Saturday, November 13, 2010
People self-publish for a variety of reasons. For myself, it was a means of not giving up. I put a lot of time and energy into those books and wasn't prepared to chuck them just because they didn't get the blessing of agents and/or editors. That decision has resulted in opportunities and experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise, including the establishment of Jorlan Publishing and the forging of some very dear and special friendships. The books I published and the awards I subsequently won have also helped me to keep going and stay motivated with my writing.
For others, the decision to self-publish might be based on similar or completely different reasoning. Some of my clients are in their 70s and 80s and don't feel that they have the luxury of waiting. Some have a built-in marketing platform through their careers that enables them to target a niche audience and provide a valuable product to existing customers. Some simply feel passionate about making their books available to friends and family. I'm proud of all of them and proud to have been a part of their journey.
I think we can all agree that landing a contract from a traditional publisher would be our first choice, no question, and that's what we ultimately hope to achieve. But for those out there considering the self-publishing route, below is some advice:
* Research the options carefully. Be aware of contractual terms. If you are paying a company to publish your book, then they have no business demanding the rights to your book. What kind of nonsense is that? You are paying them, not the other way around. I've even seen contracts that require authors to pay the self-publishing company an agent's commission should their books be picked up by a traditional publisher. What?! They are not serving in the capacity of an agent; they are not going to be actively trying to sell your manuscript to a publisher; they are not going to be helping you negotiate a contract with a publisher; they have no business demanding an agent's commission!
* Even if you are paying a company to publish your book indirectly (i.e., buying copies of your book at exorbitant prices), the above cautions apply.
* Consider the printing costs as well as the "setup" costs and find out in advance who has ownership of printer-ready design files. Many companies call book design "setup fees" and then hold the files hostage to their high printing prices.
Don't allow yourself to be taken advantage of by anyone!
Monday, September 20, 2010
...and then there were the chocolate desserts at every delicious meal; oh baby. By the second night, Dorothy told me, "You're as bad as I am!" Yep, we're kindred spirits, especially when it comes to chocolate. We did learn a lot, too. The whole conference was an awesome, uplifting experience.
[caption id="attachment_271" align="aligncenter" width="305" caption="Lana & Beth"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_272" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Lana & James Dashner"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_273" align="aligncenter" width="495" caption="l to r: Marilyn Richardson, Lana Jordan, Beth Moore, Carol Shreeve, & Dorothy Varney"][/caption]
Saturday, August 28, 2010
St. George a couple of weeks ago (on the 14th). It was hosted by Rick Walton (author of nearly 100 picture books) and Mette Ivie Harrison (author of The Princess and the Hound series). We participated in the novel workshop with Mette.
Quotes from Rick Walton:
"The way to make a lot of money in publishing is to start with a lot of money."
"You start out with garbage, and the revision process is what turns it into gold."
"I think we're born creators."
"You can write an awful story in an hour, but it's good practice."
(on book marketing) "It is mostly magic. It's voodoo. I have seen no correlation between how hard I work on a book and how it sells."
Quotes from Mette Ivie Harrison:
"All writers are thieves except those who say they aren't—they are liars and thieves."
"Be aware of the threads that you're holding and tweak them at just the right moment."
(on writing the first draft) "I like to experience the story, be surprised by my own novel."
"I'm always telling people not to have prologues."
Mette also talked about novels having both an external and an internal plot as well as the different plot patterns such as romance, quest, adventure, and tragedy. She mentioned that Twilight was actually a romance plot with magic and fantasy woven in, which explained why I didn't like it so much. I preferred New Moon because it was more about the fantasy elements than the romance, since Edward was gone for most of the book.
And a little aside to Erin, if you happen to read this: as we were driving home, I told Emalee not to lose the purple stickie with your email address written on it; so, of course, she promptly lost it! Hopefully you still have mine.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Also, one of the gals in my group sent me a link to a YouTube video that shows some conference highlights, including a clip of the Bad Romance performance: click here for that. Thanks, Jeni!
[caption id="attachment_245" align="aligncenter" width="390" caption="All of us in Brandon Mull\'s morning workshop group."][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_246" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Me & my daughter, who also loves to write."][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_256" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Emily Wing Smith, my Emalee, & Alane Ferguson."][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_247" align="aligncenter" width="270" caption="Me with my dear friend and client, Beth Moore."][/caption]
Saturday, June 19, 2010
First of all, let me just say that Brandon Mull is awesome.
I was in his morning workshop class and gained so much from the insights he shared. Brandon agreed to do an interview for this blog; stay tuned for that. My daughter and I came up with a bunch of questions, so it might take a little while for him to answer.
As if the whole week wasn't amazing enough, during the "closing extravaganza" members of the faculty (including agent Mary Kole) busted some moves to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance with slightly modified lyrics: "Write, write, write, rewrite..." Talk about a cherry on top. If anyone has a DVD of that, I'd like a copy. I think I have a new favorite song.
Okay, below are some quotes from the conference.
Alane Ferguson, novelist:
"For me, I have to get that foundation right [or] the rest of it is not going to sit right and I could go way far afield." (talking about the first chapter)
"If you're going to do every little body function, you're going to get dragged down. The minute you chronicle every twitch and spasm, I'm out. Someone wrote, 'His eyes flew around the room' and I said, 'Catch them quick, they're going to get away!'"
"Pick the best and then throw out the rest."
"Go for it, really go for it. We want to vomit the words onto our page and then clean up the mess. Our internal editor can clean it up on the next pass."
"Your tendency is to overdo it at the beginning. Let me discover it along the way. Throw your back story cards down carefully. Don't play every card at the beginning. They are gold."
Mary Kole, associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency:
"Make me care about your character and what story you're taking them on."
"I always give the pages a chance."
"Character is an entry point to a really exciting story."
"Dig deep and tell the truth."
"Developing voice is all about cutting out the parts that suck and making the rest sound natural. The most alive, compelling voices sound like an actual person in my head."
"You don't have to be edgy to write YA."
"Now go out there and write an irresistible book."
Mary E. Pearson, novelist:
"You see images and you hear voices, and you don't even want to take medication for it. A pen is the only cure."
"Story is who we are...as deeply woven into us as DNA. It's what makes us uniquely human."
"Real writers write. They snatch the moments they can and they make it happen."
"If it didn't advance the story, it had to go. I was ruthless."
"There's a saying that 'Families are like fudge, mostly sweet with a few nuts.' Writers have more nuts in their fudge than most people."
"Even if a book only speaks to an audience of one, it has altered the world."
"Each of you has your own story. All those turns in your path, the good and the bad, will make you the writer that's uniquely you. I'm waiting to hear your untold stories."
Ally Condie, novelist:
"I get fulfillment from this that I don't get from other things."
"Believe that who you are writing for are smart and wonderful kids."
"Tough love is different than utter annihalation."
Ann Dee Ellis, novelist:
"The better you know your characters, the easier the plot will fall into place."
Jennifer Hunt, editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers:
"If you're brilliant, let me know it on the first page."
"Skip the trends and look for universal truths."
"What's inspiring to me is the voice. If I fall in love with an author's voice, I can overlook other things."
"As an editor, I say 'I believe very strongly in this person and I want to see them do their best work.'"
Brandon Mull, novelist:
"Whenever I have an excuse to go gross, I do it."
"I try to relate to them in some way and put myself in my characters' shoes."
"Daydreaming is my strength."
"We include things in stories to see the characters' reactions to them."
"...hearing a story from your cool, funny friend vs. your boring friend. It's all about how they arrange the details; their attitude; and pacing. It's not what you say, but how you say it." (talking about voice)
"There's no substitute for massive amounts of reading and writing for finding a voice."
"This is what I sound like when I tell a story."
"The outlining is done by daydreaming, playing the movie in my mind."
"I've got more and bigger and better in me."
"The best way to learn writing is to do it."
Monday, May 31, 2010
The Changing Face of Publishing &
New Ways Authors Get Rich
I reported yesterday on the surging popularity of the iPad and how the new generation of e-readers is going to change publishing, but I realized that a lot of people unfamiliar with the industry might not recognize just how dramatically things are about to change.
Two hundred years ago, writers were Rock Stars. When Edgar Allan Poe gave a reading in the 1840s, women would throw off their clothes and swoon, overcome by the power of his words. When Jack London sold a short story in 1910, he would make $6000—about as much money as an average railroad laborer could expect to make in 20 years.
With the advent of radio and then television, the writers fell out of favor. Singers and actors soon achieved cult status—to the point that most people today probably can’t even name a contemporary poet! Very few poets make a living at it anymore—unless they put their poems to music, and so writers are always grumping about how tough times are.
Throughout all of these shifts, it has been the distributors who have made most of the money. When a book goes ballistic—say a Harry Potter or Twilight series—the author indeed can make a fortune. But the publishers of books, films, and videogames make far more. When a book like Harry Potter takes off, the author might get 15% of the cover price on that book, but the publisher can make more—say 20%-25%. Meanwhile, other distributors join the feeding frenzy with tie-in products. Tolkien’s estate made millions, but the movies made billions, and for every dollar made by the film—sold at the box office, in DVD, or through television licenses—far more was made through licensing the merchandise rights. None of that money for video games, t-shirts, and toy sales goes to the author.
But among writers, many are beginning to ask, Why do I need a publisher? What do they really provide?
I can self-publish the book using print-on-demand technology. Sure, I won’t sell as many copies, but I’ll keep all of the money.
I can self-publish my book electronically, and current case studies show that I can sell just as many electronic copies as my publisher does. In fact, I can do better. Some authors who are testing the waters by selling electronic rights cheaply are finding that they make far more by self-publishing than if they allow their publishers to sell. Why? Because if my publisher sells a book, they raise the price in order to pay themselves. Thus, they have to charge $4.99, for example, to give me a dollar-fifty. Meanwhile, if I self-publish that same book and charge only $1.99, I get to keep a dollar. But by selling at a lower price, I sell ten times as many copies!
The same is true with audio rights. I can read into a microphone and sell downloadable audio files. In the long run I might make far more money. Once again, I’m not paying an actor or a distributor for the audio rights, so I can sell those audio files far more inexpensively and raise the chance of becoming a bestseller in that industry.
So some authors are beginning to realize that publisher’s aren’t necessary anymore. They are betting that they can make more by self-publishing. Right now, I’m concerned that if I sell a novel today and give up my electronic rights, I might be giving up millions of dollars in future income. In short, the need to pay a middleman for electronic and audio rights will raise the price of my work so high that it will actively hinder me from becoming a bestseller.
The publishers, on the other hand, recognize that publishing books is a business that is going into a rapid decline. Most publishers work on about an 8% profit margin per year. If the sales of Kindle and iPad reach their projections this year, paper book sales will probably drop by more than 8%. In short, many publishers will lose money on their paper book divisions.
So they are demanding electronic rights from the authors in order to try to make up for the lost revenues. They’ll be drowning, and the author’s electronic rights will be their lifesavers. But perhaps that’s not a good analogy. It’s more like this: the publishing industry will be drowning, and the publisher’s hope to stay alive by climbing on the backs of their authors. Sure, some authors might drown, but the publishers are telling themselves, “At least I will stay afloat.”
Authors, on the other hand, realize that we don’t really want to be floaties. So we will need to adapt to this changing environment. Fortunately, we’ve seen examples from other industries undergoing similar changes. In the recording industry, pirating of songs caused much of the industry to collapse in the past decade. Many recording artists just “drowned” as a result. But some of them took their acts on the road and began touring. In effect, they cut out the middlemen in their industry and let their pirated music act as advertisements for their talents. As a result, many of the classic rock bands are making far more money on tour than they ever did as recording artists.
As new authors, you probably can’t do something equivalent. You can’t go and charge reading fees or speaking fees. But you might be able to self-publish. You might let the middlemen go hang themselves.
As most of you know, I self-published a book last year, and I’ve been keeping a running tally to let you know how it is doing. In the Company of Angels has sold nearly all of its first print run, and the copies will be gone within the month. So I’m out of the red and into the black, and the book just won the Whitney Award for Best Novel of the Year, which should help bolster sales of the trade paperback. In short, as I look at this little book, I started the venture thinking that it was a really terrible idea. Yet as it evolves, I’m seeing that I could make more money from self-publishing this novel than I’ve made with almost any other book.
Conventional wisdom in the past has said, "Don’t self-publish." But the longer I live, the more I realize that all too often today’s “conventional wisdom” is just a myth waiting to be exploded. Changes in the publishing industry are such that we may soon realize that publishing books as we do now is a bad idea. Sure, I think that we’ll have a strong market for conventional books for the next twenty years, but giving up electronic rights in order to sell paperbacks is looking more and more like a losing proposition.
Reprinted with permission from David Farland's "Daily Kick in the Pants," a free email bulletin for writers. For more info and/or to subscribe, visit Dave's website:
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Ally Condie was a presenter at last month's writing conference in American Fork, and I attended two of her workshops. I'm looking forward to seeing her again next month at WFYR in Sandy.
Check out the amazing cover for Matched on Ally's blog: http://www.allycondie.com/
Monday, May 24, 2010
My husband rented 2012 last weekend. Bummed, I said, "This is going to be just like that stupid Tom Cruise movie with no hero." (I can't remember the name; the doomsday one where aliens invade the earth...okay, I Googled it: War of the Worlds, as in HG Wells but not really.)
So, we watched 2012 while waiting for our daughter to come home from a dance and yep, I was right. The main characters consisted of a dysfunctional family intent only on saving themselves. The secondary characters consisted of sleazy politicians intent only on saving themselves. The whole rest of the world (i.e., me and you) could die as long as they survived. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time connecting emotionally with that type of person (fictional or not). If they don't care about us, why should we care about them? The goal of successful, satisfying books and movies is usually to "save the world," not "forget the world, save ourselves!" What if Lord of the Rings had been about Frodo trying to escape Sauron, and to heck with what he might do to Middle Earth?
Hello? Maybe it's a sign of our selfish times, I don't know. But I need a hero: someone willing to fight and sacrifice and do the right thing, like Frodo and Sam and Aragorn.
Aside from this glaring fault, the characters were stereotypes: divorced parents; Mom living with a boyfriend; Dad trying to maintain a relationship with the kids; bratty teenage son; cute little daughter; bizarre, psycho, convenient source-of-information guy reminiscent of the mad scientist Doc in Back to the Future; obnoxious, arrogant government bureaucrat that of course, no one can gag and throw in the brig; noble president who stays behind to die and leaves us stuck with the obnoxious, arrogant bureaucrat. To make matters worse, the movie was predictable and boring, and dragged on to the point that you almost wanted them to hurry up and die so it could finally be over. And then there was the inevitable "ticking clock" with the computerized female voice counting down to impending doom and destruction, with salvation coming at the last second. Other than that, I don't know what happened because I kept falling asleep.
Stories like this leave me wondering, "Where have all the heroes gone?"
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Friday night, after the Plot Shop activity, we went down to the hotel jacuzzi. A woman was there with a group of kids. She told me they were in town for a karate competition and asked what we were doing.
"We're here for a writing conference," I said.
"Oh, you ride horses?"
"No, writing." I mimed writing in the air. "Writing books."
Not riding horses.
"Oh, they teach you how to write books?"
Well, they try.
"They have workshops and presentations about different areas of writing."
Huh? She looked vaguely confused and we didn't say much after that.
HA! What a funny experience! I really got a kick out of it and my daughter says she's heard me tell the story at least 10 times.
First, the riding horses visual gave me a chuckle. Not that I've never ridden a horse...I have...on a few memorable occasions. And I'm definitely not "riding conference" material (I think they call the thing a rodeo). But aside from the humor, this little conversation played into an analogy I've been contemplating lately: writing is actually a lot like riding.
I was originally thinking of bikes, but horses fit, too. If I study riding by reading books and attending workshops on the subject, I could get to be quite the expert in theory. I could learn everything there is to know about riding (bikes or horses). But until I get my butt in the seat or the saddle and get some actual practice, I won't be much of a rider. Sure, I'll fall or get bucked off a lot in the beginning, but if I stick with it and keep working, I'll get better and better.
Writing is the same way. Conferences and classes and groups can teach me and help me improve...if I'm putting in the necessary seat time. Sure, I'll fall and get bucked off (rejected) in the beginning, but if I stick with it and keep working, I'll get better and better. Several of yesterday's presenters reinforced that point as well.
What started this train of thought was doing a BIAM (Book In A Month) in November...and continuing through December. I had never finished a whole novel before, and finally made myself do it. What a valuable experience! Wow. All that stuff I had learned in theory came into focus in practice. And I was able to gain much more from this latest writing conference because I had put in the seat time beforehand...on that first completed novel as well as the one I'm working on now.
I'll share some of the conference highlights in future posts.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
WFYR is the best conference ever, and these morning workshops are an incredible learning opportunity: four hours spent with an award-winning author Monday thru Friday with class size limited to 14 participants, each of whom brings a chapter of their WIP to be critiqued. For more info, visit: foryoungreaders.com
See you there!
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It's expensive, especially if you're traveling—but so worth the price. This one is the best. I always come away inspired, motivated, and improved as a writer. And this year, my daughter is 16, so we can take turns driving.
For more info, visit foryoungreaders.com.
Friday, February 19, 2010
of Writer's Tips from Jorlan Publishing.
LJ: What events in your life helped to mold you into the writer you've become?
DF: Everything that happens in an author's life molds him or her into the kind of writer that he or she becomes. But I think that the most significant things that happened are the events that led me to become a writer instead of, say, a CIA agent or a street clown. I became a writer because, as a child, I learned to love books. In particular, I loved fantasy novels by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. LeGuin.
LJ: How many rejection letters did you accumulate before getting published? What kept you from giving up as a writer?
DF: Actually, I began writing for contests pretty early, and I won a lot of them. This led to a three-novel contract with Bantam books soon after I began writing. I only have gotten perhaps seven or eight rejection letters in my life. But I think the thing that got me going and kept me going was the positive feedback that I got from writing instructors and fellow writers. You need that when you start out.
LJ: How much attention do you give to the new writing rules such as "no adverbs," "no passive sentences," "limited exclamation points," etc.?
DF: Most rules are somewhat helpful, but a rule like "no adverbs," isn't. Sometimes you need an adverb. Sometimes a sentence has to be passive. So I like to think in terms of guidelines rather than rules, and the guidelines that I choose to abide by are what helps define my individual style and voice.
I have so many little guidelines that it becomes almost impossible to list them. But to give you some ideas:
1. I always try to cut a sentence down to the minimum number of syllables possible. This means that "and then" might become "then," or that even the "then" might be removed and a new sentence started, since when you are telling a story in sequence, we know what "then" is.
2. I never use two adverbs (-ly words) in the same sentence.
3. I avoid sound repetitions and word repetitions unless I'm using them for effect.
4. Hemingway once said that "Great writing is always poetry." I may not pay much attention to the poetry of my language on the first and second passes in a story, but I begin to do so eventually. The poetic devices that I use are rarely heavy handed. I use them mainly to try to control the tension levels and tone in my story, in an effort to alter the reader's moods on a subconscious level.
5. I never use double punctuation in a sentence unless I'm writing from the point of view of a protagonist who is just a little over the top emotionally.
6. I never finish writing a scene until I know what each character is thinking. Now, the characters may not reveal what they are thinking to one another, and I as an author may choose not to report what they're thinking, but I know that a scene doesn't work until I've considered it at this level.
7. The setting in a story needs to intrude in every scene, usually on every page. (I find that if I'm not grounded to the place in an author's story, I soon begin to detach from the story, feeling that it is somehow missing something essential.)
8. I try to make sure that the reader is grounded early in every scene. That means that they should know what the setting is, who the characters are in the room, and they should have a conflict established. I prefer to lay this all out in the first paragraph when possible.
These are just a few of my own guidelines. Many of them are so internalized that I just don't even think about them anymore.
LJ: After your first book was published, did you continue to work with that publisher?
DF: I stayed with that publisher for three books. When you get a book contract, your publisher is investing in you as an author, not just in that one book. So most of the time, it is better to build that relationship. I worked with Bantam on my first book, and I've done nine more books with Tor. A couple of times I've written books that were work-for-hire for other publishers, such as when I wrote Star Wars books or Mummy books, but I love working with my current publisher.
LJ: Do you have an agent? What are your thoughts on agents?
DF: Yes, I have an agent. I think that having a good agent is really necessary in today's market. Your agent will typically have much more knowledge of the markets than you will, and will have expertise in negotiating contracts that you don't have.
When you get an agent, you don't really get just one person, normally. You get a host of agents. My primary agent is Russell Galen, in New York. He handles my US contracts and movie deals. But he has an agent named Danny Baror who handles my contracts in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Japan, China, Denmark, Romania, Yugoslavia, and a host of other countries.
In particular, that foreign agent is very important. A good half of my income comes from foreign sales, and you need someone who is familiar with how to publish in the international territories working for you.
LJ: How did you learn and perfect the craft of writing?
DF: I took a lot of writing classes, and I practiced writing a lot in college. I also belonged to several writing groups where writers got together to critique each other's work. Last of all, I studied fiction editing and worked for magazines to help perfect my own editorial skills.
LJ: Did you have a writing role model and/or mentor?
DF: I wouldn't say that I had a mentor exactly. I very much admire Orson Scott Card, and I attended book signings and seminars where he spoke so that I could get any stray advice that I might hear. He's not just a great writer, he's a great critical thinker and instructor. I also became close friends with Algis Budrys, a 30-year veteran critic for the Chicago Sun Times, and got advice from him.
LJ: How much research do you do before you start on a new book, and is research an integral element of your writing process?
DF: It really depends on the book. Before writing my first novel, "On My Way to Paradise," I read about 100 books. I usually do some research. I'm currently writing a historical novel that required me to read hundreds of biographical sketches and journals. And I'm writing a mainstream thriller that has required large amounts of research. I think that as a writer, you HAVE to do it. You must become an expert in whatever field you are writing about.
LJ: What is your plotting process — do you outline the book, the chapters, and the scenes?
DF: Usually I start with a vague outline of the novel. I then outline each 1/3 or so of it. Then I break it down to the individual chapters and scenes. I will often write the opening without having any idea what will happen after page fifty.
The reason that I do it this way is to keep the writing spontaneous. It's not much fun to write a book if you know exactly where the story is headed. I like to feel free to explore, to move in a new direction if it takes my fancy. My novels almost never end the way that I had thought they would when I started.
LJ: On average, how many revisions do you do on a manuscript? What is your revising process?
DF: I will typically revise a book six or seven times. After I write my first draft, I think about it a lot, then go through and make major changes —cutting out scenes or plot lines, combining two characters into one, adding new scenes.
When that is done, I send it to my editors at Tor. My editor's assistant, Denis Wong, and one other editor will often read the manuscript, then pass it on to the senior editor, David Hartwell. At their direction, I will make one or two more passes.
After that, there are no more major scene changes, only little typos to catch. A line editor will then go through the book and look for typos and whatnot. I'll correct those.
The book then gets type-set, and I will get back the page proofs. This is the last opportunity that I typically have to see the book, and it is an important one. Sometimes the typesetters will put in new typos, or forget to make fixes that should have been there, and so on.
After that, the book goes to print. It will come out in hardcover. I will usually get one last chance to proofread it before it goes into paperback.
LJ: How much time do you spend on writing? Are you disciplined and structured — do you have a set block of time or a certain number of pages that you expect yourself to write every day, or does it vary?
DF: I don't write every single day. Some days I spend doing research. Other days I may spend brainstorming. Others may be spent completely in revising. I find that it is best to have blocks of time to write — usually ten days or so — that are spent away from the house. I don't normally set page goals, either. I often write as few as ten pages a day, but have written as many as seventy when I was eager to finish a novel. On a typical day, when I'm well into a novel, I write twenty-five pages.
LJ: At this point in your career, do you work closely with an editor throughout the writing process, or do you wait until you have an already-revised draft? Who sees your first drafts?
DF: My contracts at this point don't require me to work with an editor. He doesn't know the plots of the books that I'm going to write, and, frankly, neither do I. Yet I've been paid in advance to write them. On my writing contracts, they are listed as "Book #5 and Book #6." So I write the book, send it in, and that's when an editor first learns what the book is about.
LJ: How did you find your writing "voice"?
DF: Your writing voice is really just the way that you naturally speak. If you're born in the south, you'll probably write with a southern voice. So that is the major component. But it may be overlayed by poetic elements. When I write, I don't want to just put words and ideas on paper, I want to write with power and clarity and beauty. So part of your voice comes as you not only try to express yourself, but as you do so according to your own individual ideas about how to express yourself to perfection. So your writing voice comes to you naturally, over time, as you struggle to write to the best of your ability.
LJ: How do you get inside your story so that you can make it believable to readers?
DF: Oh, that's harder than it sounds. You have to do several things. First, you have to get inside the world. That means that if you are writing a story set in 18th Century Paris, you may have to research the period, learn the customs, the dress, the smells and sights. You might even find paintings of the streets where the story takes place.
Then you have to get inside your characters. That means that you have to develop the character's appearance, mannerisms, personal history, thoughts and beliefs, and finally his or her voice. And of course you have to do this with multiple characters — perhaps a protagonist, an antagonist, their romantic interest, and so on.
After you have done that, you have to think about your story. Where is it going? What's the funnest thing that could happen next? Where do I think it needs to go morally?
Once I have considered all of those elements, internalized them, and let them percolate for a bit, then the scenes begin taking shape in my mind, and usually I'll find a thought or interchange that will provide the hook that will draw the reader into the story.
My goal as a writer is to keep the reader totally enthralled. That means that I need to control his or her thoughts and imagination completely as they read.
LJ: Do you base your characters on real people, completely make them up from scratch, or a combination of both?
DF: From both. I rarely choose real people, but aspects of every character that I write about are based on observation of someone that I know or have met, I suspect.
LJ: How do you go about getting to know and understand your characters? How do you bring them to life for the reader?
DF: The real trick is to get inside your character's head. You have to develop that character until you can imagine what he or she will think or say no matter what kind of problem is thrown at them. Then, as a writer, you just report that.
LJ: What's the best advice you were ever given as a writer? What's the best advice you can give us as writers?
DF: Actually, I think one of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever got was from listening to Orson Scott Card once as he talked to another writer. He said, "Writing is about conflicts. When you have a character, let's call her Jane, she may have a lot of problems. Maybe her boyfriend has left her. Meanwhile, she has found a briefcase full of money that belongs to he mob, and they are going to kill her if she doesn't get it back. Oh, and mom is dying from cancer and really needs that money.
"So, when you begin to create scenes, just go through and consider what your conflicts are. Which one seems most urgent to your character right now. That's the one that he or she will have to try to deal with immediately. And your novel just keeps going until you've handled each major conflict.
"Your conflicts are like balls, and you the writer are like a juggler. As long as you have a conflict in motion, up in front of the reader's eyes, the story is still going. As a writer, you might simultaneously have three or five or more conflicts in motion. Your goal is to keep them in motion all of the time. The more conflicts you have in motion, and the more powerful those conflicts are, the more fascinated your reader will be.
"Sometimes you might have insert a scene that just reminds the reader about a conflict until it is resolved later. Other times a conflict will demand to take center stage. Sometimes conflicts are on their way out; they're being resolved for good or ill.
"Once you run out of conflicts, your story is over, whether you want it to be or not. That's how you know that your story is done."
Scott's little piece of advice really helped me understand story structure, and I think it's one of the finest things that I can pass along.
LJ: Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and expertise with us!