Saturday, December 18, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
In a blog post on Nov 13, 2010 “What makes a book publisher drool? Can you say series?” Alan Rinzler wrote:
If we smell a potential series in a promising new submission, we try to nail it down with a multiple book contract. That trend is apparent in the numbers of new multi-book deals listed in Publishers Marketplace over the past 12 months, with the greatest number in the following genres:
Top genres for multi-book deals in 2010
Romance – 108 deals
Mystery & Crime – 73
Young Adult – 56
Middle Grade – 53
Science Fiction – 31
Thrillers – 29
Paranormal – 27
(Note: Alan Rinzler is an Executive Editor at Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons with over 40+ years in the book business.)
So I thought it would be fun to examine ways to create a series character with enough juice to build or sustain a readership. Below are some of my thoughts, but I’d love to hear from you, too.
• Paint a large enough canvass. Create a world that’s big enough to allow a character to grow and surprise a reader with different plot scenarios.
• Give your main character(s) enough emotional baggage & personal conflicts that they can develop and grow from, to keep the series fresh.
• Make the plots in the series challenge your character’s weaknesses or flaws. Conflict is vital for any book.
• Tie each plot to the character’s emotional soft spots and allow the character to learn from what happens to them over the course of the series.
• Consider giving the main character one conflict or issue that continues through the series without resolution until the last book.
• Add a secondary cast of characters who add value. Make them fun, quirky, and definitely memorable, enough to bring a unique touch to your series. They are especially valuable if they add conflict or reflect on your main character’s strengths or weaknesses. If your secondary characters are effective enough, this can mean spin off potential.
• In any book, plant seeds for a spinoff story line. If the novel takes off, you can capitalize on your germinating ideas.
• Tell the reader enough in each book about the character’s back story to entice them to read your other books, but don’t go overboard with a dump of information that will slow the pace.
• Avoid the formula. If something worked in book #1 in order to successfully launch your series, don’t repeatedly recreate it. Surprise the reader with something new, which will keep your creative juices flowing too. Don’t be so tied into your own success that you’re afraid to surprise your readers.
• On the flip side, don’t “jump the shark.” Surprising leaps in character motivation—just to add shock value without substance or believable motivation—may stray too far from center to sustain your readership. Recognize your strengths and find new ways to hone them.
• Keep in mind that your character may have to age if the series becomes popular. Have a plan for that. Three books may wind up as twenty+.
• Don’t be afraid to dig deep inside yourself to fuel the motives or experiences of your character(s). Making them real is vital in order for a reader to connect with them, especially over a series.
• Don't wrap your character’s journey up too neatly at the end of the series. Leave room for the reader’s speculation on what the future may hold, so they can imagine his or her life moving on or picture what their love life might hold.
I’d love to hear other ideas, so please comment. What tips can you share on how to create a successful series framework? Or what has worked well in other series books that you’ve enjoyed reading?
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
BUY A BOOK!
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Now I’ve got the holidays coming up, and yet again, I have a book project deadline that is looming. It’s a squishy one. My publisher has already given me more time, but I still don’t want to abuse that courtesy, so I’m trying to stick close to the original date. But as the holidays get closer, there are certain things I do that are purely my thing, like our Christmas newsletter. (Joy to the world! Another writing project with a hard and fast deadline.)
Now for years, my busy, detail-oriented husband dutifully has given me HIS list of noteworthy things we’ve done during the year, to make sure I don’t forget to mention them. Need I say, that as an author of FICTION, I find these things fairly tedious and mundane. Are they real? Yes. Do people need to know we did them? Not so much.
So in the past, I have embellished our lives with my creative imaginings by making us ambassadors to foreign countries, or polar bear hunters, or the first line of defense when space aliens invaded Aruba while we were drinking numerous libations at the Pega Pega bar. So before my husband gives me his list, I was hoping to get help from the very creative people we have posting to this blog.
What fun—and very untrue—things can I add to my Christmas letter for 2010? Or what fun things have you read in other Christmas newsletters? Has anyone made you laugh out loud at their annual letter?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Feliz had passed from this life after sixteen years of sharing her love. And as we knew it would, her death broke our hearts. Grief manifests itself in many ways. We still hear the click of her nails on tile, still see her shadow at the door, and we still linger at the garage, waiting for her to show and claim a biscuit. All of these moments are products of our wishful thinking and old habits are hard to deny, but it’s amazing how well she trained us. And if Stephen King’s story in Pet Sematary were true, we’d gladly welcome her back to this life, even if she were the spawn of Satan. That’s how much we loved her.
Her full name was Feliz Navidog. Yes, she was a Christmas present, but not for us. We had given her to my parents with the caveat that if they truly didn’t want a puppy, they could return her to us. And within two weeks, back she came. In hindsight, she was the best present we ever got. We nearly called her Boomerang, but in Spanish, the word Feliz translates to ‘happy’ and that suited her just fine. She always had a smile on her face.
When she was a pup, she had a dark muzzle, one ear up and one down, a curled tail and an unfaltering bounce to her step. People often asked us what breed she was. In truth, she was a German Shepherd Chow mix, but we lovingly called her a “Somma Dog”—because she was somma dis, somma dat. But one man’s mutt is another man’s idea of perfection.
And Feliz had many admirable skills, despite her questionable lineage.
She was a practitioner of puppy telepathy, transmitting her thoughts to us with a meaningful stare. And she spoke the language of human beings with unfailing accuracy, developing an extensive vocabulary. Balancing a biscuit on the end of her nose then tossing it into her mouth had become her signature move. And in later years, she mastered sign language when her hearing was failing. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
And every morning of her life—without fail—she awoke for the sole purpose of pleasing us. We saw it in her face and felt it on her warm wet tongue. She never tired of the routine or the mundane, even after her joints got stiff and her eyesight grew dim—because in her mind, she was always that puppy with a bounce in her step.
Dogs remind us that love should be unconditional. And in their world, friendships begin with a well-placed and unerring sniff—completely devoid of an ulterior motive or personal agenda. If you pass the sniff test, you’re in. No cover charge and no membership fee. And with a mere wag of a tail, a dog can make you smile and lift your spirits. We can all learn from them—because their love comes from a higher place.
I’d love for you to share your pet stories. Do you have a favorite pet?
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Still solidly on the side of good things I’ve ever done, I also have taken a tour of a state of the art crime lab. And last year, I visited Washington DC and toured the FBI at Quantico (where I shot weapons at the FBI firing range and heard a presentation by the only FBI Special Agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein before he was executed), the CIA at Langley, the US State Department and the US Postal Inspectors. Some very cool adventures.
But I’ve also done some peculiar things that I rarely talk about—until now.
My husband once found me stumbling around in a dark room—with the lights completely turned out—because I wanted to know what it would be like to move around with a hood over my head. One of my characters had a childhood tragedy that left him afraid of the dark. And his way of overcoming his weakness was to immerse himself in his fear and fight sighted attackers without the use of his eyes. He developed a 6th sense in the dark and I wanted to know if I could “feel” a wall before I ran into it. Most times, I could. Most times…
And one time, when I was stymied by my plot, I walked away from my computer to clear my head and found myself watching an old movie, Gleaming the Cube, a 1989 skateboarding movie with Christian Slater in it, when he was really, really young.
When my husband came home, he saw me sitting on the sofa in the middle of the day when I normally would be writing. When he asked what I was doing—after seeing Christian Slater on the small screen—I told him I was working. Yeah, right.
After he laughed, I walked calmly into my office and outlined the rest of my novel. That book became my debut book – NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM – and it sold in auction. I saw something in that silly movie that triggered the solution my brain had been searching for. The whole plot of my book fell into place after that. And my debut book was later named Best Books of 2008 by Publishers Weekly. Cool, huh?
The way I figure it, I owe everything to Christian Slater. I’m even considering putting together a research workshop on the Six Degrees of Christian Slater. I may have OTHER things that I’ve done that are so out there they may never see the light of day, but that’s for me to know, and you to find out. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So how far have you gone for research? Come on, it’s just the two of us. Tell me everything…
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Yes, the free online class will be hosted by Coffee Time Romance, but you don't have to prove you're romantic to participate. This is a pure author craft chat.
Just sign on and read, post questions, and join in the discussions. I'll post my notes each day during the first week and if you have specific questions, ask them. Everyone's answers will be posted the following week—October 11-17th.
Here are some topics to be covered.
• Where do story ideas come from and how to start
• How to create characters editors are looking for
• Ten key elements to writing a thriller
• Where do I go for killer research
If this piques your interest, below are the deets:
Coffee Time Romance, Online Writing Class
"Master Class for Writing Suspense"
Join national bestseller & critically acclaimed Jordan Dane when she shares her "Master Class in Writing Suspense." In this unique online class, Dane will provide a comprehensive workshop on writer's craft.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
1.) Start with a BANG and Explain Later
• Start with the moment that changes the character’s life forever.
• Or throw the reader right into the middle of action.
• No backstory or introspection
• Stick with the action
• Be patient with dropping mystery hints & clues, thread thru plot later.
• Place the reader in the midst of it—using all their senses.
• Remember that your protagonist might be ducking gunfire or are in a dangerous situation. It's all about action, reaction and pace.
2.) Alfred Hitchcock’s Definition of Suspense & Basics on Structure
I’m not a plotter, so this part won’t be about plotting.
Hitchcock believed suspense didn’t have much to do with fear, but was more the anticipation of something about to happen. When I read this, it was a HUGE epiphany for me. The idea changed how I thought about scene and chapter endings. In a recent work-in-progress, I kept the same words that I’d started the book with, but ended scenes and chapters with this idea of anticipation. It gave the book a different dynamic and enhanced the pace. Don’t be afraid to cut off a scene or a chapter in the middle of the action. Here are some examples:
• One of my chapter endings in NO ONE LIVES FOREVER (RT nominee Best Intrigue 2008) has my hero in the middle of a steamy jungle, handcuffed and on his knees with a gun pointed between his eyes. The last sentence of that chapter is - And that’s when he pulled the trigger.
• Another chapter ending in my next thriller EVIL WITHOUT A FACE has my bounty hunter woman blinded by the headlights of an oncoming SUV about to run her down in an alley. With only seconds to consider her options, she plants her feet and raises her Colt Python, aiming for the faceless driver behind the wheel. And the last line to the chapter is - Time to play chicken with six thousand pounds of steel.
• Don’t let readers put down your novel.
• Give the reader a sense of foreshadowing or plant the seed of a red herring to sustain the pace and tease them with things to come.
• And the teaser doesn’t always have to be a major calamity. It can be something as subtle as a person walking into a room. For example, if an author has built a growing mystery surrounding an individual, have everyone in a courtroom turn to see who is walking in, then stop the action. In the next chapter, the author carries the story forward, drawing it out so the reader must finish the next chapter too—and so on and so on.
• Short sentences (as well as short chapters, scenes, and paragraphs) adds tension.
• Switch between key scenes – back & forth with the action like is done in movies to build tension.
• Or tell the story from different points of view (POVs) to build momentum on action sequences.
• 9-Act Screenplay Structure - Most blockbuster movies use a plot structure like this. (Check out my website www.jordandane.com under the FOR WRITERS page to see a 9-Act outline as well as other handy articles from craft to promotion.) This 9-Act structure is similar to the Hero’s Journey. And once you become familiar with the plot structure, your mind will automatically think in terms of it when you’re working on future projects. I’m not a plotter but I saw potential in this structure.
3.) The concept of Enter Late and Leave Early (ELLE) – The “Law & Order” Concept
• ELLE – Enter Late, Leave Early maintains pace and leaves the reader wanting more.
• The TV show “Law & Order” is a good example
• ENTER LATE refers to starting a scene in the middle of the pertinent action, such as AT the crime scene staring down at the body, not the drive over in a car.
• LEAVE EARLY refers to an ending that foreshadows something or raises a question or creates more of a mystery, not showing the detectives driving back to the police station.
• Quick snippets of plot suggest pace/movement and a reader can fill in the gaps on what happened in between.
• This principle does not apply to dialogue. Don’t make the reader guess what your characters are talking about. Start at the beginning of the dialogue for clarity.
4.) Torture Your Characters – It’s Legal
• Torture can be deviously fun—on paper, that is.
• Make the reader understand why your character is worthy of being the star of your novel.
• Your characters have to rise to the occasion—even if they are an average Joe—and go up against insurmountable odds.
• And we’ve all heard the phrase “Write what you know.” It should be “Write what you fear…what you love…what you hate.” Writing what you fear conveys human emotion that will resonate with readers. Tapping into what makes you afraid will translate into a trigger for the reader as well. And this goes for other emotions too. Drawing on a reader’s emotions will pull them into the story.
5.) Weaving in the Threads of Clues – No Surprise Suspects or Miraculous Databases
• Pretty self-explanatory. We all laugh when one of the CSI shows can turn around DNA analysis in minutes or they have access to amazing databases that don’t exist that allows them to wrap up the show in five minutes.
• I read about the “RULE OF THREE” on a mystery loop and it made sense. If you want a hint or clue to sink in for a reader, you subtly weave it into your plot in three different ways and places within your book. The repetition reinforces the importance and plants a seed with the reader, but don’t telegraph it in a huge way. It’s a balancing game of subtlety.
6.) Layer the Conflict & Allow Your Hero/Heroine to Be the Star
• Put up roadblocks and heap on complications.
• Use internal and external conflicts as a driver.
• Give them emotional baggage that the reader can relate to.
• Force your characters out of their comfort zones. Make them do the one thing they would never do.
• Action by itself can be boring if you don’t add the right balance of the human struggle and emotion into a story.
7.) Ramp Up the Stakes & Make it Personal
In my release, EVIL WITHOUT A FACE, I start with a 17-year old girl being lured from home by an online predator pretending to be another young girl. You’ve heard this story before, but I catapult this troubled Alaskan family into a massive global conspiracy with the clock ticking. A tangle of unlikely heroes attacks this conspiracy from different angles and they converge in a fight for their lives.
• The conspiracy is far reaching and it’s deadly.
• And because one young girl is caught up in it, it’s personal.
In my debut book, NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM (Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2008), my woman homicide detective was burdened by the abduction and murder of her younger sister and filtered every new investigation through her pain and guilt.
• She’s flawed and makes mistakes in her investigation of a cold case.
• Puts herself in the cross hairs of treacherous men - unable to be objective.
• Her emotions drive her to be heroic and also become a weakness that can get her killed.
8.) The Clock is Ticking – Then Shorten the Deadline
• Give your characters a deadline—a race against time—then shorten the timetable.
• Force your hero or heroine to make really tough decisions.
• Make them do the one thing they would NEVER do—with the clock ticking.
9.) Give the Reader a Big Payoff & Tie Up the Loose Ends
• No hype – give readers a big finish. Don’t disappoint them.
• Exceed their expectations – go over the top.
• Tie up all loose ends.
• And tie up the emotional journey too.
10.) Restore the World, but Don’t be Afraid if it’s a Different Place
• In a series, you have greater flexibility in how you choose to end your story.
• Happily Ever After (HEA) isn’t always necessary because you are writing a bigger story arc in the series. My books tend to read as standalones in plot, but the characters’ journeys continue and they grow with each book.
• I still like the idea of restoring the world—a certain amount of redemption—but it doesn’t have to be the same world.
• Crime affects people in a bad way, so they are forever changed. Don’t be afraid to show the aftermath.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Dogs are amazing. Everyday, they wake up with a smile on their face and a wag in their tail. And even though my dog eats the same food and pisses in the same spots and sees the same dogs through the fence--I swear she acts like everything is a marvel. And tomorrow, she'll get up and do it all over again--and be totally happy.
I should take notes and become a student of Taco. If you have a favorite pet, post a pic or tell a story of yours.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
He must have the power of invisibility because no one in my neighborhood sees him. And as big as he is, that's really saying something. At some point, I started to leave food and water out for him, on my front porch. But the first couple of times I tried to get close to him, he groaned. (Not a growl, just a disinterested moan.) He was trying to tell me to leave him alone, but I really think he needs me. The main thing is to get him healthier. I've contacted a Great Dane rescue group, but if he will let me, I'd love to give him a home.
You want to see a picture of him?
Since he's black & white and reminds me of a police car, I call him CRUISER. These pics I shot of him were taken after me feeding him 8-10 cups of food a day for over two weeks. He's filling out. He still doesn't trust me and won't let me near him, but I'm hoping he will trust me sometime soon. I'd love to give him a home. My other rescue dog - TACO - is much smaller, but she really wants a big bro. She's so quiet around him, doesn't bark at him or raise her hackles, so I think that's a good sign. But our rescue cats won't be so welcoming.
What do you think of my boy, Cruiser?
Thursday, July 8, 2010
There's a thing I call "free association" that I've come to trust. It's the little voice inside my head that allows me to NOT edit myself and go with the flow, trusting that I will find the character's voice and write it as I hear it. Sometimes the most peculiar words flow onto the page, but the ones that survive the edit process can be fun to reread and recognize where that part of the story originated. I talk about this "free association" thing on my website (the adult side) on my FOR WRITERS page where I post various articles on authors' craft. The post called Start With A Bang.
There's a line in NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM (my debut book) that I like to use as an example of free association. The line is: If she wanted to engage the only brain he had, all she had to do was unzip it and free Willy. I had forgotten that I had written this line and it made it past edit cuts, but my sister remembered it and posted it in her guest bathroom at a launch party she had for me at her home. I cracked up after reading it and had to think real hard if it came from me, but one part of that line reminded me of the inspiration behind it. I had been to Vancouver and saw where they filmed FREE WILLY, the Orca movie. Of course, making the leap between a whale movie and what's behind zippered door #1 was a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. The mind works in mysterious ways and if you trust yourself, you can have readers remembering lines from your stories too. If they post them in their bathrooms, that's an added bonus.
But this also works for tapping into personal stories that aren't so funny. The raw emotion of the ugly parts of life can come from close personal experience or from your own empathy over what you can imagine if something terrible happened to you. And it's from that brutally honest place that you must write that scene so it resonates with readers too. Great stories have real emotion in them. It's why we write. So don't be afraid to go there. You must. The foundation for every really memorable story comes from the human elements, the raw emotion.
That's why I tell young authors to write like you're doing it only for yourself--not for your parents or for teachers or friends. Convey what is truly in your heart and you won't be disappointed. But write, write, write. It's the only way to get better. It's not about what others think of your work--it's all about what YOU think of it. And it all starts with the same brutal honesty, when you see yourself in your own writing--because it IS personal.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
But the beauty of what I get to do everyday is write. I just finished my latest adult book - RECKONING FOR THE DEAD (Avon/HarperCollins, 2011), and I love this book. It's the 4th book in my Sweet Justice series and I love hanging out with the characters. But now that RECKONING is done, I have a YA book proposal due to Harlequin Teen, book #2 that they bought. And I can't wait to get at it.
I love my adult books because crime fiction is my comfort read, but I've found that writing YA novels makes me very happy. YA books are amazing. The only limitation to them is the author's own imagination. They stretch your mind and the brutally honest ones deal with important issues. And they can communicate amazing messages. The only thing I love better than writing YA is READING IT.
So if you have any recommendations for YA books that you've read and loved, please let me hear from you. I love dark, edgy YA, but I'm open to anything. If you love it, I want to hear about it. And please tell me why you liked it. My TBR pile is getting low.
Friday, May 28, 2010
It's strange how we build our own little worlds out here in cyberspace, finding "like" souls in the cybersphere. And it makes me realize how small the world can be when I hear from readers across the planet, as if they're right next door. On the Internet, there are no international borders to guard or customs to go through when you reach out and touch someone. That part of the Internet is definitely cool, but other parts make me wonder what the future holds.
Criminals and predators have found a whole new hunting ground. And in the anonymity of cyberspace, they've found a new virtual world to commit their crimes. With people relying more and more on computers to transact business, it makes me leary of how secure our financial information is, for example. I don't mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but how safe are we online? Every time we post pictures of ourselves or post personal messages that give away where we live or where we'll be on a certain day, that can be an invitation to someone with a criminal deviant mind.
I hear more and more about cybercrimes happening all the time. As an author, these things intrigue me and can become future story lines. And of course, there's nothing like firsthand information to make my books seem real. For example, I had my credit card information stolen after I went to a local restaurant to have dinner. Someone hacked the system and had my credit card info posted online for purchase to the highest bidder before I got my first billing. The credit card people closed that account and I didn't have to pay for the items these criminals had charged, but did they get caught? I'm convinced the credit card companies see this kind of thing a lot. And the odds of people getting caught and prosecuted are slim to none. Whatever losses the credit card companies incur are absorbed by them, but ultimately paid by the consumer through their increasing fees.
Bottom line is--it's a scary world out there. And we all have to be more careful in the digital world. Everytime I hand over my credit card, I wonder if the person behind the counter is trustworthy. And the doctor's office clerk who asks for my social security number, can they be trusted not to sell my information to an identity thief? It makes me a little sick to realize how guarded and paranoid I've become. I hate that. And I sometimes explore these new threats in my books, trying to expose how significant this new criminal hunting ground has become.
When I was in Washington DC last year, doing research with the FBI, CIA, and the State Department, I found out that the U.S. Postal Service has investigators who may be given the authority to "police" the Internet. Usually criminal activity involves the mail service, so that's the logic behind them being in charge. Of course, with the Internet being global, they will have a hard time crossing over jurisdictions so I don't see this as an easy job.
But what do you think about someone being responsible for "policing" the Internet? Do you see it as a threat or a help? If they instituted more rules to monitor activity or charged fees and forced people to identify themselves (taking away the anonymity), would you think that's a good thing or bad? This is a HUGE topic to cover and there is no easy answer, but I'd love to hear what you think.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
After I went back to modelmayhem to locate Libby, she had pulled her portfolio. This photo is all I have of her. I really miss her and wonder where she is, but my best wishes go out to her.
So here's the image that inspired Brenna. I hope when you read Stone Angels, you'll see Libby too. Let me know what you think?
And as for Isaac "White Bird" Henry, I always pictured him as the adorable actor Teddy Geiger who starred in "The Rocker." Teddy has incredible eyes and an expressive face. Don't you think? Can't you picture Brenna seeing him for the first time in the woods when the two of them are alone on the day they first meet when she's twelve? He's real dream material.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
That’s why I chose my YA website page header to flash shift between similar images, only going from the light to the dark side, color to black and white. And these images roll continuously, back and forth, both vying for control like it’s a struggle—a war waged every day.
When I create a “villain”, for example, he’s never all dark. I give him a strange sense of humor or make him do a good thing once in a while, to put “balance” into his suitcase. Even a villain is the hero to his own story. And the same goes for my good guys. Everyone has a dark side. A guy might be obsessed in doing the right thing, no matter what the cost. Does that make him right?
You see? It’s all in your perspective. For a writer, the gray is more interesting. The gray makes you think. The gray is in each of us.
Talk amongst yourselves ...