We humans love to label things. Writers are no exception, either. Take writing habits, for example, we label writers as either those who diligently map out their stories, plotters, or those who just start writing and go with whatever comes, sort of writing by the ‘seat of the pants, or, pantsers.
The problem with this is that a lot of writers don’t fall neatly into either category. Take me, for instance. I usually start my books in one of the following ways:
1. I list the chapters, and the main action in each, knowing generally how I want the story to end. As I write, though, I will often change action, or add chapters as some interesting action or event is suggested by the flow of the story.
2. I know generally how I want the story to end, and I plan the first chapter or two, and then start writing, going with the flow.
You will notice a common thread here; I always go with the natural flow of the story. Certain things just seem to logically follow other things.
Take, for example, my current work in progress, another in my Al Pennyback mystery series, featuring a retired army officer turned private detective in the Washington, DC area. Al is on retainer to a law firm, but the work they give him doesn’t take up too much of his time, so he takes cases involving people who are being put upon by the system, or who have no one else to turn to. Al is something of a knight errant, or a samurai without a master—otherwise known as a Ronin—and, he is always on the side of the downtrodden. In the current story, A Deal to Die For, his client is a spoiled rich girl, who he dislikes at first, but takes the case because she’s being falsely accused of murder.
Generally, my plan for this one was for him to prove her innocence after several false starts and a lot of time spent following red herrings. I decided that this one would be really complex, with several of the things that push Al’s buttons, like the presence of militia, and some play on 9/11, with a possible terrorist in the mix for interest. I mapped out the first nineteen chapters and began writing. The murder has already happened two days before the story begins, and Al’s task is to find the killer.
He begins working his way through the initial list of potential suspects, eliminating them one by one through diligent detective work, until he’s left with what he thinks is the most likely bad guy—only, I decided that he would really hit a wall when he learns that the most likely suspect is not what he first thought he was, and his nemeses, the militia bad guys start to crank up the heat and put his life in danger.
Now, if the militia guys are the real killers, the story’s about over, so I decided that this was too pat. In chapter 19, I have Al’s client fearing she’s about to be arrested, and unidentified bad buys tailing Al all over town. The clock’s ticking, and the stakes are cranked up to the max. I’ve kind of decided who the real murder is already, and now I’m just sending Al down a few false trails, so that when the killer is finally unveiled, readers will be surprised.
I’m now in the home stretch, and I’m planning a few confrontation scenes and some real nail-biting action just before Al finally finds the key clue that tells him where to look.
That, in a nutshell, is how I write. I go with the flow, and if the flow seems to be veering away from the rough sketch map I started with, I simply draw a new map. That is neither plotting, nor pantsing, but a combination of the two, which, being human, I will call plantsing.
So, having shared that bit of trivia with you, I will go back to my plantsing, and see what sprouts. Happy reading, and a glorious New Year to one and all.
When I converted this blog from a catch-all for my mental meanderings to primarily a book review blog, with an emphasis on books by indie authors, I knew it would be a lot of work. It’s been a learning process, much as my own foray into indie publishing. I knew going in that once word got out that I did book reviews, I would receive numerous requests for reviews—and boy, was I ever right. I’m deluged with requests from authors to review their books to the tune of four or five every week. Some days, I get three or four requests.
Now, I’m a voracious reader, so I’m happy to accept books to read and review, but since I decided that one posted review per day is probably the most my readers will be willing to put up with, that does put a limit on what I’m able to do; that, and the fact that I do have other things to do. I have my own books to write, edit, format, and publish—oh, and market—a time-consuming job, believe me. In addition, I recently started a line of fashion design incorporating my photography; I’m collaborating with my wife on a collection of paintings, in preparation for an upcoming exhibition; I’m on the board of a few non-profits; I do a summer writing workshop; I like to get out occasionally to take pictures; and I speak and lecture frequently in the Washington, DC area. So, I am able to read only about two books per day at most, and then I have to block out time to write the reviews, which in addition to posting here, I post on Amazon and Goodreads—and on occasion on Barnes and Noble.
I buy some of the books I review, but only if I know the author and it’s a genre I like. If an unknown author wants me to review a book, he or she must provide me with a copy, either hard copy or e-book. And, of course, I cannot guarantee that I’ll write a review, or when I might get around to it. It’s first-come, first-serve.
Now, if you’re an indie author, and you’ve sent me a book to review, but you haven’t seen my review online, you’re probably wondering; what’s up? Please let me explain.
It might be that I’ve just not gotten around to it. All I can advise is, please be patient. If I haven’t decided not to review it, it will eventually appear. If, on the other hand, I decide not to review it, I’m afraid that’s the end of that, and for that, I apologize. In the early days of my reviewing, I often contacted the author and explained that I was not reviewing the book and why. That turned out to be a bad idea.
Usually, my reason for not reviewing a book is that it just doesn’t make it. It’s poorly written; bad grammar, poor editing, formatting or proofreading, or too many typos. When I told authors this, many would write back wanting specifics. Sorry, but that’s not gonna happen. Editing and proofreading is labor intensive, and it takes time (unpaid time) that I need to devote to my income generating activities. As a courtesy, if an author has asked me to review a book, and I can’t give it at least four stars, I won’t write the review. In fact, I usually don’t even finish reading the book, because I know it will be a waste of my time. It makes me sad to see an otherwise good story that is poorly written or edited. I’d like to be able to help such authors do a better job, but not as an unpaid editor. Nor, for that matter, do I even want to be a paid editor.
But, I am willing to dispense some free advice. If I haven’t reviewed your book in four months, you can safely assume that I will not review it, and the reason will be one of the things mentioned in the previous paragraph. At that point, do what I do when someone pans one of my books. Read it again, carefully, not as the author, but as if you’re a total stranger reading it for the first time. Read it objectively. Is your grammar off? Are there typos? Is the formatting different from other books (paragraphs not indented properly, spacing different)? Do you tend to purple prose or over-writing, or do you use excessive speech tags (he roared, whistled, groaned, etc.)? If so, rewrite, cut, add, or whatever you must to make it better. If, after doing this, you want to run it by me again, I’m always here, and I’ll happily add it to my queue—without any promises. What I cannot do is give you a line-by-line, page-by-page list of what’s wrong.
I read almost any genre, but there some I find hard to review. Stories that are just one sex scene after another, with little in the way of story to tie the scenes together; stories that make fun of handicaps, religion, gender, or ethnicity turn me off, as do stories that lack credibility, or just get facts wrong.
There you have it. Those are my review guidelines. Comply with them, and your book will eventually get reviewed. As an indie author myself, I know how important reviews are, and I have no wish to discourage struggling authors. As much as I can, I’m there for you, so keep writing and keep trying.
A heads up on a real money-making scam, originally posted in Writer Beware:
A great video that addresses the reasons people fail as writers:
http://www.zazzle.com/desert_sunrise_cutting_board-256184447037413902?. A new product available in my Zazzle store.
A useful book for writers – that also just happens to be pretty funny.
7 Crucial Logline Mistakes and How to Fix Them – Script Magazine. Great tips for the newby screen writer.
Another example of Washington-based green eyeshade types making decisions for people in the field.
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