Monday, August 8, 2011

Gathering the Facts

This summer I have done a lot of research for my next novel. I have been asked to write a sequel to Tombs of Terror and, like any author, I want to make it better than the first.

For me, that means it needs to have more action and more facts. I love novels that weave fact with fiction. Even fantasy novels are better when truth is dribbled onto the pages.

So I have been doing a lot of research.

My first place to research is the internet but I am always leery. I love researching quality sites such university and government sites along with reputable medical sites such as the Mayo Clinic. They generally have the most up-to-date and accurate information and great links to other sites they deem worthy and reliable.

But I also love tapping into living, breathing people. They add human perspective to the facts. They make great emotional comments that research papers have to leave out.

As I interviewed real people for my book this summer, I wrote down some of the off-the-cuff remarks and humorous comments that popped from their mouths. The comments were great, even better than I could script so, with permission, I will be adding some of those comments to the dialogue of my book. You definately can't get humor or human from a university or government site!

Finding people to interview can be a bit overwhelming, even to me...a newspaper reporter by trade. But, here are some techniques.

Call and tell them who you are.

Tell them exactly why you are calling. ("I am researching a book on the alphabet and am hoping you can help me with some information.") It doesn't hurt to butter them up a bit, either. ("I was told by so-and-so that you were the best person to talk to about the alphabet.")

Ask open-ended questions. Don't just ask, "Have you studied the alphabet?" Instead, ask, "what is something that surprises you about the alphabet?"

As the interview is ending, ask if you can call back if you have other questions.

Also ask if they know of anyone else who may be able to help.

Finally, I also like to ask if they would be willing to read that portion of the manuscript before I send it to the editor to make sure I have the information accurate. (I do this with my newspaper articles as well and everyone is thrilled by this question. In fact, I can't recall a single person who has ever said no. )

If possible, make a trip to the area or areas of your book. That is a great way to visit with the people who live there. You will be directed to gems you couldn't find through phone research. While there, take copious notes about the terrain, the weather, the sights and smells. Plug in as many of those facts as you can, too.

So, while you gather facts--write, write, write. Above all, enjoy meeting the people who will add so much great flavor to your book whether they are seen on the pages or not.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Plotting the plot

One of the biggest questions writers have is how much plotting should they do before they start writing.

I have followed plot outlines faithfully and they work. However, I am generally so anxious to start writing that I have been known to begin with only a simple idea or two.

For example…I started Tombs of Terror because of the stories I heard about the secret tunnels in Peru. I thought that would make a great Young Adult adventure novel. Next I created a main character, Jonathon, who would get lost in the tunnels.

With only that much information, I started writing.

Severino and Carlos both appeared in the story after I had started. Severino showed up first. He was just going to help Jonathon get out of the tunnels but I liked the rawness of his life and felt he was great composite of the wonderful Peruvian teenagers I have met.

Originally Carlos was only going to appear for the second chapter but I liked his older and wiser personality so well that I let them stick around for more of the adventure and had him teach Jonathon about the Inca culture.

The story evolved from there.

However, all stories need main plots, secondary plots, and plot twists. Here is a great formula that I use to help me remember when and where to include these necessities.

CHAPTER ONE: Hero is introduced.

CHAPTER TWO: Villain and his quest are introduced. Hero faces or expresses concern over a goal of value he feels is important. This concern is seemingly unrelated to the plot but later becomes a key part of the story.

CHAPTER THREE: The villain and his quest are still followed. Hero faces a problem with a matter of heart. Hero’s problem in chapter two appears resolved.

CHAPTER FOUR: The villain crosses paths with the hero for the first time, though the hero doesn't know it yet. A secondary plot line develops in this chapter and runs through the rest of the book. This secondary plot line involves a second character or problem.

CHAPTER FIVE: No villain in this chapter. The hero faces an unexpected problem (plot twist) that casts doubt about the problem resolution discussed chapter three. Stories with the matter of heart and the secondary plot continue.

CHAPTER SIX: The hero faces problems with the matter of heart and the unexpected problem started in chapter five. The secondary plot continues and begins to involve the hero.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Hero solves chapter five's problem but still struggles with the matter of heart problem. In this chapter, a shocking plot twist develops that tells the hero his problems are bigger than he thought and is something evil going on, even if he doesn’t know who or what yet. Secondary plot problems continue to grow.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Hero thinks he has found the solution to the problem with the evil he discovered in chapter seven. He also enjoys his matter of heart. Things are fine until the end of this chapter when a new problem (plot twist) surfaces that brings the villain back in a new and more dangerous way. This plot twist also combines both the main and secondary plots.

CHAPTER NINE: The hero focuses on conquering the villain and neglects the matter of heart.

CHAPTER TEN: The hero continues his quest to conquer the evil villain. Danger from the villain increases.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: This is where many novels sag. To fight that, the writer must throw in a series of new problems the hero must face...a new one in each of the next three chapters. In this chapter the hero appears to get the upper hand but this short-term-victory angers the villain.

CHAPTER TWELVE: Disaster occurs which threatens the matter of heart.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The hero is distracted from the villain and more concerned about the matter of heart. This distraction gives the villain an edge on the hero, still angry about the events of chapter eleven.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Because of chapter eleven, the quest of the villain now focuses directly on the hero. In this chapter, the quest to destroy the hero becomes 'personal'.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The villain starts to systematically destroy everything of value to the hero.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: After the initial wave of losses, the hero re-evaluates his priorities and decides the matter of heart and his personal goal or value mentioned in chapter two are the most important. The hero is ready to walk away from the conflict.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: The villain orchestrates a major disaster that threatens both the matter of heart and the hero's main goal or value.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: The hero must decide between the matter of heart or his goal. The hero chooses the matter of heart. The hero works to save the matter of heart.

CHAPTER NINETEEN: With the matter of heart safe, the hero realizes he can't walk away from the conflict. To honor his main goal or value, the hero must face the villain personally.

CHAPTER TWENTY: In this chapter things go wrong for the hero. Finally, the hero must make a sacrificial decision which gives the villain victory. A surprising twist, often involving help from the now saved matter of heart, brings down the villain and the hero wins.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: All problems are resolved. The hero is reunited with the matter of heart, the book ends with the hint of 'more' for the hero. This ‘more’ can be more matter of heart or more danger. You decide!

Good luck this summer!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to write your book...

This summer I am under contract to write a sequel to my first book, Tombs of Terror. I also have two other YA books that I am working on, so I will be doing a lot of writing in the coming months.

People often ask me, how do you write a book?

You just write. You start and you finish and, somewhere between those two points, the book has to emerge.

The saddest thing in publishing is this truth: we will never read some of the greatest works in the world because their creators will never start and finish.

Once a friend of mine shared with me some opening lines she had created for books she wanted to write. No book already published has ever come up with such wonderful opening lines. Stunned, I told her if those lines showed her ability to write, she would be famous. She just had to stop making excuses, stop doubting her ability and the importance of her words, and start writing.

A while back, I asked her about her books.

She’s still hasn’t started. In fact, over time she has forgotten those wonderful opening lines. She didn’t even take the time to write them down.

I feel the world has lost something special. Even if no one else cared, I wanted to read her books. I want to read your books, too.

So, I’m inviting you to write with me this summer. I will chronicle the steps I take in writing a book so you can learn and follow them if you’d like. The steps are simple but the accomplishments can be wonderful.