To Cliffhanger or Not to Cliffhanger

A few weeks I finished another story in a series that I have been reading for the last year. It had it’s moments, and some flaws, and things I didn’t like, but overall it was a fair book. Then the end happened and a GREAT BIG HUGE CLIFFHANGER fell into my lap and I was tempted to throw my kindle. The next book isn’t out, won’t be out for another year, and….it was annoying.

Granted, that emotional response I had was probably exactly what the author was going for. He wanted the reader to hang onto the words, and at the very end he wanted to make the reader come back for more. It’s slightly underhanded, but works really well if the story is good. Game of Thrones (TV series) has that going on. Lots of TV dramas live off cliffhangers. You have to come back the next day to keep watching or you’ll never know who Jared found with his wife.

Small cliffhangers are almost expected in any series. In each book you have the main focus of that specific series, and a lot of resolution to everything going on, but the overall story, the one keeping all the books together as a whole, isn’t done yet. I did this with my Witch’s Trilogy. Each book is a distinct book and you can probably read any one of them and be fine without reading the other two, but there is a thread that connects them all, and it’s a fuller and richer experience as a whole. And at the end of each book there is just a short scene that connects it to the next book. A small cliffhanger, but one that hopefully gets you curious.

There are a few stories that act as episodic structures, like the original Hulk show, Jack Reacher, or 007. The story ends and the main character goes off into the sunset, and you don’t know if you’ll see them again. No cliffhangers. No real cliffhangers at the end of the episodes. Just a story. Almost all of Star Trek was done that way. A few of the series had running plots that ran through the series, but most episodes still had the story of the week aspect.

So should there be cliffhangers? Of course there will be, and in the right area they are good to have.

It really depends on what you’re going for. It’s appropriate for some stories to have an end to each episode because the characters aren’t going to be interacting with those specific people ever again. In the case of Jack Reacher, he won’t go back to that town again. A cliffhanger wouldn’t make sense because if you started a new book with him finishing up the arc from the previous show, then going to the next town with new people and starting a brand new arc, that would be weird.

Stories that end in cliffhangers usually bring the character back to the same area, and interact with the same people. TV drama is a great example. They are all in the same little town, same sets, same other actors, so cliffhangers can work because you can resolve that thread next episode and then move on.

There is one last way to use cliffhangers though, and I think it’s the most common. That is to have a single thread that winds through the story line, the theme of the series, and have that be the cliffhanger each episode. Supernatural is a perfect example. That show has been going on forever. Each episode has it’s own story that is completed in the 45 min episode, and also adds to the over all story that is effecting that season. They get a little closer to that seasons villain with almost every episode. The thing bringing people back to watch it is partly the overall story, but mostly it’s just that they love those characters, and they love the monster of the week format. The overall story is just icing on the cake.

However you do cliffhangers just remember that you need SOME closure at the end of the story. If nothing is finished, and you just drop the book for a cliffhanger and say “go read the next book” I’m not going to do it. I want some closure, and if you give me NO closure then I’m not invested in your story enough to keep going.

#NaNoWriMo Fail

I am not winning NaNoWriMo this year. I guess I didn’t even really enter it. This is the first time in years that I haven’t even tried to do NaNoWriMo.

Even though I am not doing NaNo this year I’m still being productive. I’m finishing the last little bit of book two, and three for my litRPG series. I also took the first week of November to finish edits on book one, and publish it. It’s precisely because I’m doing all the edits right now that I am not participating. Edits take longer, and make fewer words,but are still incredibly important to get a book out. And I want book two or before Christmas!

But maybe I can have my own NaNo in January or something. We will see. First: Let’s get these books out!

5min – Writers Block

I was listening to an episode of The Creative Penn today and she mentioned that all the pro writers at a recent convention she went to all have the same idea about writers block….it doesn’t exist.

The idea I see is “a plumber can’t have plumbers block, they have to go out and do their job.”

And they are right. Each and every one of them. A pro writer has to be able to get past “blocks” and just write, weather or not they feel like it. I have to go to my day job and do my work, or I don’t get paid. Same with a writer.

But, the idea of writers block is a thing. Perhaps it shouldn’t be called writers block though. Rather it is something causing the writer to spend their energy elsewhere.

For me it’s often bills. I have to pay bills, so I go to a day job, and I spend a lot of time on that day job. It’s a tough, and stressful day job. I often come home with a need to just close the door, and stay away from words for sometimes hours. That’s because my day job is using words. Talking to people. Trying to explain to them how to fix things. Depending on the day that is easier sometimes than others.

Other people might be “blocked” because they have family problems, medical issues or stress going on in their life that they are spending so much time on those things that they just don’t have time (or don’t think they have time) to do something creative.

Then there are the people that actually do sit down and try to write, but end up staring at a blank page for hours instead of writing. Now that, I think, is true. That isn’t a block so much as a lack of confidence. Inability to progress. Or plain don’t know what they are supposed to do.

I think I’ll come back to this idea later. But for now, my 5 min are up, and I need to go finish writing.

5min – Editing

Today has been pretty busy, so far. We went out to a birthday lunch with friends, went shopping to get supplies for Gregg’s armor that he’s making, and I cleaned up the house a bit.

Then I came home and I spent a few hours playing a game. This was a much needed mental health moment because I know I’m going back to work tomorrow, and I needed some time to just have a little fun, and veg out. Most people watch TV for that, I play video games.

But now it’s time to get back to work, so here I am writing my morning pages in the evening. It’s 9, and I usually go to bed at 3am or so, so there is plenty of time.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been stuck between editing and writing. There is a huge difference in mind sent with both of these. If I’m writing I just put the words on paper, and let them flow. Easy. I sometimes get a thousand words in less than an hour. It feels productive, and if I actually did it for more than an hour a day I would probably be able to keep up with everyone else. With the writing at least.

But once that first draft is out I need to do the revise. Read through, clean up spelling, grammar, rewrite a few sentences. Add in bits that were missing, or sometimes add in whole chapters. This part takes me forever. I need to figure out a better way of doing it. It doesn’t matter how good or clean the first draft is, there are those little bits of filler that I need to put in so that the 50k words make one sensible story line instead of just scenes strung out on a page.

I don’t know why, but reading back over my words is really tough to do sometimes. I get so easily distracted, or just space. Probably because I know what’s going to happen, and I just can’t stand to read it again so soon after writing. Maybe if I put it in a draw for a while it would be easier, but I’m going to have to write a LOT to be able to do that.

And there’s my five.

Fire and Ice

I’ve been working on the new cover for the first book in “The Half Blood Sorceress” series. Book one, Dragon’s Flame, is finished. Well, the first draft is. I have a few things to clean up before sending it off to the editor, but I am hoping to have it out soon (in relitive terms).

The back of the book:

A tragedy. A secret. A journey to find the truth.

Sybel watched as her mother burned on a funeral pyre, but she never expected her father to push her into the flames. When Sybel survives the pyre without a single burn she’s banished from the village for reasons she doesn’t understand.
With more questions than answers, Sybil’s only hope is to make a treacherous journey to find the wise mages of Kemoor. As she ventures out beyond the edges of her village she finds a world filled with dangers; massive creatures, vindictive humans, and an ice cold wind blowing from the north. A wind that is far more sinister than anyone suspects.
Now the girl who would not burn must trust in unlikely allies to save her life, and discover the truth…

And the best part is I’ve already written most of book two. I’m hoping to have books one and two out this year, with the third one next year some time. I have at least a five book arc for this series.

The Half Blood Sorceress is not part of the same world as my Witch’s Trilogy. In the Witch’s Trilogy there are many sentient creatures created by the elements. In The Half Blood Sorceress series there are three races; humans, dragons, and ifrits. The world building of these two series was so completely different. Peyllen (the world of Witch’s Trilogy) took years to flesh out. But because of all that world building the mythos of Peyllen is an entire series of it’s own that I’m still writing.

The Half Blood Sorceress is different in a lot of ways, and so is the experience of creating the world, and writing the stories. I honestly can’t wait to get it out and hear what others have to say about it.

Day 15 : Full time Author

2016-06-21 20.07.46Today I got the print proof for Witch’s Curse back. The inside looks awesome. The map is set right, the author note at the back is right. All the numbers in the table of contents are right.

The cover…is off. I had to go in today and adjust it a bit. Add more color to the girl so she wasn’t a green lady, and move the words so they are (hopefully) centered on the page.

What really struck me about this book is the sheer size of it. It’s thick, 360 pages, and feels like an honest to goodness BOOK to me. The first print book I put out only had about 150 pages, so this feels a lot more substantial. It’s kind of awesome, and I still can’t believe I did it. Now I can’t wait to get the third one done and have the trilogy sitting on my shelf.

Gregg and I also got our glass back from the glass blowing session the other day. It’s BEAUTIFUL! I’ll have to take some pictures tomorrow with the sun streaming in through the window.

A little more writing done. A lot more planning. I have to go through book one in my Half Blood Sorceress series to see what I need to fix. Round one of edits, I suppose. However, I am also 7k words into the next book so… there’s that. But I am hoping to have book 1 finished before I start work on monday. It would be a nice accomplishment. Then off to the editors while I figure out covers, and other things. Then released a month later.

Sounds good to me.

Alright, time to stop procrastinating. Time for sleep. Goodnight all!

Almost done, and scared

I’m close to finishing book three in my Witch’s Trilogy. This has taken me almost a year and a half to complete. What started as a simple 80,000 word stand alone novel has become a 230,000 word trilogy, something I never thought I could write. I mean the first novel I wrote (which was terrible) took five years. This took 18 months for all three! That’s crazy.

And yet as I get closer to the end I find myself getting scared. Scared to finish. Scared to succeed. But mostly terrified that it will fail. It makes it difficult to write sometimes, but I do it anyway. A few words here, a few sentences there, trying to get to the end even though a big part of me is afraid of doing so. And I know it’s stupid to be afraid.

For the last couple of years I’ve made some great friends, watched them write novels and make a small (or sometimes big) following for themselves. And they’ve done well. I’m happy for them, and I’ve tried to learn from their examples but it all seems to come back to “write more good books. Eventually something will get through.”

Oh, they do other things like ads on facebook and book bub, but mostly they just write good books and keep putting them out there. No wonder they have lots of readers.

So I’ve been telling myself that with the third book I can finally have a trilogy out, three complete novels, and I might be able to do a bit of advertising. But as the time gets closer I realize that… it doesn’t work like that. Oh sure, I could do some advertising (and I will) but really, in the end it might not even matter. Sometimes getting people to pay attention to what you made is just a matter of the right time at the right place.

So I’m afraid that I’ll put up the third book and I won’t sell a single copy. I shouldn’t be afraid of that, not if I really just want to write. But there it is. That gnawing fear.

Here’s the truth: whether I sell a thousand books, or one, or even zero…I’m going to keep writing. I love telling stories, and building worlds. I love seeing what happens to my characters. So I know I shouldn’t care if this book sells anything since I’m going to keep doing it anyway.

But I also know it’s nice to have some validation that what I say matters to someone. And I don’t know where to get that validation. I suppose I should figure that out soon, because it probably won’t come from sales any time soon.

After this last book in the trilogy I’m going to go back to making my own covers, and probably shorter works because editing can get expensive, but I will continue to write. And I won’t feel the pressure to finish them like I do with this one because I won’t have invested so much money into them… just time, and me. I think I’d rather invest myself in my books then money anyway.

Anyway, time to get back to the writing. Fear or not, I want to finish it. Even if no one ever reads it I need to say that I finished it.

Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s been a long couple of months, and I’ve been working at finishing “Witch’s Curse” but I’ve been struggling a lot more lately.

I put up “Witch’s Sacrifice” a little over a month ago. I hoped that over the course of May, and maybe June, I’d finish the second novel. I have been working on it, but I am not putting nearly enough on paper to finish it by the end of June like I wanted it to be.

The edits struck a little harder then I thought they would. Not in a bad way! It’s just that now when I start writing I hear that nagging voice a lot louder in the back of my head… not that word again. Don’t do that. What are you writing? It’s obnoxious and I hate it.

Before those edits I wrote what needed to be written knowing that they would be fixed in post. That’s how you’re suppose to write. Do one draft, read through it and clean up the little things, or the glaring issues, then send it to an editor to have the grammar, spelling, and consistency examined. That’s the way I did it before, and what allowed me to finished NaNoWriMo several times. It’s what got me through the original book, writing every day and knowing that even if I wrote down crap at least it was written and I could go back later and fix it.

So why do I hesitate so much now? It’s my own brain, that internal editor that keeps asking “how should we say this thing now?” And he’s so insistent, so zealous that he is making it tough to write some days. I will sit down, read the last paragraph, and know that I need to write the next scene. I know that character 1 is going to talk to character 2, they are going to get into an argument, and then they are going to fight. Easy, right? I have all the pieces, now just right it.

Then I get stuck on the minutia. How do they walk into the room? What are they doing? Who is all there? Things that I need to know, but things I usually discovered as I was writing instead of before. I’m not sure which is better. I’m not sure if there is a better. I do know it’s slowing me down right now.

I do know one thing that is helping: “Take Off Your Pants” by Libbie Hawker. A few chapters of this each day seems to be get past the internal editor, and right back on track.

Today I practiced breaking out of that internal editor, giving myself permission to suck again. I wrote another 1500 words, and I’m going to try and do another 500 before bed. The goal is to get to 3k a day by the end of next week. That’s what I need to do to feel like I’m actually making progress on the stack of books I want to write.

The struggles will continue, I’m sure, but they are worth it. The end goal, finishing another novel, is worth every frustrated moment.

I made a mistake

It has been brought to my attention that in yesterdays blog post I came off as unhappy with the editor who is working on my book. I’d just like to say that I’m very sorry for coming across that way, and that was not my intention.

Yesterdays post was about three things. My insecurities about my writing. My progress in dealing with those insecurities. And the idea that not everyone is going to mesh well together. I’m constantly working on the first two, and I’d like to say that just because two people don’t agree on everything it doesn’t mean one is right or wrong, it just means they didn’t mesh together well enough on that topic. It happens.

In this case…the issues were mine. The edits were incredibly professional and very well done. Less than 12 hours after posting that post I got back my second round of edits with a very nice email saying how much she liked the magic system I developed for the story, and that those scenes were her favorite parts. These kind words provided a much needed boost to my confidence.

It’s true that we are all in different places along our paths in life/career. Some of us are at the point where we can just separate ourselves emotionally from the things we create. Some are able to say, “That is the work and this is me and the critiques I get on that thing aren’t personal in any way.” Some of us aren’t able to make that separation. This experience has taught me that I am somewhere in between, and I freely admit it.

Am I unprofessional? Hell yeah. Am I insecure? Two for two! But I’m learning, and that was the entire point of yesterdays post…that I didn’t take the criticism well. I failed, and I wanted to run like a dog with their tail between their legs but I wasn’t going to let myself give up.

My current editor is fantastic, and is making my story better. I don’t know if she “gets me” yet, we haven’t talked enough for me to know that. All I know is that her work, her edits, are good and she did nothing wrong. All the fault was mine, and mine alone.

All of us who deal with editors know that there are good ones, bad ones, and a range of editors in between. Finding the right editor to work with means looking for one that does a great job, who understands your work and understands you. This takes time, and a lot of trial and error.

So, again, I’m sorry if I came across the wrong way. I really didn’t mean for it to seem I was attacking or upset with anyone in any way. I was just expressing the frustrations that a lot of new authors (new anythings really) have when they come face to face with their insecurities. I hope I keep moving forward, making strides to break my insecurities. What I do know is that I’m going to continue to write about that progress here. I think admitting I have issues is the only way to overcome them.

I want to quit

(I added an addendum to this, so you might want to read that as well.)

I want to quit. I want to pull all my books off the Internet, go curl up in a ball, and cry myself to sleep.

How dare I even try to write an entire book. Who am I to think my words would be worth reading. They are stupid, grammatically incorrect, full of inconsistencies and pov issues, unworthy of anyone ever reading, let alone actually paying for.

I knew a lot of this before I wrote a novel. I knew, for example, that I almost always miss compound words because I just don’t know when a word is a compound or when it is two words. I often over use commas (according to some), and I sometimes forget to add dialog tags because I just don’t think about it.

I knew all of that, and more, but I dared to write a novel anyway.

Then I got the edits back, and I struggled through them for days. I learned about dialect issues, and phrasing. I learned that subtle points of description are sometimes pov issues. I learned that words and phrases I use every day aren’t considered “proper English.”

When done with the edits I was exhausted, sad, and feeling like I made a mistake. I expressed my frustrations and heard “the editor is only trying to help” and then I went in my room, and I cried.

Editing hurts.

This was my first “professional edit.” I’ve gotten edits before, but this was completely different, and it hurt. It cut deep and it left me thinking “what the hell was I thinking trying to write a novel? You’re not good enough, Crissy. You don’t even speak proper English, how can you write it? You never should have tried this.”

I’ll be honest. I haven’t written anything in three days. I’m trying. I look at the page and all I see are all the mistakes. I can’t get out of editing mode and get back to writing. And yes, some of it is definitly self pity, but a huge part of it is just me unsure if I am good enough to do this thing that I’ve always wanted to do. Is there a good enough?

Every editor I’ve had before has added some encouraging comments. They said they liked a line, or I used that punctuation right, or when returning the manuscript there is a note just saying how much they really enjoyed it.

This editor did none of those things.

Gregg reassures me that the editor is doing their job. They are paid to edit, not hold my hand and encourage me. And I get that, I really do. But it doesn’t sting any less.

I want to quit. I want to run away and forget I ever tried this.
But I’m not going to.

I still think my stories are good stories. I still think they deserve to be told. I want them to get out and be read.

Maybe it’s the “professional writer” part I’ll reevaluate, and just be happy being a pulp fiction writer. It’s not a bad thing. I love pulp fiction books. Millions of people read pulp fiction every day. Maybe it’s not exactly what I wanted, but it beats not writing at all.

Am I happy I did the editing? Not today. Today I’m raw and hurt and unsure of everything I’m doing. Give me some time and maybe I will be.

Did I learn anything from it? Lots of things. In that way this experience was good for me. Hopefully it will make my writing stronger. Only time will tell.

Will I do this again?

I’ll be honest with you…My confidence is a fragile thing. Every time I get shredded like this I hear the ex husband in my ear telling me over and over and over that I’m not good enough. No one will ever love me. No one will ever want me. “Who told you to think that way?” I hear it, and slip back into the victim I use to be. I start feeling useless and worthless like I will never, ever, be good enough for anything. And I retreat into the shell I carefully built around me to keep from being hurt. It makes me want to quit.

So no, I won’t be doing this exact process again. I need the little bits of hand holding, and encouragement. I need to know that the person editing my work genuinely likes it so that when the red ink starts flowing it doesn’t hurt quite as much.

Maybe in a few years my nerves will be a little less raw and I can try again. But not now…not after this one.

And the best part? I have two more rounds of editing to go. I’m going to do it. I’m going to pull up my big girl pants and I’m going to wade through the red ink. Then I’m going to go cry a little more and do it all over again.

Because sometimes making good art hurts like hell.