Welcome to my last post for 2018!
I hope you’ve all had a fab year and the lead-up to our Aussie Summer break finds you happy, well and contented.
After a year of wonderful support from my blog readers, I wanted to give something back— hence this post. My plan was to gauge the aspects of writing craft you’d like to build on, and then tailor not only this post, but future posts, to fit your needs.
Thank you to everyone who responded, whether it be on the original post, on facebook or by private message and email. I have noted down every one of your requests.
There were many questions on characterisation, character arc and, in the case of romance, conflict between the central characters. These are questions that can’t easily be answered in a short paragraph or two, so I’ve made a note to visit these sometime in 2019.
Another couple of hot topics were author bios and query letters. Again, these are fab topics and I don’t believe I could do either justice with just a paragraph answer. I will definitely dedicate a post to both of these in the upcoming year too.
So what’s left?
Let’s look at a few of your questions and my answer based on my experience and knowledge.
The first question was from Mel:
What is the preferred word count for a blurb?
There seems to be an understood word count for blurbs that spans from 100 to 200 words (Initially, I was going to say 100 to 150 words, but I have seen some that are longer that work really well).
Not much help, I know, but here are some things to keep in mind as you craft your blurb:
- Be mindful of space.
In the case of a paperback, you need to allow for any illustrations, barcodes, review quotes, etc.
In the case of ebooks, space constraints don’t exist to the same extent, but there are other factors to consider. Most prospective readers, after being drawn in by a great cover, will click on the blurb to further explore whether they want to invest their time in your book. If the blurb is long and wordy, this might cause them to pass over your story for one with a punchier, less cumbersome blurb.
- Be mindful of genre.
Research existing blurbs in your genre, both in paperback and online stores. Take note of their length and how they are structured, and assess how effective or ineffective they are in hooking your interest. Analyse what it is that achieves this, then try to emulate this effect in your own blurb.
- Be mindful of purpose.
Remember, you don’t have to fill the entire back cover with your blurb. The blurb is not a filler, it’s a sales tool to reel your readers in and make them want to read your book. I know I use this term often, but it’s so relevant here: Short, sharp and suspenseful. If your blurb is all three, plus if it contains the key elements I discussed in my last post ‘The Blurb Paints a Thousand Words’, then you’re on the right track to crafting a killer marketing tool for your story.
I have another question, this time from Toni:
‘I always struggle with plotting. Even though I’ve participated in many workshops. Would love you to write about that of you can.’
Mmm, this is another great question, and one that a pantser like myself could struggle to answer. What I’d love to do is spend one entire blog on this topic, and ask a guest who’s an expert at plotting to address the issue.
Saying that, I think even as pantsers there’s an element of plotting that must be performed. This ‘plotting’ draws focus to key events in the story. What we often refer to as ‘major turning points’.
What I’d say is think about your genre.
For a romance, you need to include certain events in your story that facilitate actions such as:
- Physically bringing your central love interests into closer contact by making their paths cross in a way that is inescapable.
- Highlighting their conflicts, making it seem as if there is absolutely no way they can ever breach these walls—both emotional and physical—to get together.
- Giving the central love interests reason and opportunity to open up and share something of themselves with their counterpart—what I call ‘hearts talk’.
- Bringing the central love interests emotionally closer by mutual respect, caring and/or understanding.
- Tearing the central love interests apart through the black moment—an ‘all is lost’, vital moment in the story, that sets the reader up in a moment of heartbreak before taking a bout turn toward the long-awaited happy ending.
- Overcoming conflicts—both internal and external—to reach a moment where all those barriers that kept them apart at the outset of the story are scaled one-by-one to finally open a clear path towards sharing a happy and contented present and/or future together.
Once you get started, you may think of more pivotal events to demonstrate the development and deepening of your central love interests’ romantic relationship. These are just some of those stages your characters must navigate to finally fall in love and win their happy ever after. And if you’re a pantser, like me, they should be considered as stepping stones along that uncertain path that is organic, pantser-style writing.
The above events relate to romance. But what about subgenres?
Let’s consider my fave subgenre, romantic suspense. In conjunction with the romance-related events, a second series of events will need to be interwoven that relate to the suspense side of the story—in my case, crime-solving. This will allow the reader to experience a slow escalation in suspense around the crimes, as well as a slow unfolding of clues until the encore, and the moment the crime is solved. And in my case, the killer is caught.
In terms of a pantser’s take on plotting, I would consider major events in my story that show this escalation in crime, the slow uncovering of clues, then the black moment when all seems lost—perhaps an imminent threat to one or more of my protagonists’ lives—just before the moment the killer is neutralised, ie, either captured or killed.
Planning these key events provides a road map for writing, whilst not inhibiting the pantser’s need for . . . pantsing ☺
I hope this explanation helps. And if you want more on plotting, watch this space for our special guest sometime next year.
Now, onto our next question:
Stacey has asked:
‘I’m curious whether there are any rules regarding prologues and epilogues.’
Good questions. Just bear in mind you’re asking someone whose last two books opened with a prologue ☺
Let’s look at the definitions of both prologue and epilogue before we begin:
Prologue – ‘an opening to a story that establishes the context and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information.’
Epilogue – ‘a section or speech at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened.’
So, there we have it, two sections that provide our readers with details outside of the main story; in the case of a prologue, some backstory information to give context to the main story; in the case of an epilogue, additional information to conclude or wrap up some event or unanswered questions that still remain, even after the story has concluded.
Before you decide whether your story needs a before picture (prologue) or after picture (epilogue) of your central characters’ lives, ask yourself the following questions:
Is there any reason why this scene can’t fit into the body of the book?
Is there a reason the prologue details can’t be woven into the story the same way we weave any other backstory information? A great example of this is a case where the characters have crossed paths in the past and, through some action or event, have formed a great distrust or dislike for one another. If this animosity translates on the page as anger or resentment, context could mean the difference between your reader empathising with your character or disliking them on ‘sight’.
Is there a reason the epilogue’s unanswered questions or event can’t be woven into the resolution and conclusion portions of the last few chapters? A great example is a common goal—eg, promotion—where only one character can win. Showing how this plays out in later months, or even years, can add weight to your characters’ happy ever after.
Is there a considerable time difference between the book and prologue/epilogue scenes that make it impossible to incorporate the information effectively into the story? In the case of a prologue, past history between the two central characters before they reacquaint years later, as mentioned above. In the case of an epilogue, time passing to show the central characters happy and content in their new world. A great example of this is a miracle baby.
Will your story suffer without a prologue and/or an epilogue? If you don’t include this information, will the reader feel lost or lack an understanding or empathy for your characters? Will they feel as if they’ve been short-changed because not every conflict or question has been resolved?
I would say, definitely consider your readers when making your decision. While you don’t want them wading through unnecessary exposition, you also don’t want them floundering, wondering what on earth is going on ☺
And once you’ve made that decision, if you’ve decided to include a prologue, epilogue or both, make sure it’s en pointe. Make sure you come into the scene late and leave the scene early. Concisely achieve your objective and either move onto the body of your story, or leave the reader with that warm, fuzzy feeling of a happy ever after that is well and truly deserved.
Aand, that’s it folks ☺
That’s all we have time for this month. Don’t forget to tune in next month when I’ll continue to answer your questions. That means there’s still time if you have a question and forgot to post previously. Just remember to post your questions as a comment on the blog below to ensure I don’t miss them.
If you have a work in progress and want feedback on character GMC or arc or a sentence or paragraph that’s just not working, why not post it here? The questions can be as general or specific as you like. The more questions, the more fun! Remember, if you’re finding something challenging, there are probably others who feel the same. By posting your questions, you’re not only helping yourself, you’re helping others as well ☺
You have an entire month to post questions, until 5th January. So get thinking, and start posting.
Next month we’ll begin by answering Marianne’s question on distinctive voices for characters.
As always, thank you to all my lovely followers, who’ve read and commented on my previous posts – either directly on the blog post or on the social media mentions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support.
I wish you all a fabulous, fruitful and fun New Year. May 2019 bring you all that you desire, plus more ☺
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.
In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.