Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conflict? Gotta love it.

Writing well remains my goal, but it's not enough to describe the setting vividly to give 'truthiness' to the story. Nor is it enough to bring characters to life with just the right description that tickles the imagination with a telling image. 

That main character is on her personal quest, and we, the readers, are right with her -- facing down dangers and opposition. CONFLICT remains the key to engaging the reader and telling good stories.

And here's my problem. I hate conflict. I've spent most of my life avoiding it, working around it, or plain pretending conflict doesn't exist. But what may work personally doesn't work in fiction. 

Our characters are larger than life. They inspire us with their tenacity, courage, and belief. And with their ability to resolve conflict.

Now I know the problem that lies behind my plotting. Let's begin with a definition. What is conflict? When two characters have motivations or goals that are in direct opposition. Do they physically fight? Are both characters good guys, or is one a black-hearted manipulator? Are they playing the short game . . . or the long one? 

Conflict can be external (between the main character and others or outside forces) or internal (inside the character, that battle to make the 'right' or 'best' decision).

Chuck Sambuchino, in "5 Ways to Increase Conflict," says we should always ask in every scene, "What would make this worse?" 

He reviews common conflict resolution strategies and then says, "turn them upside down." One example: Normally, we don't want to bring others into our arguments. But Sambuchino suggests what if we bring outsiders into the conflict between our characters? 

I could say more, but go read his article . . . each point he makes gives me a different slant on what I'm writing and revising this morning.  So, I'll leave you with a 'to-do' list, one of my favorite memes, and I shall have a rousing argument before lunch . . . between my two main characters.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year thank you with a freebie!

To celebrate the turn to a new year, I took the plunge and signed up with BookBub to run a marketing promotion to hopefully find a few new readers. This promotion is going on RIGHT NOW as a thank you to past and future readers. 

For the next three days, 
from January 15 through January 18,
the Kindle version of
is available FREE.

When Lord Gordon threatens to destroy the only life that Mac McDonnell has ever known, Mac will need to decide what he is willing to risk to protect his family, his sweetheart, and his livelihood. 

So the first day of this promotion, at 6:30 am, 350 people had downloaded their free copy of Standing Stones. I was ecstatic. This jumped to 5,854 downloads by 9:30 am. It's pushing 10:30 pm now, with about 29,000 downloads. And that's the first day. Whew!

Everyone says becoming a successful indie writer is about connecting with readers. But to reach a small city of readers? That's a little overwhelming. 

Maybe some of these new readers will write a review. Maybe some will be interested in Book 2 of this series, Years of Stone. Or maybe they'll just enjoy the story. That's enough for me.

If you love historical fiction (or know someone who does), please consider checking out Standing Stones.  Thank YOU! 

Paul Arion, "Scotland Fjords" (Flickr)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Essential reading for self-published writers . . .

If ever I've stumbled on this path to self-publishing, marketing remains my biggest challenge. In today's post on her blog, Indie Adventures, Ruth Nestvold lays out concrete strategies we can consider to strengthen our marketing and our sales. 

I really admire Ruth Nestvold's straightforward advice, her willingness to test out what works for indie writers, and her generosity in sharing what she learns.

Just read this latest post from Ruth: 

"Why 'write the next book' isn't enough; 
                 or what to do if your book is not selling."

And I'm working on my blurbs tomorrow morning -- right after a good night's sleep!

"Do Not Disturb" by Alexander Yates

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Writing historical fiction: Hudson Strait and ice . . .

Although it snowed this past week, and temperatures are dipping in the low 20s tonight, I'm cozy and warm in my office, peering out at the patches of snow and ice that remain in the drive.

In the 19th Century, for people traveling by sailing ship to the York Factory at the southern tip of Hudson's Bay in Upper Manitoba, conditions were definitely not cozy. 

Luckily for me, passengers of this time (though they weren't sleeping in steerage, like my characters) kept journals. Here they recorded what they saw, ate, how they slept and survived their 6-8 week journey through storms, heavy fog, and the tedium of crossing the ocean from northern Scotland, past Greenland, to Hudson's Bay.

Once the barque, the Prince Rupert, passed Cape Resolution and approached Hudson Strait, travelers saw whales and great icebergs. One such iceberg, described by Isaac Cowie as "a tall spire-like berg," capsized as the ship passed, "raising enormous rings of billows all round, into which our yardarms dipped" (88). Cowie writes of the absolute beauty of these icebergs seen in the light of the setting sun.

Magdalena Bay by Fran├žois-Auguste Biard, 1840 (Wikipedia)

Read more about the expedition to the Arctic which Biard participated in the 1830s in an article by Mark Sample, "Art and Terror in the Arctic." 

Or read of Norwegian Jens Munk who traveled through Hudson Strait in his search for the Northwest Passage in 1619. Munk found much ice -- the result, scientists say, of a Little Ice Age. Mona Elizabeth Brother, in her article "Canada and Norway's Shared Polar History," writes that logbooks from the Hudson Bay Company (1750-1870) report "ice complicated travel through the strait for several centuries" past the Little Ice Age. Note: Scientists disagree about the dates of the Little Ice Age, though most say from about 1350 to about 1850 (Wikipedia).

Cowie in his very useful memoir, The Company of Adventurers, recounts the chief mate took joy in ramming these ice floes -- once crashing into ice "until we were nearly on our beam ends" (89). 

A reader of an early chapter of my current work in progress, Rivers of Stone, noted that he had traveled near Hudson Strait and encountered no ice. This has led me to ask: Was there ice in Hudson's Bay or in Hudson Strait at the time of my story, late summer, 1842? 

Finally, I can safely answer, "Yes!"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Writing historical fiction: Of sailing ships and contracts . . .

I'm reading Isaac Cowie's very useful memoir, The Company of Adventurers: A Narrative of Seven Years in the Service of the Hudson's Bay Company during 1867-1874.  Not historical fiction. Not set in 1842 as my story, Rivers of Stone is. But a fascinating read for background close to the time of my story.

So far I've learned:

--The Prince Rupert, a three-masted sailing ship called a barque, had an iron-plated bow and oak-sheath at the waterline so that she could sail the icy waters of the Arctic.
--The captains of Hudson Bay Company ships ignored the fur-trading missionaries who sailed in smaller ships, seeing them as competition and close to pirates.
--All the foods taken aboard, from prime beef, to live pigs and sheep and chickens, and drink (rum, beer, wines, to brandy), would be distributed by rank. Those who ate very well in the cabin with the captain were teased that this was the last "civilized food" they would get. Once ashore in the wilderness of York Factory and upper Canada, their fare would be "bear and blubber, fish without bread or salt or vegetables in times of plenty, and leather and lichen off the rocks in time of want" (Cowie 77). 
--Those who signed the five-year contract as laborers slept in steerage and could lose all their pay if they did not work as assigned, with no promise of room or board, which included working aboard the ship. These laborers were recruited from all over northern Scotland and received half a year's pay before boarding. 
--The laborers recruited for the York Factory included blacksmiths, a boatbuilder, and a cooper along with a group of 24 very hardy young men who had been vetted by their parish minister and a local doctor. Apprentice clerks most likely were related to someone already employed by the Company.

There is also the matter of ice. Just how much ice did the Prince Rupert encounter as it sailed from Stromness in the Orkney Islands, past Greenland to Davis Strait and Hudson Strait near Baffin Island on its way to Hudson's Bay in August of 1842? This photo was taken in Davis Strait on September 3, 2014.

Towering Remnants of an Arched Iceberg 6 Davis Strait Canada
Photo by Ngaire Hart Lawson (Flickr)

The challenge ahead will be to continue research and decide how these facts affect my characters in Rivers of Stone

Dougal McDonnell, an Orkneyman, joined the Hudson's Bay Company because he dreamed of owning his own land one day, far from the capricious landowner who evicted his family, along with traditional farmers and fishermen, to replace them with sheep. 

Catriona disguised herself as a boy to travel to the wilds of Upper Canada with Dougal, her husband.

Both will be tested in a world they could barely imagine, but one I hope to bring to life.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Beta, Beta, Boom!

What makes a good beta reader? Whether you are self-published or seeking to query an agent or publishing house, a beta reader is rather like a 'last chance' reader.

A beta reader is that mythical, trusted soul, typically another writer who writes in your genre, and who, perhaps, has never read any of your drafts.

She or he will read your nearly final out-the-door draft to find . . . 

--egregious errors
--minor or major plot holes 
--misnamed characters (yes, that happened to me!)
--glaring typos or proofreading errors

Your beta reader will then send you comments that affirm the value of your story and motivate you to undertake a final pass of revision and editing. Sometimes your beta reader will talk about strategies for the blurb or query letter or suggest how to reach your target audience. 

I've had a few wonderful beta readers as final readers. Each time I was so pleased at the helpfulness of their comments. I did find it VERY difficult to ask someone to be a beta reader, but since I did not hire a developmental editor or a copy editor, two or three beta readers were essential for each of my books. 

How did I find my beta readers? I usually try to have someone well-versed in the history of the period I'm writing in, someone who reads in my genre, and a writer I know rather well -- even virtually. I must confess that I'm paranoid about giving an entire rough draft to someone who is a stranger.

When those comments come in from my beta reader, though, the real work begins. For we really have to evaluate whether each comment advances our story in a way that fits our vision. We may not act on all the suggestions our beta readers give us. That takes a different level of insight into the story, and sometimes, courage.

How is it possible to say thank you? You might consider a review of their work, a 'thank you' in your Author Note, or perhaps a blog interview. And you just might volunteer to be a beta reader for another writer.

"Readers" by Hartwig HDK (Flickr)

Here are some useful posts on beta readers: 

Belinda Pollard has written a series defining beta readers and how to find them.

Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas wrote "5 Things You Should Know about Working with Beta Readers," posted on Joel Friedlander's blog.

Jami Gold's article, "Introducing the Beta Reader Worksheet," which includes a downloadable worksheet which could be helpful for face-to-face or online critique groups as well.

May your own writing go well.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A Little About Plot Holes

On a white-water rafting trip down the Snake and Salmon Rivers in two-person boats, our guide told us how to paddle past sucking whirlpools. And then we set off. Our little boat skirted past a deep whirlpool. I couldn't see bottom, just the great green current circling. At speed. I knew we were too close. Our guide had said if we spilled here, we wouldn't come up until spring. If then. 

That's kind of how I feel about plot holes. They seem nearly invisible, just a ripple, until you're nearly upon them. 

Today marks my third session reading for deep revision. I'm happy to be taking notes and marking up the draft. Each reading brings me closer to the story -- and I'm beginning to spot those gaps in the story that may lead to new scenes or new understandings about this story. 

But something's starting to percolate along with those underlines of different colors and penciled notes. I'm starting to see those missing transitions and to get ideas for new scenes that would fill in those plot holes. I see glimmers . . . possibilities . . . and missing interactions. 

TIP FOR TODAY: Grab those sticky notes. Use one color to jot down ideas for missing scenes. Don't feel married to any ideas just yet. Just jot down the notes and move on. 

In this round of revision, my purpose is to 'see' the story. A sticky note will help me separate ideas for plot holes from the rest of the revisions I'm working with. And yes, I do expect another round of drafting and writing and revising.

In the words of Kait Nolan, facilitator for A Round of Words in 80 Days, keep in mind, "There is no one true way." Persevere. 

And tune in tomorrow for another report on this month-long meditation on revision.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

On Revising

I've actually been revising a little every day since the great burst of energy with NaNoWriMo, but yesterday, I took the plunge. The novel, Rivers of Stone, historical fiction at 86,000 words, awaits in seriously lumpy form, research not complete, character arcs unclear, and plot holes along the way. Repeated words echo with each reading.

But finally, the underlying story line, that messy plot, is clear. Not exactly written down, but I know with certainty what motivates my character and what will happen.

So yesterday, I began by reading a motivational article by an editor/writer who feels like an old friend, Holly Lisle. I gathered pencils, the draft, and the notebook. And then I read another motivational article, made breakfast, tidied up a bit, then returned to my writing desk and finally began.

Day One: The Notebook
I did the silly thing, read aloud. I did what I was told not to do. I marked up at the word level now and then, but I persevered. At the end of two hours, I had read two chapters, made notes, and I was exhausted.

But I have truly begun. Participating in NOVELS-L, a subgroup of The Internet Writing Workshop, brings such a variety of comments from online critters. Committing to A Round of Words in 80 Days helps me to focus my goals, set deadlines and be accountable. And now, posting about the process for the next month for the Ultimate Blog Challenge . . . all moves me forward.

May your own writing (and reading) bring you joy.

Holly Lisle: "How to Revise a Novel"