Writing Rituals… or the things I do to write a novel…the story bible

Happy one year to Authors Speak. My first post was a year ago this month! Thank you Lou Sylvre for all you do for this group.

One of the things I’m often asked as a writer is: how do you write a whole book?

I don’t have a concept of a life without creating a story and writing it down. I have, literally, done this in some form for my entire life. Writing is second nature and storytelling is ingrained to the point I can’t not write.

The drive and desire to write does not create books, screenplays and poetry. Telling the story is the end result but it’s only one part of the process.

We writers are a fickle lot and there are an infinite number of ways to create that product, a completed novel (or screenplay, etc). The simple fact is, however, the creation of all stories does have a few common elements. It’s how each writer goes about organizing and using those elements that is individual to each and every one of us.

So, since this article is about me, I’m going to talk about what I do—my rituals—to write a novel. Firstly, I write novels, not screenplays or other forms of written works, so that in itself dictates a number of my writing rituals and tools.

A book is a book, right? Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction or part of a series. They’re all books, aren’t they?

Wrong.

Every so often I’m asked to write something for a friend or coworker that isn’t fiction. It’s sort of like training to compete in one sport then trying to switch for a day to another sport. Yeah, you can muddle on through and probably not embarrass yourself, but you won’t be in the best form.

Everything I do in the course of creating and writing a book centers around the fact that book is fiction and a novel.

The first thing that happens when I set about creating a new novel is the basic plot idea. For me, plot and title come first. After I have those I begin plugging in characters and locations.

My initial ritual with a new novel or series is making a list of plot points. The order doesn’t matter and is likely to change, but I want a general idea of major events in every story. If the initial story is going to be part of a series I make a separate list of major events I’d like to include in the series.

The next step I take is to plan out where my story will take place. For that I use maps, books and the world’s best location explorer, the internet. Specifically, Google Earth and maps.

This is where the creation of my story/series bible begins. I have a bible for each series, and for every book within a series. I think all the authors I personally know have some form of bible for their works. For me, setting up my bible and organizing it, filling it with research, scene ideas and reference photos is one of my very most important writing rituals.

This is a page from the bible for Gone Away. There are personality traits for the two main characters, inspiration photos and links to research. This page is what I call my basic story board. It holds all my general ideas. Eventually I’ll create individual pages for the characters, plot, location and so on that has much more detail.

Some people use paper notebooks, I know others who employ index cards or journals. This is the digital age, and all of those tools have been recreated in the virtual world.

I use OneNote, which is a digital notebook system. It can be used on a computer, tablet or phone, so I have it with me wherever I go. At one time I figured out that if my OneNote notebooks for the Sentries series was somehow transformed to traditional paper notebooks each one would be hundreds of pages long and probably form a stack about three feet high.

I love my digital bibles. They are filled with photos, links and articles and become a scrapbook for every project. If I have an idea to use a waterfall or certain type of car in a story I can collect images and details, putting them on my digital pages. As I write it’s helpful to go back and refresh my memory with a visual image or check details from articles and links I’ve saved. If I’m planning a series I keep a list of what needs to be included in book #1 as foreshadowing for later books. On the reverse side of that I have other notebook pages with lists of events and characters from earlier books to reference in later books in a series.

This is one of the dozens of pages created for The Vampire Guard series and contains info on the organization featured in the series and some of the secondary characters.

Another nice feature of using a digital system is I can easily move pictures, information and links from one bible to another.

My final step before beginning the actual writing is characters. There is so much of a character that never makes it into a book. I know all sorts of details, childhood pets, favorite color and what kind of pizza they like! Every detail that comes to me about a character is recorded in case I need to use it. Images go in the character sections as well. Photos of people who look like my characters are a helpful reference when writing descriptions.

For me creation of my bible is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a novel. As I work on each bible the story begins to gel in my mind. The plot ideas and characters start to take on a life of their own and the story begins to play in my head. From there on it’s simply a matter of recording that story.

More on that another time.

http://www.elizabeth-noble.com/

Lou Sylvre on the Co-Writing Two-Step (Also Sunset at Pencarrow, Happy Pride, and a Giveaway!)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Lou Sylvre here for my monthly post on Authors Speak. Before I get to anything else, thanks everybody who entered the Merry May giveaway. Our winner has been contacted and will soon be the proud owner of a new Kindle Fire and a bunch of books. Next, I want to say happy Pride Month, everybody on the queer spectrum and all allies!

Next, I want to say, this post is short. I know you can see that for yourself, but let me explain. I wanted to write all about my experiences co-writing (something I’ve not done before) Sunset at Pencarrow with Anne Barwell, but I have been delayed getting this post done, and now I find out my grandsons have a band concert performance tonight, the final one of the school year, and for the oldest, the final one of before high school graduation! That means I need time to make myself presentable. Others have written about the juggling act that being a writer is, and I won’t add to that, but I will say, dang. The phrase “free time” is an oxymoron.

So here’s the brief, bare-bones, bullet-point version of my report on the adventures of co-writing:

  • We approached the task by each taking one character as our own, writing the scenes that called for their point of view. While we didn’t stick to this religiously, and we suggested tweaks to each other’s writing, this method worked out great, in my opinion. It wasn’t half the work, nor was it twice the work. The work, aside from the actual writing was just different.
  • Having a work partner helped keep things moving according to plan. Of course, I didn’t want to let my co-author down, nor did I want to hold Anne back. But, more than that, the input from outside my own brain stimulated my creativity like a second muse. When I read a scene she wrote, I felt a need to respond on “my” character’s behalf.
  • Sharing the character couple’s story with another writer made them and their romance all the more precious, and added to the rewards that came with getting to “The end.” All struggles along the way, the hours spent on chat hammering things out, the research to make sure the character world was as accurate as could be and matched between scenes—all that was more than worth it.

Long story short, Anne and I will write together again, and I’m looking forward to it.

Let me leave you with that, and with a little info about Sunset at Pencarrow. Here’s the blurb, some links, and the giveaway.

Kiwi Nathaniel Dunn is in a fighting mood, but how does a man fight Wellington’s famous fog? In the last year, Nate’s lost his longtime lover to boredom and his ten-year job to the economy. Now he’s found a golden opportunity for employment where he can even use his artistic talent, but to get the job, he has to get to Christchurch today. Heavy fog means no flight, and the ticket agent is ignoring him to fawn over a beautiful but annoying, overly polite American man.

Rusty Beaumont can deal with a canceled flight, but the pushy Kiwi at the ticket counter is making it difficult for him to stay cool. The guy rubs him all the wrong ways despite his sexy working-man look, which Rusty notices even though he’s not looking for a man to replace the fiancé who died two years ago. Yet when they’re forced to share a table at the crowded airport café, Nate reveals the kind heart behind his grumpy façade. An earthquake, sex in the bush, and visits from Nate’s belligerent ex turn a day of sightseeing into a slippery slope that just might land them in love.

World of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the globe.

Click right here for a link to our release tour schedule and blog links.

Your comments are welcome, as always, and don’t forget to enter the Sunset at Pencarrow giveaway!

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What’s in a Name

Recently, out of nowhere, I was contacted by an author explaining she was setting up a blog tour for her very first release. In her email she mentioned the names of a few people and it seemed she was using them for references and I was supposed to know who they were. I didn’t, however, I knew right away what was going on.

See, there is another Elizabeth Noble and she writes het romance. I believe she lives in England and is about ten years younger than I am.

I said, yes, of course I had blog space for another author and her debut novel. The book sounded really interesting, too. I wrote back, saying I wanted to be sure she didn’t have me confused with the other author. I gave her the link to my website and went on to say how wonderful it would be to have her as a guest. Lots of people read both MM and Het romance, something I pointed out. Maybe she’d find some new readers. Maybe I would. I looked forward to working with her.

I never heard back from her. Very sad.

I don’t know anything about the other Elizabeth Noble except what’s listed in her bio. I have no idea if that’s her real name or a pen name.

The name I go by, Elizabeth Noble, is sort of my pen name, but it’s also my real name. I’m not sure how others go about deciding on a pen name, but I didn’t have to look far for mine.

I was born Laura Elizabeth Noble. My surname has twice changed for different reasons, but the Laura and the Elizabeth have remained the same.

So, see, really Elizabeth Noble is my actual name. I chose to use that variation for a few reasons. I always liked my middle name and when I was little I tried to get people to call me Elizabeth, but it never took.

I opted to use Noble because that’s who I originally was, the real me so to speak. It’s also an easily remembered and spelled name. My legal surname is longer, sorta hard to spell and some people find it difficult to pronounce. It’s one of those names that spells and says exactly how it looks, but still trips people up.

My father’s name was Bernie Noble. At one time he was a bit famous and a photographer for The Cleveland Press newspaper.

I can’t take a decent photograph to save my life, or anyone else’s… go figure.

Bernie Noble, however, could take a decent photograph.

This picture sits on a shelf next to my desk. It’s a photo Bernie took that was later entered into a photography show and competition. He did a lot of that sort of thing. I like it because of the mouse sitting on the cat’s head. My father was a big cat lover.

Being the head photographer for The Cleveland Press for a few decades (and a professional photographer all his adult life) he took a lot of pictures.

One, however, was really special.

In 1963 Bernie took a photograph of US President Eisenhower which was later selected by his wife, Mamie for use with the stamp that was issued commemorating him. It was a six cent stamp!

Sitting in my attic is a copy of that photograph as well as one of my father holding the photograph. I have no idea who took that photo, I’m guessing one of his coworkers at the newspaper for a little article they did at the time.

           

So, that’s a little bit of history surrounding my pen name.

Don’t forget to enter our Merry May giveaway for a chance to win a Kindle Fire and books!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Elizabeth Noble

A Lou Sylvre post: The ideal reader-author relationship? A round dozen author replies

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hello readers and fellow writers. I’ve switched my monthly date here at Authors Speak to the first. This month I’m going to do something a little different, but first a word as to why. Lately, I’ve been all about the politics, and I feel that’s as it should be. The most inclusive definition of the word “politics” is well-stated in Merriam Websters free online dictionary as the last (5th) meaning:

the total complex of relations between people living in society

So, it’s not about votes and executive orders and petitions and protests. It’s about people. Persons. Individuals in relation to the world of individuals. What does this have to do with my blog post? Hang on, I’m getting there.

Not quite five years ago I had one of my big ideas. Ruh-roh, right? This particular idea was for a project on my author blog, sylvre.com. I decided to have a whole passel of M/M romance authors answer the same set of questions. One of my favorites was specifically about politics—in other words, human relations—from a writer’s perspective. Here’s the question followed by a dozen of the answers from authors. I’d absolutely welcome comments answering the same question from a reader’s viewpoint, or anything from the same authors if their thoughts on the subject has changed, or anything else you’ve got to say—anyone.

Describe the ideal relationship between author and readers.

Andrea Speed: “Friendly, cordial. But not so friendly restraining orders are involved.”

Ellen Holiday: “I don’t know that I can speak to an ideal, but I can certainly say that I’m so delighted when readers take the time to leave a review or a rating or drop me a line or a tweet (@ellen_holiday!). I’m always so glad to hear from folks and have had some wonderful conversations with readers. There was a gentleman from England who emailed me, saying he wished he could vote for a politician like Davis Hudson (the protagonist of “Inside the Beltway”) – that was a great compliment! So readers, if you like what an author has to say, don’t hesitate to drop them a line. They may not all respond — they might be too busy writing the next book you’ll love — but it will give them great validation and motivation to keep writing.”

Anne Barwell: “An open relationship, where the author is free to be true to what she/he wants to write, and where readers feel free to give honest constructive reviews. Emphasis on constructive. It saddens me that as writers, if a reader reviews a story (which often sounds nothing like what we’ve actually written) an author often doesn’t feel as though she/he can reply to it. Tactful honesty should be a two-way street. As a reader I love to be able to chat to authors about what they’ve written, and the same is true in reverse.”

Vastine Bondurant: “Oh, wow. What a cool question. I suppose the ideal is for the readers to feel as if they know the author. For them to be comfortable, to feel free to do as the question above stated—to feel free to suggest what they’d like to see in my stories. But, above all—respect, both ways.”

Chris T. Kat: “It should be based on mutual respect. I like to connect with the people who read my stories, to know what they liked and what not. As a reader I’m mostly shy but if I found an author whose books I like I’m very loyal.”

Cornelia Grey: “I never really stopped to think about this! I guess an ideal relationship would be one where I behave and write all the requested sequels instead of chasing after the latest sparkly toy that strikes my fancy. Then obviously the readers would unconditionally love every word I ever penned, including grocery lists, drunken texts and the like, monarchs and presidents would offer conspicuous sums of money and private kingdoms for me to write their biographies, and my notebook from first grade with my early short stories would be framed and exhibited at the National Library with the Magna Charta. Well… you did say ideal ;)!”

Elizabeth Noble: “One of my favorite things to do has become the chats where I can interact in some way with readers. Some people seem to be intimidated and hesitant to email or participate in a chat and I wish they wouldn’t be. I may always be a writer, but I wouldn’t be an author without readers. I love the sorts of sites that allow and encourage interchanges between the authors and readers.”

Lisa Marie Davis: “Writing (for me, at least) is a very emotional experience and I tend to become quite attached to my characters. They are real for me. I want to write them, share their story, in a way that makes them real for the reader as well. I want the reader to care about each character as much as I do, to feel for them, root for them, maybe even miss them when the story comes to an end.
Jacob Flores:“The ideal relationship would be that the readers loved everything the author wrote. LOL! But I know that’s not going to be the case. You can’t please everyone, but I hope that the readers would be invested enough in my book to understand the choices the characters made. On the same token, authors wouldn’t be successful without our wonderful readers. The relationship needs to be symbiotic, a successful joining of creative minds traveling together on a wonderful journey.”

Jamie Fessenden: “Ideally, readers will provide useful feedback for an author about what does and does not work for them, and the author will be responsive to that, taking into account things that pushed a lot of readers’ buttons, for instance, and learning to work with that. I’ve also had readers nudge me to get back to work on my cyberpunk story and I think that’s great! I love knowing that there are people out their interested in knowing how the story will work out.”

J. L. O’Faolain: “An ideal relationship between an author and said readers is probably best compared to a dysfunctional family unit, except the screaming takes place over the internet rather than via phone calls and Thanksgiving dinners.”

Kim Fielding: “Ideally, what I love to write is what readers will love to read. Also ideally, my stories can entertain, can stir emotions, and can maybe make people think about things in new ways. If my stories inspire people, even better. And of course readers are really important to me, because otherwise I’m just writing for my own amusement.”

KZ Snow: “Interactive, in a way marked by mutual respect and appreciation. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either.”
Zahra Owens: “Very selfishly I’d like a reader to love or trust me enough to buy anything I bring out, even if, at first glance, it isn’t their cup of tea. As a reader, I have a few authors like that (not naming names, because these people know me!). Also, I’d like to get some feedback from them. Just honest, tactful, right off the cuff feedback.”

If perchance you’d like to see one or all of the complete interviews (which are all accompanied by bios, blurbs, covers, and excerpts), you can find them on sylvre.com by checking the list of archived months in the righthand side bar, and looking in October through December 2012. If one of the authors I’ve mentioned is new to you and you’d like to know more, as far as I’m aware they are all still in the M/M writing game and a Google search should yield results.

A tiny update about my current writerly antics: I’ve asked for the rights to A Shot of J&B in order to keep the series it truly belongs to together. They’re mine again as of April 10th. I admit to sadness, especially because I will no longer be able to use the absolutely beautiful cover by Reese Dante, pictured here. If you’d like a copy of the book with that cover now is the time, available at Dreamspinner, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all the usual places until that date. On a brighter note, I’m currently enjoying the rare chance to go back and make a story I loved writing, and which got some strong reviews, even better with a re-edit—a little new material, along with some refinement on the old. As an author, these two main characters are a joy to spend time with. Not quite as sassy, say, as a Luki Vasquez, but responsive, surprising, and pushy enough to keep me on my toes. Make it fun!

Finally, look for another Authors speak big giveaway coming up very soon! (Stay tuned. Really.)

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you around—the sooner the better!

Lou Sylvre on Dickens, Fiction, and Politics (Or when is an author like a bird? Tweet-tweet.)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Lou Sylvre here, switching places with Lou Hoffmann for my February blog post on Authors Speak. I apologize to readers and fellow bloggers for being absent from this blog for a while. I’ve taken to combing the news and spreading the word via twitter and facebook about how the USA and the world are in acute danger, worsening every day. To do that, I’ve let the writing and promoting of books—including blog posts where I usually talk about books, either mine or someone else’s—fall woefully behind schedule.

The reason I’m doing this isn’t that I don’t think my books can make a political difference. They can, especially if someone reads them who is not already “on the same page” politically.

This is true even though I write genre fiction, not the “literary” stuff, as it’s generally classified. In a New York Times (NYT) “Bookends” discussion from February 17, 2015, Karen Prose quoted a 2013 NYT “study” as showing that “after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” I didn’t read the NYT study conclusions or methodology and therefore can’t comment on it. However, Prose then goes on to opine that “Though the novels of Charles Dickens failed to radically improve the lot of poor children in Victorian England, they did raise public awareness of the Oliver Twists and Little Dorrits whom readers might otherwise have ignored.” Indeed, that seems accurate as far as it goes, though I believe there may be more to be said about the overall impact of Dickens on the world of his day, and it of course says almost nothing about his impact on readers ever since. My point, however, is that using Dickens to illustrate the difference of impact between so-called “literary” fiction as opposed to “popular” fiction is in itself questionable.


By all reports Dickens work was wildly popular during the nineteenth century. Many of his novels were serialized, which would suggest it was intended for the masses (at least those who could read and had sufficient leisure to purse the pastime), and he is said to be one of the earliest novelists to produce work with mass market appeal. Popular fiction? Now—now—his works are “classics of literature,” but they wouldn’t have seemed so then, I think. Of course, the pedantic distinction between popular and literary fiction is not about how many people want to read it. Research it a bit and you’ll find two ideas:

First: literary fiction focuses on reflecting society to itself, so that society can figure out the world, whereas popular fiction only seeks to entertain.

Second: literary fiction focuses on character and is character driven, while popular fiction hinges strongly on plot.

To the first, I say pshaw! Read quality genre fiction and you will come away with the feeling that you know yourself, your world, and humankind better. And guess what? Entertainment is engagement, and engagement improves learning.

To the second, because I already used “pshaw,” I’ll begin by raising the ghost of Aristotle, the creator of the seemingly sanctified arc in fiction. To the great Mr. A., fiction and its arc was about plot, though we have learned to apply it to various things like character and relationships as well. So, for starters, if Aristotle liked plot-driven fiction, who are you literary pundits to walk on his grave? Another thing, though certainly Dickens (our man of literary fiction) wrote character foremost and best, his plots were well-planned, twisty, purposeful, and very present. But more importantly perhaps, plenty genre fiction is character-driven, and the fact that genre writers are also good at giving those characters a compelling story, as well as the fact that genre readers prefer fabulous characters to do something, doesn’t mean the writer hasn’t succeeded in doing what all quality fiction does well—reflect society back upon itself!

So why, then, am I neglecting my books to promote awareness of the current political catastrophe? First, I write male/male romance, which means that my readers are by and large people who are already aware and in general agreement with my political outlook. Twitter ad Facebook provide the possibility of reaching outward from that base. Second, and more significant, the progression of political disaster in the Unites States is unfolding rapidly and accelerating every day. Yes, my books address (though I hope not in soapbox fashion because that’s boring) political realities. No, they can’t make people aware of what donald trump and his tribe of white supremacists, plutarchists, science-deniers, and people with poor grammar did an hour ago.

Writers have some skills that come in very handy when it comes to promoting awareness. The job of “Fiction Writer” in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles is rated as requiring an education and skill level of “8.” This is a high value—only advanced scientists, medical doctors, and similar have a higher rating. The level doesn’t mean writers have to all be super-smart, but it means they have to achieved proficiency in skills requiring education (self-education counts!) and lots of practice before they are perfected, and the skill set is broad. One such skill could be described as the ability to assess information, assimilate it, extract or synthesize underlying concepts, and express them in ways that are understandable, meaningful, and impactful.

That’s the skill I strive to use when I write that tweet or Facebook post. I don’t always get it right, but after many years, I still feel I’m learning my craft. If I come close—if I convey my outrage and urgency along with accurate fact, if something I write might make someone more aware of the thin ice they are perched upon, I feel I’ve done some small bit of good. Tweeting and Facebook posting certainly isn’t all I’m doing to resist the disaster that is a trump presidency, but I will keep doing it. I am also returning my attention to my fiction—what writer can keep from writing stories?

But if my time on social media is spent on politics rather than promotion, and if that means I sell fewer books… well, I hope that won’t happen. But if it does, so be it.

Those are my thoughts, for today. Thank you for reading them! Also thank you if you keep reading my books despite everything. My characters will get very lonely without you.