Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dramatic Tension and Pacing

I've been on a real roll this month. I've written close to 14K words, and I still have two more writing sessions planned before the end of April. I should come close to 16K words, which, I think, is the most I've ever written in one month. The book is starting to come to a close, and I'm estimating about 80K words for the first draft. If I can keep up the pace, I'll finish it next month.

I've been a bit slow this week because I had to go back and add an entire scene. Keep in mind that, although I have written a couple of novels in the past, they were a long time ago. I'd never been in business, and I didn't think about things like "commercial viability." I wrote what I wanted to write and hoped an editor would like it. I'm certain when I go back to look at those early novels, I'll see that they are lacking the punch that would make them successful.

I do know something now about what makes people read and enjoy books, but I'm still learning. The best way to learn what works is to read books in my genre, and I've been listening to The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. They are also urban fantasy and are fairly close to what I am writing. If you like his series, you'll probably like mine. What Butcher is very good at is dramatic pacing. He knows when to break up exposition with having a bad guy kick in the door and launch into a fight scene. Last week, I was listening to him as I was VERY slowly driving on I395, and, fortunately for my sanity, the bad guys showed up and Harry Dresden had to kick some supernatural butt.

That got me thinking. How many fight scenes or other scenes with dramatic tension did I have in my book? I realized I didn't have enough, and then I went over the book to figure out where I could add one. I found a spot and added a scene where Paul and Dafydd have to fight off three werewolves. I'm pretty pleased with it. My challenge with fight scenes is figuring out how to use Dafydd. He's not a combat mage, but I don't want to have him sit on the sidelines and have Paul do his thing. I'm happy with what I came up with, and we'll see if my beta readers agree.

The downside of adding a major scene like that is going back to incorporate references to it throughout. A scene like that doesn't happen in a vacuum. It has consequences, and working that out has taken some time. But what's really good is that I think I have an idea of where my final scene will happen. Now I need to travel to the scuzzy side of DC (with a friend) to find just the right location for my finale.

I'm excited to be getting close. But I'm not so excited about the coming editing part. Writing is way easier than editing!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with John Passarella (Part 2 of 2)

Thanks everyone who stopped by last week to read the first part of this interview. I hope you enjoyed last week and are ready for part two. Take it away, John!

What’s the selection process like for a media tie-in? Is it easier or harder to get a contract that way than an original work?

I contacted Lisa Clancy about writing a Buffy novel after WITHER came out. Then she asked if I'd like to do an Angel novel. Years later, her successor called and asked if I'd like to do another Angel novel for a particular slot they had open. For Supernatural: Night Terror, I was contacted by Cath Trechman at Titan Books in the UK. She asked if I'd be interested in writing a Supernatural novel and told me when it would be due. So, I inquired once, but had to prove I could write in the Buffyverse and submit a complete outline before I got the job. For the other media tie-in books, the editors came to me. For the Angel books, the editors either had experience with me or knew I had done previous books in that world. For the Supernatural book, I think my credits and visibility on the Web helped me get the offer. I wrote supernatural novels and had media tie-in experience.

For my original novels, I followed an unusual course. WITHER had a big movie rights sale before we sold the actual book. The book rode the movie sale news east to New York (it was reported in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter) and we had editors asking to see the book faster than our literary editor could get it to them. Without a movie deal, it's much harder, especially when you are an unknown. The media tie-in books come with built-in interest and a fan following. As an independent author, you don't have any marketing or name recognition behind you. Much harder to crack. On the flip side, having published books under your belt gives tie-in editors confidence that you are a professional and can produce a professional manuscript.

Is it faster/easier to write one than the other?

It's definitely faster for me writing a media tie-in novel. First, they are shorter than my own novels. My shortest original novel is about 90,000 with others going over 105,000. That seems to be my comfort zone for length. My media tie-in novels have ranged from mid 50,000s to 80,000 for Supernatural: Night Terror. I wrote Angel: Monolith in 45 days. I wrote the first draft of Supernatural: Night Terror in 57 days. For my own novels, the first draft usually takes 4 to 6 months. Second, for all the media tie-in novels, I've had to write a detailed outline and, for contractual reasons, I stayed close to those approved outlines. That meant I never wrote myself into a corner. I always knew how the story ended. For my original novels, I've only written loose outlines, sometimes at the halfway point. I've been trying to convince myself to write more detailed outlines for my own novels. I'm sure it would help. Third, the media tie-in novels have tight deadlines and release schedules. You usually don't have a lot of time once you get the green light. That forces you to stay focused, to meet the deadlines. For my own novels, I've never had a tight deadline, even when I was under a multi-book contract. The deadlines are more general guidelines. If you become a big-name author, those deadlines become more serious because the publisher wants to release your books every year around the same release month. As far as easier, each type of novel has its challenges, as I've mentioned earlier. But generally, the tie-ins keep you on track and efficient. For original novels, the freedom to write what you want when you want can lead to procrastination and experimentation and endless rewrites. I've met quite a few authors who have been writing their first novel for years, but never seem to get to the end. You have to find a middle ground if you want to be productive.

Have you noticed that fans of your work-for-hire buy your original works?

While I haven't taken a poll, I believe there is some crossover for me, mainly because my tie-in work exists in the same genre as my original novels, modern-day supernatural thrillers with some humor. Humor was a big part of Buffy and it's a big part of Supernatural. At the same time, the horror and thriller aspects are taken seriously. I've had a few of my original novel readers try my tie-in work as well, even if they haven't watched the show the tie-in is based on. One reader said he wanted to watch the show after he read my tie-in. I think all writers of tie-in novels hope to bring some fans from the tie-in universe to their own books.

Juli says, I'm one of those who became a fan of John's because of an Angel novel.

How do you juggle both writing and running a web design company? Any advice for budding writers who can’t afford to quit the day job?

When I had a so-called day job, I kept a better writing schedule because I forced myself to write during lunch and in the evenings. Running my own web design company ( has become a challenge, as far as finding time to write. The company keeps growing and the Web design field is in constant motion, so there's always more to learn. For me, it's not a question of taking my work home, I have a home office, so I never leave my work! That makes it hard. I use the same computer to design Websites that I use to write novels, so there's never any getting away from my "work" station. For Supernatural: Night Terror, with the tight deadline, I wrote a lot of the book after midnight. My average time to turn in each night kept drifting later and later until I was going to sleep around 4 AM. That became my norm. I've always been a night owl, but that was getting a bit ridiculous. The challenge for me is to keep up with the Web design world's changes while writing my own novel on spec, with no contract and no deadline. It's always easier to focus on the work that pays immediately rather than on the work which may or may not pay off six months to a year in the future. I read articles about taking back some of the "life" part from the work/life balance. I've made an effort to work less on the Web side on the weekends, but I know that to be an effective writer, I need to write almost every day of the week. I can't put a novel-in-progress aside for five days, then pick it up on Saturday and say, Now where was I? For my own writing routine, I need to be plugged into the story everyday, because the work isn't all done at the keyboard. I think about the story when I'm away from the computer, I think about it before I go to sleep, when I wake up in the morning, etc. If I set it aside for five days in a row, all the subconscious processes go into hibernation. So, I'm still learning.

Thank you, John! I appreciate you being so open and candid with us about being a writer. Appreciate him yourself by visiting his author website and checking out his books.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview with John Passarella (Part 1 of 2)

I'm blessed this month to publish an interview with Bram Stoker Award willing novelist John Passarella. John and I met via KindleKorner, a Yahoo! group for Kindle (and other e-book) lovers. Someone on the list reviewed an Angel TV tie-in book he'd written, and I bought and loved it. I've since bought one of his original works, Shimmer, and I've got his other books on my wish list. (So many books, so little time!)

I follow him on Twitter (@JohnPassarella), and he mentioned he was writing another TV tie-in for Supernatural. The book is available for pre-order (Supernatural: Night Terror), and I asked him if he'd be willing to tell us about the differences between writing original fiction and work-for-hire. He gave me some great answers, too much for one blog post, so I'm splitting it between this week and next. Enjoy! And buy his stuff. He's a good writer, and he assures me I'll enjoy Night Terror even though I've never seen Supernatural.

Which do you like better, original or media tie-in?

I prefer the freedom and creativity of writing my own original novels and stories. I have complete control. I can go wherever the story and the characters take me. At the same time, writing media tie-in novels for shows I love is a lot of fun. They bring me even closer to the show, because I study the show on a different level when I'm planning to write a novel about it. And it's a way for me to put these characters in situations I dream up. For me, the ultimate goal in writing tie-ins is to write a novel that fans of the show experience as a "missing episode" or adventure with their favorite characters. I want the story to feel a part of their universe and I want the characters voices and actions to feel right.

How did you get started writing TV show tie-ins?

After my first novel (WITHER, co-authored with Joseph Gangemi) came out, the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle review said, "hits the groove that makes TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick." The Buffy TV series was in it's second year or so and I was a huge fan. That review made me think that maybe I could write a Buffy novel, but I didn't know if I could capture the characters' voices. That was still an unknown for me, something I hadn't tried yet. I contacted Lisa Clancy, who was editing the books. Told her I loved the show, mentioned that review of WITHER and asked if I could write one of the novels. She told me to write a 10 to 12 page outline of the complete book and a sample chapter featuring the main cast. That sample chapter would prove to both of us whether or not I could capture their voices. That sample chapter basically became the first chapter in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble. During the process of writing that book, Lisa asked if I'd like to do an Angel novel (Angel was early in season one), that she thought I'd be a good fit for that show. Of course, I agreed. The result was Angel: Avatar. A few years later, I wrote Angel: Monolith. In September 2011, Night Terror, my original novel based on the TV show Supernatural is due out. That one will be my first outside of the Whedonverse, but it's a good fit for me since my own novels are supernatural thrillers. 

Is it something you’d recommend for a new author trying to make a name for him or herself?

If the opportunity is there for a new author, sure. In some ways, writing a tie-in is easier than a completely original novel. There is no world-building needed -- the world has already been built for you. Same for the main characters. Their history and their voice is established. You come up with ancillary characters only. But in some ways, it's harder to write an original tie-in novel. Not every writer can capture the voices of an established show/world. And, as with all tie-in novels, the toy box metaphor is in effect. You get to play with the toys, but you have to put them back in the toy box the way you found them. A reset switch. That means you can't make changes to the characters' lives or the course of the canonical arc even when the novels aren't themselves canon. And yet, within those parameters, you have to come up with an interesting and exciting story. It's harder to write emotional arcs that resonate in a media tie-in novel when the characters themselves aren't allowed to change. In your own original novel, anything can happen and emotional arcs are much easier to write. Also, in tie-in novels, the author is not the final authority. You have to abide by rules, set the story in a certain time-frame, perhaps not use certain characters or situations you would have enjoyed exploring, and make any requested changes.

Do you find it limiting to be working with someone else’s character? Or does it free you to concentrate on plot since you don’t have to go quite as much character development?

As I mentioned above, you don't need to work on character development the way you would in your own novel, but you do need to master the voices of those characters. If they don't act right or sound right, the fans will let you know. And there are some constraints in the plot because you have to set the story in a certain time-frame within the show's moving arc. Finally, you have to set things back the way they were, no major character changes allowed. If you can work within those constraints, you can have a lot of fun playing in the world, especially if you are a fan yourself. I don't think I would want to write a media tie-in novel for a show I didn't care about as a viewer. I need that enthusiasm to really enjoy the experience. And, hopefully, if I'm having fun in that world, the reader will have fun as well.

Come back next week where John will tell us how he schedules writing around his job as web designer. He'll also tell us how writing media tie-ins has helped promote his original works.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Research! Research! Reseach!

The book is coming along well. I wrote almost 12K words last month, and I'm aiming for about the same this month and next. I think that will just about finish the first draft. Then to the joys of editing.

In anticipation of the next book, I'm starting research now. Book Three in the series (no title yet) will reveal much about Paul's background. I've deliberately kept him as kind of a mysterious character because I wanted to focus on Dafydd. And I thought it was cool to keep some mystery around the vampire.

Paul is actually a minor, but recognizable, historical person. Nope, I'm not revealing it even here, although faithful blog readers will get the scoop first. He "dies" during the Civil War, at the Battle of Gettysburg, and if you are a serious Civil War buff, you might be able to figure it out from that. ;)

Because he was born in a different time, I wanted to read up on that historical period to get an idea of his values. Yes, he's changed over time (he is almost 200 years old!), but the time in which he was human would affect his attitudes and how he thought.

Obviously, I'm going to fictionalize a lot, but if I have a grasp on what he was like as a person, it will make my writing on him richer, even if most of the details are never presented in the story.

In case you are interested, I'm using Shelby Foote's excellent series on the Civil War. And I was just directed by another blogger to a book that is supposed to have a lot of information about my specific character.

One interesting attitude, which could be fun to work into the story, is how he might view attacking vs. defensive strategies. The South decided to fight a defensive war in the beginning, which meant they were reacting to Northern attacks. Based on what Paul would have seen, I'm guessing he won't be much for being on the defensive.

I also have been seeing some political parallels between then and now. Paul can be an interesting observer of current politics, with his own perspective.

He's going to be a lot of fun, with my challenge being presenting him through Dafydd's first person narrative. I do think I made the right decision to go with first person for the series, but it does provide some interesting narrative challenges along the way. However, writing a narrator with some definite biases is very satisfying. Nothing wrong with having some fun at my character's expense!