

 

 

TearDownandDieThe first book in her newest series is Tear Down and Die (Book #1 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series/4.8 out of 5 stars). http://www.amazon.com/Tear-Down-Delgatto-Mystery-Series-ebook/dp/B00H5R8LK2/ref=pd_sim_b_5?ie=UTF8&refRID=1PBTAGS96KEWBVZ3TNB7 or http://tinyurl.com/TearDD

 

 

Contest Alert! Enter May 7– 21 to win a signed copy of bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan’s historical mystery, Death of a Dowager, and a $15 FANDANGO gift card to enjoy a movie this summer. http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

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Internal Conflict

Nancy J. Cohen

When developing your characters, you’ll want to give them internal conflicts as well as external ones. What do we mean by this? The internal conflict is an emotional struggle that inhibits your protagonist from moving on. He could have trouble taking the next step to get a job promotion, making a commitment to his girlfriend, or deepening his relationship with his estranged father. Often something in his past has caused this crisis of confidence, and he can’t see his way past it. Adding these internal conflicts gives your characters added depth. It’s not only about fighting the bad guys. It’s also about fighting one’s inner demons. For examples, look at popular movies and TV shows that have captured your attention. Take notes on what bothers each of the characters. Here are some examples:

Outlander

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Claire is forced to hide her knowledge in a land ruled by superstition.
Jamie is torn between his gentler instincts for Claire and his cultural expectations of a husband’s role in marriage.
Claire is torn between her love for two men.
Claire wants to go home but that means leaving Jamie.

Outlander1  Outlander2

Dig

Dig

The main character wrestles with guilt and grief over his daughter’s death while trying to prevent Armageddon. The bad guys exploit this weakness by luring him with a woman who resembles the dead girl.

Lord of the Rings

Lord Rings

Son seeks approval and recognition from father who favors his brother.
Man struggles against the pull of corruption.
Woman wants to fight in a world that belongs to man.
Woman loves man who loves another woman.
Woman must give up her station in life (or special power) to be with the man she loves.
Man fears he will succumb to the same weakness as his father. (This also applies to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. He fears turning to the dark side like his father.)

Battlestar Galactica

Galactica

Man blames father for the death of his brother. He’s unable to forgive.
Female hero has had to work hard to prove herself. This means hiding her vulnerability.
A man who traded sex for secrets discovers he’s responsible for the world’s destruction.
A woman who is dying from cancer is forced to take charge.

It helps in determining a character’s internal conflict if you examine their past history. What happened to motivate their present behavior? What is inhibiting them from emotional growth? How will your character overcome this hang-up? Layer in your motivation, and you’ll have a richer story.

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Developing Memorable Characters

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

As insatiable readers, we all have a favorite character or two or three. From Jay Gatsby to Sherlock Homes, from Atticus Finch to Hannibal Lecter, from Jack Ryan to Dirk Pitt. They all bore their way into our brains and became memorable. What was it about them that made them so? Why is it that even after years have passed since you read their stories, you still remember them as if they were your friend or neighbor? As a writer, can you produce characters like Scarlett O’Hara or Santiago or Jason Bourne? There’s no reason you can’t. Just follow these simple tips to creating memorable characters.

Probably one of the most effective techniques in character building is to give your characters flaws. If you want characters with perfect looks, perfect bodies, or perfect personalities, pick up a copy of Vogue. Otherwise, give them imperfections for which the reader can relate. We all have flaws, so should your characters—all of them from the main protag and antagonist to the most minor walk-on. They need to be imperfect.

Speaking of flaws, your protagonist should always have a fatal flaw. It could be anything from speaking in public to something life threatening like Kryptonite. It’s always there hanging over the protagonist’s head never knowing when it will fall.

Next, your main characters should be larger than life. This has nothing to do with physical size although it could. I’m talking larger than life in regards to courage, faith, kindness, intelligence, generosity, loyalty—a characteristic that exceeds most people, one that becomes necessary by the end of the story to solve the story question. We all have courage, but at the point where the common man’s courage gives out, the protagonist’s kicks in to save the day. And whatever the larger than element is, let the character learn how to use it having not known it existed before.

The antagonist should be equal to or in some respects greater than the protag. But not by much. The antag must challenge the hero’s standards and morals down to his very fiber. The antag must be a worthy adversary. If it’s a heavy weight fighting a bantam, who cares.

Your characters should have multilayers. They’re not just a tough guy or a beautiful woman or a genius. Give them a defining characterization such as being an introvert, then place them in a situation where they must become the opposite.

Indiana Jones had a fatal flaw—snakes. He had to overcome his biggest fear to answer his biggest call to action. Put your hero in a situation where the thing that stands in the way is that biggest fear. Now have them figure out how to overcome it.

Throw obstacles in your protags path. Never give them a cakewalk assignment. Always place speed bumps and walls in their way. You want your reader to be asking “How will they get out of this one?” And make each wall higher than the last. Even if the reader has no idea how to escape that current predicament, the protag somehow figures it out. That’s what makes them memorable.

Finally, make life miserable for your protagonist. When it gets bad, make it worse. Never give them a decent brake. Push, push, then push some more. That’s why we read thrillers. We want to see what happens when the good guy or gal gets pushed to the limit and overcomes it. If need be, torture your protag. Not necessarily physically. It could be mental or moral. Give him or her a decision that builds their character. Memorable characters are those that step up to the plate, make the right choice, and swing for the bleachers.

Happy Tax Day!

————————————

Vengeance can be earth-shattering!
tomb-cover-smallMaxine Decker returns this July in her most dangerous adventure yet; THE TOMB.
Be ready.

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Color Cues

Nancy J. Cohen

I can see colors fine except when I have to write them in a story. Then I’ll say a character has brown eyes, is wearing a green top with khakis, and has her nails painted red. What is wrong with this picture? Rainbow colors don’t do justice to the myriad of shades out there. So how do you get more specific? Here are some helpful aids. Think in categories.

Jewels—pearl, amethyst, emerald, ruby, sapphire, jade
Flowers—rose, lilac, daffodil, lavender

Mizner4
Food—grape, cherry, orange, lemon, lime, cocoa, coffee, fudge, chocolate, blueberry, avocado, strawberry

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Minerals—onyx, copper, gold, silver, malachite, cobalt
Nature—slate gray like a thundercloud, leaf green, walnut, coal, ivory

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But sometimes my mind goes blank, and so I turn to the most creative resource of all—a department store catalog. You can’t get any more imaginative than this, whether it’s towels or tops or sweaters. Here are some descriptive colors from a recent newspaper insert:

Heather gray, apple green, aquatic blue, berry, coral, cornflower blue, charcoal, navy, banana, raspberry, tropical turquoise, sky blue, stone gray, violet, burgundy, claret, evergreen, marine teal, sand, ocean aqua, pewter, snow.

You get the idea. And so I’ve created a file listing descriptive adjectives under each basic rainbow color. Here is one example:

BROWN

chestnut, auburn, mahogany, walnut, hazel, fawn, copper, camel, caramel, cinnamon, russet, tawny, sand, chocolate, maroon, tan, bronze, coffee, rust, earth, dusty, mud, toffee, cocoa

Thus when I am stuck for a particular shade, I can hop over to my color chart and pick one out.

Colors descriptions also convey emotions. For example, mud brown, toad green, or cyanotic blue have a less pleasant connotation than chocolate brown, sea green or ocean blue. So choose your hues carefully to enhance a scene.

Beach

What’s your secret to describing colors?

17+

What A Freelance Editor Brings to the Table

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Matrice

Editor: Mary-Theresa Hussey

My guest today is my favorite editor (for my Young Adult books at Harlequin Teen), Mary-Theresa Hussey. Her passion for books shows in everything she does. I love collaborating with her. She has a meticulous eye for detail, but her true strength lies in her realistic understanding of character motivation and the emotion of a story. I’m proud to have her as my guest today at TKZ. Welcome, Matrice!

***

So you’ve written your book shared it with a critique partner, revised it, set it aside for a bit, revised it once more and are ready for the next step. Your mother, friend and sister love it and think it’s perfect.

What’s next? Well, it does depend on your goals for that novel. Do you want to find an agent? A publisher? Self-publish it? Go Indy? Do you want to share it with a few people or the wider world?

If you’re aiming at an agent or publisher, you might feel it’s in solid shape and you’ll wait for those professionals to give feedback and direction. That can be the right route if your project fits in with their goals as well.

However, if you haven’t gotten many bites, or you want to go indy, then you might want to investigate working with a freelance editor. The editor might help pinpoint some areas that will capture that agent/publisher or else give you the confidence to self-publish yourself. Freelancing can be hard for anyone who decides they are interested in going down that path. But knowing that various aspects like the finances can be handled with a simple invoice template, this means one less aspect to think about. You’ll have more time to focus on what you love to do, which is writing.

Luckily there are some places where you might be able to get the resources you need to help you along with your freelance career, for example, using an invoice template could be a good way of keeping on top of your clients.

So what does the freelance editor bring to the table?
She represents the reader in the bookstore or booksite, the ones who will pay to read your book—and hopefully all the ones after that!
She is not your friend or critique partner who listened to you talk about all the characters and plot and goals. If it’s not on the page for her, she’s going to question it and ask why—or why not.
She has not been in your mind to understand the motivations or conflict or themes. Though you don’t need to hit the reader over the head, sometimes you’ve got to explain the elements that you know but the reader doesn’t have a clue about.
She doesn’t love your darlings in the same way, and will tell you to cut or trim or toss as needed.
She’s caring but dispassionate. She’s looking for what will make the best story and draw that reader to the end. She won’t aim to hurt your feelings, but will challenge you on what makes a better novel.
She should be reading the manuscript that you’ve polished, gotten feedback on and are confident is ready to go, not the first draft. Have it in as strong as possible a shape so it’s better for both of you.
She should also have a knowledge of and appreciation for the genre you’re writing in so that the notes are targeted to your goals, not her own ideal book.
She has a strong sense of grammar, of rules, and knowing what to encourage as your voice and when to rein in flights of fancy.
She may, depending on the agreement, be able to give you feedback on titling, copy and other material. But that can be an editor specific element.
Most important, depending on your needs, you might want a development editor, line editor or copy editor. Make sure you know what you want and hire the right person at the right stage! Some editors are especially talented in one area or another. Make sure you’re getting the right person for you at the right time.
The Developmental Editor is looking at the big picture of pacing and structure and characterization and plot. She’s not going to focus on grammar or eye color or such, but is looking at the overall goals of your story and how you are achieving them.
The Line Editor will probably note specific areas where pacing or structure or characterization needs to be tweaked, but hopefully all those elements will have been addressed. She’s going to be looking at the specifics of reading the manuscript, looking for errors in fact and name and restructuring sentences. She does read it line by line to see if the author has expressed herself as clearly as she could.
The Copy Editor focuses on the details. She will know what all the characters names are, and their relation to each other and probably hair and eye color, but isn’t going to ask if the pacing is too slow. She’ll fix all the grammar issues and typos, but won’t comment on inconsistent characterization—unless the character is misstating facts between chapters. She’ll find the typos but won’t question the plot (unless you have your character walking out of the room twice—that she’ll notice!).

An editor—freelancer or not—will wear many hats, but there are some things she probably won’t do.

She’s not a writing teacher. She won’t teach you the ins and outs about craft. She should be able to point out the errors and why something would be better in another form, but it probably won’t lead to hours of one-on-one discussions about the reasons behind your choices and her corrections.
Since she probably won’t take the time to teach you how to write a better story, she’s also not going to (depending on the agreement) rewrite the book. She’s working with your words and making suggestions, not rewriting everything herself. She’s certainly planning on helping improve the story, but it’s your writing that is the base of it all.
Along those lines, she may or may not be a writer herself. If it’s important to you one way or the other, check that out first! It can be incredibly helpful at times to have an editor who is a writer, but sometimes not.
The freelance editor is not a publisher. She probably knows a bit about self-publishing and has picked up information on metadata and ISBNS, but it will be the author’s responsibility to work through the process.
She’s also not likely to be a miracle worker. No editor can guarantee the book will be picked up by an agent or publisher or become number one on the bestseller list. What she can strive for to the best of her knowledge and ability is that all the elements that make a stronger story have been reviewed and addressed and there are minimal errors of grammar and typos in the story.
Naturally, I think a good editor brings a lot to the table, but the author has to do the work first and understand her own goals for the project. It’s best if you are both on the same page going in, so you end up in the strongest possible position at the end of the revision/edit. In the end, it’s the author’s name on the book, and the author who stands behind her words.
So what are you looking for in an editor? Any good or bad experiences? Do share what you can.
Matrice

After a long editorial career at Harlequin, Mary-Theresa Hussey is now offering her years of experience to authors and industry professionals as a freelance editor. She’s passionate about books and good stories–and she wants to be sure that they are well told. Check out her site at www.GoodStoriesWellTold.com

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Do Your Homework

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

You’re writing a novel. Maybe you’ve even finished it. Congratulations. The hard part is over, right?

Wrong.

editingNow comes hard part #2: getting ready to sell your manuscript to a publisher or deciding to go the indie publishing route. Even before you start this phase, there are some basic concepts you should research first. They can prove to be costly detours on your way to finding an agent and editor if you don’t. Having the correct information by doing your homework can make for a smoother journey to publication. Some people do struggle with doing their essays, which is why some people look to getting essay writing services (such as write my narrative essay for me), but these sites are great for helping to give you some inspiration and improving your writing style.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnicity, etc. Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. This timetable can be greatly improved with indie publishing, but you still have to take the time to analyze your audience in either case.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like any other manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

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Tips for researching your story

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

My co-author, Lynn Sholes, and I write globe-hopping thrillers that always deal with some form of futuristic technology—human cloning, quantum computing and mechanics, string theory, human cell regeneration, faster-than-light propulsion, and many other yet-to-be-developed science. We spend a great deal of time before and during the drafting of our manuscript researching or story. Often, we call upon experts to help us formulate our fictionalized theories. For instance, we contacted a famous geneticist and asked: “We know you can’t regenerate an entire human body from just a sample of DNA, but if you could, how would it be done.” The result was the science in THE PHOENIX APOSTLES.

I find researching for our novels to be as much fun as writing them. It’s the excitement of uncovering those tidbits and morsels of fact that add seasoning and spice to the story. I believe that research adds layers to a story. It keeps the story from becoming thin and two-dimensional. With the right amount of research, we can round out character’s lives, locations, settings, and atmosphere. Each layer helps transport our readers into a more fascinating and realistic story-world. Some genres demand more research than others—science fiction, medical, legal, criminal, and historical to name a few. But all books can benefit from in-depth research.

The general rule in researching for a manuscript is: more is better during the collecting stage but less is better during the writing stage. Here are some tips to help find the right balance.

When we research, we collect a great deal of material, almost always more than we need. We come across a lengthy article on a topic and highlight a dozen of those tasty info tidbits. The skill to researching is to choose one or two that will enhance the reader’s experience without bogging down the tale or turning our writing into a dry college lecture or travel guide. If you have a number of research items available for a particular scene, pick the one that helps put a little bit more icing on the story cake. Ask yourself which one helps develop the character or move the story forward the best. That’s the one to use. Keep the others in mind in case they’re needed later. Also remember that choosing the right research data will help lend authenticity to our writer’s voice.

Another tip is to never talk down to the reader by using information from our research that they might not understand. Never confuse the reader or push them out of the story by making them feel they’re not as smart as the writer. It’s really easy to put a book down and move to another out of frustration. Keep it simple—but not too simple. There are a number of ways to talk down to the reader. Avoid them all by not talking over their heads or dumbing down the information as if you were explaining it to a child. Even if the readers may not totally understand a fact or word, use it in such a way that they can mostly grasp the meaning from the context of the scene.

Avoid throwing in facts from your research just to prove you know how to look stuff up. Again, use your research only if it helps build your characters or advances your plot. Showing off your knowledge is not why the reader enjoys reading.

Lastly, avoid the dreaded info dump. Spread out your research information in just the right amounts to keep the reader from skimming over pages or skipping ahead. Your novel can educate readers and take them to places they’ve never been, but don’t forget that first and foremost, the reader wants to be entertained, not go back to school. Sprinkle in your research like spices and seasoning in a gourmet dish. Too little creates a bland taste, too much creates heartburn.

Zoners, any other researching tips and experiences to share?
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tomb-cover-small“Vengeance can be earth-shattering.”
Max is back! Coming in July, Maxine Decker returns in THE TOMB, book #3 in the Decker series. This time around, the former OSI agent risks her life to stop the elimination of an entire branch of the U.S. Government.

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