Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Writers Best Kept Secret- Research!

As a writer of historical fiction, research plays an integral part in the writing process of all my novels. Research is also essential to writers of contemporary fiction as well as writers in most genres. So today I thought I’d share the steps I take while researching my novels. Keep in mind this is just the process that works best for me.

Amanda's Research Tips

The first step is to make sure what you will be researching. For me, this means that I have a general idea about the premise of my story and what kinds of areas I will need to research. Then I will take a few days and do Google searches on various topics and see what I can come up with online. Although I do find a few tidbits of interesting information, I’ve come to realize that online research is not as productive as using actual research books and sources. So, after I’ve printed out my online findings and set those aside, I start my Amazon search. Although you don’t necessarily need to use Amazon, I’ve found the “More Recommendations For You” and the “Customers Who Bought These Items Might Like…” to be very helpful because they lead me to other books about the same topic.
After I’ve compiled a bibliography of about twenty books on various topics, I decide which books to purchase and which books to order from the library. Sometimes I just order all the books from the library and after reading them, decide which ones would be most productive to own. Most of the books I use need to be interloaned and our library charges a fee for this. So I need to make a determination if the book is something I think I will use a lot, or even in future projects. In that case, I may just decide to buy the book rather than pay the fee to interloan it. Most research books can be bought used relatively in-expensively  from Amazon and
Once I have all the books sitting in a HUGE stack on top of my desk, I start to read. And read. And read some more. This can take anywhere from two to four weeks, depending on how large the books are and how involved the research is. This is actually one of my favorite parts of the whole “pre writing process” because while I’m reading my mind is going wild with ideas for my novel. “Hey, my heroine could do this” or “This would make a great scene.” Usually, the researching stage is also when I add in final details to the outline of my plot.
After I’ve purchased some books, and photocopied a few pages out of the rest, I compile all my research info into one large binder which I refer to while writing. Although, I try not to interrupt the flow of my writing, if I’m writing a description or referring to something I’m not familiar with, I do check the binder now and then.
My dream......
So, there you have it. My research process. Now, of course what I would absolutely LOVE to do, is take an actual trip to the setting of my novels, such as to Newport RI or the great English country houses. J Alas, I must wait until I sign that elusive contract, following which I intend to become a world traveler.

Happy Writing and Researching!

Your Turn – How do you conduct research. If you’re a contemporary writer, what part does research play in your pre writing stage. I’d love to hear!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Blogging Blues!

Have you ever sat down at your laptop to write a blog post and then went blank? Your computer screen glares back at you and you know you have to write something. Anything! But your mind feels like a brick wall, or maybe you’re just sleep deprived, or worried whether or not your manuscript got lost in cyberspace when sending it to the Genesis contest (I’m a victim here.) All you know is that the blog post won’t write itself.
So what do you do? I’ve comprised some tips below, and no, one of them is not eating a gallon of double chocolate ice cream! Yum!

Four Tips To Beat the Blogging Blues
1) Don’t panic. Every writer has the blogging blues at one time or another. Learn to accept blogging as work. It may not always be an exciting outpouring of wit read by your excited readers, but it’s something that has to be done.  Just like walking the dog, and doing dishes. If you don’t do it you have a sink full of dishes and a very unhappy dog. If you don’t blog, you have a platform that…well, isn’t really a platform anymore. And although you may not be Nora Roberts or James Patterson, you’re still a professional writer. Like it or not professional writers have to build their platforms
2)Make A List – For me, the most difficult part about blogging is not writing the actual post, but coming up with ideas for the post. So I keep an ongoing list of topics to blog about. Whenever something sparks my interest, be it a conversation about a certain element of writing with a crit partner, or a problem in my own writing, I write it down. That way, the next time I’m having blogging blues I need only refer to my list and voilĂ .

3)Set a Timer – This works with any writing assignment, but it’s a really great tip for writing
procrastination. Sometimes just forcing myself to sit down and write for five minutes usually gets my creative juices flowing. After all, anyone can write nonstop for just five minutes, right?

4)Take a Break – Occasionally, even after doing all of the above, we can still be stuck in the blogging blues. If we take a vacation and step back from blogging for a time, we’ll come back energized and refreshed. Or you could cut back on the amount of blogs you write per week to only one. Often such a cutback is just the boost you need to chase away the blogging blues.

**In conclusion – If we’re attempting to build a platform and broaden our online presence, blogging is a must. Although it may not always be a walk in the park, using the above tips have made my blogging journey easier and a lot less painful.
Your Turn – What tips do you have to beating the blogging blues?

Happy Writing- Amanda

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Invasion Of The Talking Heads!

One year, I received a comment from a contest judge that read. “The scene between __ is full of talking heads.” Um....say again? After I did my research, I discovered this judge was right. My novel did contain some scenes with talking heads. My discovery led me to decipher just what those talking heads were and how I could roll them right off the pages of my novel.
What are talking heads?
In a nutshell, talking heads are scenes or paragraphs where characters are talking back and forth without any description, action, beats, or inner monologue. This can make for lifeless reading not to mention it's very confusing.
So how do we control this species? How do we turn talking heads that are rolling all over our computer screens into real, three-dimensional characters?
Here are some tips:
Inner monologue (IM)Adding a few lines of inner monologue sprinkled throughout your dialog can go a long way towards eliminating these talking heads. Have your viewpoint character think about what the other character is saying to them. Have them seethe with anger inwardly, but answer calmly. Have them hide their emotions while speaking, but in the inner monologue let their emotions run wild.

Character action and beats- This is one of my favorite ways to break up dialog. Instead of using a tag (he said), use a beat (he clamped his hand to his forehead). This conveys something about the character, as well as letting the scene play out like a movie in the reader’s mind. Characters can pace the room, stare out the window, run their fingers through their hair, clasp and unclasp their hands - the sky’s the limit. Of course, keep in mind who your character is and whether or not they would perform that particular action.

Description– This pretty much goes hand in hand with character action. Having your main character sit down on a leather desk chair instead of just a chair can go a long way in describing the setting. This is especially true in historical novels where readers may not be familiar with objects used in the era. Characters can wash a sink full of dirty dishes, flip through the New York Times, or sip tea from Dresden china cups. You name it. Using description in this manner can work to your advantage and eliminate what would usually be boring dialogue.
Although some dialog is best presented in a ping pong style (such as some scenes in mysteries or thrillers) this can wear the reader out. Readers want novels that drop them into the story and into the character’s mind. The more an author immerses them in the thoughts of a character and in the mood of the scene, the more the reading experience will deepen. Of course, there can be overkill, but as I tend to err on the “talking head” side, rather than the “overkill” side, I always need reminding.

So fellow writers, I charge you to take up your swords, go forth, and obliterate those talking heads from the pages of your manuscript - to the delight of your readers!

Happy Writing,

PS. We had a family emergency that kept me from getting out last weeks post. Sorry to all my loyal blog readers. Happy Valentine’s Day!          -Amanda  

Your Turn – Have you found an invasion of talking heads in your own writing? Any tips to add to the list? I look forward to your comments.