Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Social Media: The Boon and Bane of Writers

The post below has been one of the most popular posts of this blog and so I thought I would share it again.
Social media is both the boon and bane of writers.  How do you feel about it?  What have your experiences of using social media been like in relation to your writing career? Which medium works best for you?

Two updates regarding this post: 1) My experience of FB has improved--or had until I got hacked three times in less than a week and 2) Although SOBS didn't work as a FB group, I started a fantasy blog and have used a couple of characters from my novel as "guest bloggers."  That has been working.

I hope you find the post below useful.  Blessings!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

     Building an audience is so important to a writer nowadays.  This is true not just for those who self-publish, but also for those who want to go the traditional route.  Agents and publishers look to see if an author (especially a yet unpublished author) has a following.  So authors have to spend a good deal of time and energy doing self-promotion long before the book is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher.  So writers tweet, blog, gather Facebook friends, link into LinkedIn and add themselves to Google+.  Often I feel I'm devoting so much time to networking that it's hard to find the energy and creativity to work on the books.  There is a good side to it though.  I really do enjoy interacting with other writers.  I read and comment on five writing / publishing focused blogs and I connect with other writers on Twitter.  I find that interaction encouraging, inspiring, energizing and supportive.

      My experience on Facebook has not been as positive.  I keep showing up, writing my own posts, commenting on others' posts and sharing.  But it feels like a waste of time and energy.  My friends and family, for various reasons, don't do Facebook.  Since FB requires one to have friends in order to grow friends, I feel that I'm having a conversation with myself in a big empty meadow.  Even the birds aren't listening.

     Recently I read about a great idea on a Books and Such post that I follow.  A writer who has written a book about the Titanic started a FB group for people who want to go on a virtual tour of the Titanic.  She connected this to her book by having her main character be the Tour Guide.  Brilliant idea!  I thought, "Maybe that's a way I could grow friends on FB; start a group."  At first, I wasn't sure what kind of group would work for me.  One of my books is about a multiple personality.  The other is about a teenage fairy.  I knew I didn't want to start a multiple personality group, so it seemed that starting a group related to the YA fantasy would be the best route.  Still, I was a little stymied in terms of what kind of group to have.  Then a series of things led to a perfect creative storm.

     A few days ago I watched a supernatural genre t.v. show that my sister loves.  The episode was about banshees and since I write a blog called "Whispers of a Banshee Weaver," my sister thought I might enjoy the episode.  The episode was entertaining but it perpetuated a modern day misconception that banshees are evil and murderous.  With this in mind, when I sat down to write my Banshee blog, I protested this continued defamation of banshees and asked readers to use social media to get the word out that banshees are compassionate and noble, not vicious.

     After finishing the blog, I went to the grocery store.  On the way, it hit me.  I now had my group idea.  An activist group to stop banshee bashing.  I played around with some names and realized as I was doing this that one name created a perfect acronymn: Society of Banshee Supporters --SOBS.  I then promoted it on Twitter and asked for RTs.  I wrote a short new blog on the group and posted it on FB.  Immediately (within minutes) traffic to the blog went up 14%.  Wow!  I didn't expect that much of an impact that quickly. Of course, I was delighted.  Sometimes a little creativity pays off.

     Unfortunately, I found that I couldn't form the group on FB because of the Catch 22: I had to have interested friends on FB to start the group.  So that felt like a dead end.  In response, I asked people who visited the blog to go to my FB page (under the name Christine Dorman) and "friend" me so that we can start the group there.  It remains to be seen what will happen there.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

What a Character!

Rising from the mists of imagination, the character took shape
     There are many elements that go into writing a great piece of fiction.  Although I will not go so far as to say that characterization is THE most important element of a story, I will say it's doggone important.  Especially to me.  Think about your favorite books, movies, t.v. shows.  What engaged you?  What kept you reading / watching? What do you remember most about them? Why do you keep watching a t.v. series?  Why do you re-read a book or watch a movie again (or 15 times, as I have done with a handful of movies).  Do you ever watch re-runs?  Why?  You already know that's going to happen.  I'm not saying that plot isn't important. It is.  But I will persevere through a book or a movie that has a so-so plot but great characters.  I'm not sticking, however, with a book or a movie that has a fascinating plot but only so-so characters.  If I don't care about the characters, I really don't care what they do or what happens to them. I don't want to spend time with them.

     Of course, the best stories have BOTH compelling plots and engaging characters.  The Hobbit, for example. I read that book in a day and it had the whole package: great plot, fun settings, a comfortable narrator and a delightful main character as well as some interesting secondary characters. It is a fantastic adventure story--but when I re-read it, it's because I want to hang out with Bilbo.  I'm rather fond of his nephew as well.  The Lord of the Rings is at the top of my lists of the best fiction ever written. That book has so much to offer that I'd like to teach a course on it.  Still, while I can wax long about Tolkien's use of fictional historicity in the novel, about the effective and creative use of linguistics, the theologies, philosophies and themes presented in the novel and, of course, the magnificent plotting, the reason I read 1008 pages PLUS all the appendix information and then sought out every other book related to the novel (such as Lost Tales), is because of Frodo and Sam and a friendship so strong that it saved Middle Earth.  And it wasn't just Frodo and Sam; all of the characters were so well drawn that I loved them all.  Well, maybe not Gollum / Smeagal--but I've got to admit that he was intriguing and the story just wouldn't be the same without him.

     Which brings up a final point: a character doesn't have to be good to be a good character.  Darth Vader could hardly be labelled a "good guy," but he is a great character!  My favorite character from the Harry Potter series is Hermione Granger (who, of course, is good), but my second favorite character (wait for it) is Snape.  Even from Book One / Movie One I understood why Snape disliked Harry.  And while the Professor was sarcastic beyond necessity at times, Harry was arrogant and rude to him.  As a professor myself, I thought Snape showed amazing self-restraint in regards to Harry.  But the best thing about the character is his complexity.  Is he a villain? A hero? Both?  The question is not easy to answer and I will argue that Severus Snape is J.K. Rowlin's best written, most rounded and most intriguing character.  The same is true of the character of Morgana in the BBC series, Merlin.  While Morgan le Faye has come down through legend as the archetype of the villainess sorceress, the creators and writers of Merlin have made Morgana too real for black and white categories.  She has good reasons for what she does (although her methods may, at times, be questionable). And if you've watched the series from the beginning, you can't forget that you used to like her back when she was a compassionate advocate and protector of those who had no rights and / or were treated unjustly. And then she just had a lot of really bad stuff happen to her.  I mean, if a trusted friend tried to poison you, wouldn't you get a little angry?

     Since I love a great number of books and movies and have liked a t.v. series on occasion, this post could go on and on, but I'll stop with the above examples.  Now it's your turn.  Who are your all-time favorite characters and why?  Have you read or would you read a book if you didn't like ANY of the characters?  Have you re-read a book, re-watched a movie or t.v. show just because you enjoy being around the characters? (BTW, I watch Merlin episodes over and over because Merlin [the general one from Arthurian legend] is my all-time favorite character and Colin Morgan's and the BBC series' version of character is my all-time favorite Merlin).

     How important are characters to you? What are some of your favorite books, movies or t.v. series and how much do the characters affect your enjoyment or interest in the story?  Have you ever watched a t.v. series after the writing has gotten old, but you stuck with the series for another season just because you loved the characters?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Writing Fiction Can Teach You Stuff!

     I love to learn!  Always have.  My parents and God gave me that gift.  And I love to do research.  It's exciting.  My parents had a set of encyclopedias and I used to have a great time looking things up--things I saw on t.v. (dinosaurs, for instance) or heard someone talk about (such as Quebec).  It didn't matter. I just wanted to find out more about it. Then after I read the entry, I would read the cross-references. And their cross-references. I spent hours just reading the encyclopedia.  Am I strange? Probably and--I don't care. It was fun! Then, after finding out all the encyclopedia had to offer on a subject, I would go to the library and go through all its books on the subject. The Tudors were and still are one of my favorite subjects.  The great thing about the Tudors is that people love to write books about them (fiction and non-fiction) and people continue to make documentaries (and series and mini-series) about them. At this point, few of the books and documentaries tell me much I don't already know about the Tudors, but there occasionally is a morsel of new information or a new perspective on old information. I live for that morsel. Arthurian legend, particularly anything to do with Merlin, has been another lifelong favorite topic of interest.  The Medieval period and history in general are pretty high on the list as well (I LOVE the History channel and its website).

     So what has any of this got to do with writing fiction?  This: writing fiction is another thing I've done since I was young, another great source of entertainment, but it wasn't until I started writing novels that I discovered that novel writing is a fantastic way to learn something new.  And I have learned about things that I probably never would have thought I wanted to know about.

     Before you start working on a novel, there are things you realize you HAVE to know.  For example, if you write crime drama, you'd better know about police procedures.  The Writer's Digest store has a guide for writers on different types of poison. Now there's a book I would consider a must-have if I wrote mysteries!  (I don't, so I didn't buy it. My apologies to the author.) My psychological mystery (okay, so I AM writing a mystery, but nobody gets poisoned in it) has a main character who was abused as a child and suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personalities). Naturally, I knew I had to research that illness, its symptoms, how it's diagnosed, how it's treated, etc.  The character is a professional singer and his best friend is his artist manager, so I thought I'd do a quick check of what artist managers do. Quick check ha! I discovered all sorts of things that I needed to know in relation to the music business (manager versus agent, types of managers, touring, the difference between a tour manager, a road manager and a stage manager, the difference between a load-out and a load-in, information about booking, PR, etc.). I learned a whole lot more than I needed to for the book, but it was fascinating!  

     When I started working on my fantasy novel, I wanted to give it a decidedly Irish / Celtic bend because that's my heritage. I did extensive research on Celtic myths, supernatural beings, symbols, and so on.  I did not, however, know that, as I wrote the book, I was going to learn about herbs. One of the secondary characters is a human-sized Faerie who doesn't have wings (Faeries come in many sizes and types--check it out!) She lives among humans.  They don't know she's a Faerie. She is a healer who uses herbs, so they think she's an herbalist.  I hadn't planned to do much, if any, research on herbs since the character is just my main character's aunt. However, while I was trying to work how to get the main character(Siobhan) through a dangerous enchanted forest in a believable way, I was writing scenes in which Siobhan spends the summer helping her aunt with the healing practice. Epiphany! In folklore, many herbs have magical properties. So the research began and I discovered that there are herbs that provide protection, give invisibility and even allow one to fly! Cool! Problems solved. In the process, I got hooked on the real life effects and benefits of herbs and now am thinking of starting an inside garden. When I began the novel, I had no inkling that writing it would get me into herbs. 

     One final research joy has been going on virtual trips via Google Earth.  I had to check out a couple of areas in Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles, California for the psychological novel and have taken visual tours of country roads in Ireland as a help to describing settings for the fantasy novel. Thank heaven for technology!

    So if you are yearning to learn something new this New Year, write a novel and enjoy all the stuff you learn along the way!

      Have you ever been surprised by what you've learned about while writing fiction?  What are some of your favorite things you learned from reading fiction?