Tag Archive | Shannon Donnelly

The Art of Narrative

showandtellI’m about to do my Show & Tell Workshop online for OCC this May, and I always put in a pitch not just to show more, but to tell better.

Narrative seems to have gone out of fashion. It doesn’t seem to be taught, and no one seems to really get what it is. So let’s make it easy.

Merriam-Webster gives us the root for narrative/narrating as the “Latin narratus, past participle of narrare, from Latin gnarus knowing; akin to Latin gnoscere, noscere to know.”

This means it’s basically the author telling the reader the information the author knows, which the reader also needs to know. And now you ask, what does the reader need to know, and when does the reader need it, and how much does the reader need. This is where narrative becomes an art.

Look at this passage from Delta of Venus by Anais Nin:

They fell on this, the three bodies in accord, moving against each other to feel breast against breast and belly against belly. They ceased to be three bodies. They became all mouths and fingers and tongues and senses. Their mouths sought another mouth, a nipple, a clitoris. They lay entangled, moving very slowly. They kissed until the kissing became a torture and the body grew restless. Their hands always found yielding flesh, an opening. The fur they lay on gave off an animal odor, which mingled with the odors of sex…

That’s beautiful, evocative writing–and it’s all narrative telling. But it works!

Or from the Dubliners by James Joyce:

Then late one night as he was undressing for bed she had tapped at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight her candle at his for hers had been blown out by gust. It was her bath night. She wore a loose open combing-jacket of printed flannel. Her white instep shone in the opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed warmly behind her perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too as she lit and steadied her candle a faint perfume arose.

Now, I’m not saying you have to strive for great art–although that’s not a bad goal. But narrative can be some of the most beautiful writing you’ll ever do. The trick here is when do you use narrative, and do you make it wonderful? Or do you slap down descriptions to hurry forward in the story, terrified that your pace is flagging?

I read too many manuscripts these days from young writers (and I mean by writing age, not their real age) which seem rushed. They  hurry into scenes without setting up the world and the time and the true pace of the story.

Showing can be a great too–but so can  narrative. Don’t neglect this invaluable tool! And to learn more about how to do this, check out the workshop. We’ll be doing a lot of hands-on work.

Best Advice from RWA National: The Promise To Your Readers

It was an upbeat conference this year. Editors didn’t look so hunted. Those writers not yet published didn’t look so desperate—probably because the decision to be published is now in their own hands. And the self publishing panels weren’t just about how to format an ebook, but actually had a lot of great info.

My favorite workshop was held by Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, and Tina Folsom—three ladies who’ve done very well for themselves and who have shown that self published does not mean bad books or terrible sales. The best advice I heard came from Bella Andre who talked about the contract a writer has with a reader—a contract to deliver not just a good read but a certain level of sensuality in the books. She’s established as a secondary identity for a different type of book (and no, I’m not going to tell you the name—you’ll have to hunt it up yourself). But she did the new name because the books offer a different level of sex in the books—it’s a different “type” of book.

Now, I’d been looking at genre for “different”—and thinking that of course that’s why you needed a pen name. But this hit home—of course it’s not genre. It’s more about the feel of the book—what type of book is it. And that got me looking at my own bookshelves again.

I read sexy books—love the good ones. But it’s not my primary read. And that got me thinking.

Paths of Desire is a book I did to break out to a larger book and a more sweeping historical. I amped up the sex in the book—probably too much so. It’s a good book—or I think so. But I got to thinking about my readers. I’d had one reader post a one star review—and I think she’s right. It’s not the book for her, but she’s my reader. And it’s a brave new world.

This lead me to do an edit and I’m bringing out Paths of Desire: The Sweet Regency Edition. It’s more like my other Regencies—not exactly the door shutting on the sex (it’s a romance, and these folks become lovers, and that’s a vital part of the plot), but making it more about the emotion and less about the body parts. A new cover and a new ISBN denotes the new version of the book. And now readers can choose which version they like better.

I’m also going to be looking closer at my urban fantasy books, too—maybe I’ll bring out the hot version and the plot version and let readers pick which they prefer. Or maybe I’ll just bring them into the “Shannon Donnelly” version so that no pen name is needed—it’ll be a change of genre, but not a change of tone.

Either way should be interesting.

So what do you think—hot or not? Or is it best to have a choice that you the reader can make in which edition you like best?

Writers Come out of the Closet

Hi, my Name is Shannon, and I’m a Writer

It’s taken a long time for me to get comfortable with saying, “I a writer.” Part of this is due to the fact that I’ve always written—it’s just something you do…well, something I do. Part of this is due to the looks you get when you say this. Eager anticipation mixes—yes, they really do want to say they’ve met a real author—with half-hidden skepticism, and then you get The Question.

The Question comes phrased one of two ways. It’s either, “Oh, what do you write?” This comes with an implication that maybe you write technical manuals, or non-fiction, or something that means of course you don’t write anything meaningful—as if somehow none of that other stuff counts. (Is this because we’re taught in school that only “literary fiction” is of real value?) Or you get, “What have you written lately?”

Now, no one asks an accountant, “What taxes have you filed lately.” Or asks any other profession to somehow provide credentials to prove your claim. Lawyers do not have to whip out briefs; doctors do not need to show their latest prescription and case file. But a writer…you have to name your books, your stories, and I’ve thought sometimes that I should just carry a resume to show folks who ask. And here’s the thing—you tell them you write romances (or whatever genre, if you’re so lucky as to have a single genre), and you mention your story titles, and you get a blank look back. You’ve kicked their puppy, burst their balloon, salted their punch. Somehow you’ve disappointed. You’re not quite “a name” (or at least not the name they were looking for), yet you’re a writer. You’re not writing what they read, or what they want to tell people they read. The person doing the pop quiz has nothing to take home—no bragging rights for having met “a real author” (of real books, the definition of which changes depending on who is doing the reading).

It’s worse before you publish. It doesn’t get much better after you publish. So you start holding back. You duck the question. You keep it under wraps or wave it off, and you only answer if your significant other brags about you thus forcing you into The Question.

And when it comes time to file taxes, you hover over the words and put either a slash (as in I’m a web producer/writer), or you just put down the day job. Never mind that you’re working at a job that pays way less than minimum wage and doing it for love—those folks used to be admired, and now if you’re not a “professional” somehow you’re not legitimate. And never mind that you’re incurring all the cost of a business (equipment, supplies, training, sales letters, proposals to solicit work). Nope—somehow none of that really counts.

It’s worse before you publish. It doesn’t get much better after you publish. There’s still that edge of guilt—oh, yeah, well a real writer would have _______. Fill in the blank. A real writer would have won awards, been on best seller lists, sold fifty books…it’s like being an alcoholic in reverse. Instead of saying, “Well, I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink in bars.” (Or whatever excuse works.) It’s, “Well, I’m not a writer because I don’t write serious fiction.” (Or whatever excuse works.)  The excuse is all about excusing yourself from being a real writer. Meaning you can play around with the craft. Make it a hobby. You don’t have to think of yourself as a craftsman and artist and act that way—you don’t have to own the job.

I did this for a long time—longer than I should have. I had a day job. It paid well. I had a social life. I had family. I had lots of stuff going on. But I wrote at night and sent off manuscripts and took vacations from the writing when it wasn’t going so well. I quit a dozen times and started back at it even more times when the stories wouldn’t leave me alone (and when I got so grumpy from not writing that I couldn’t stand myself). And then I figured out I had to take it—and myself—seriously. If I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write.

I got comfortable with thinking of myself as a writer—still hated to say anything. I hung around with “real writers” who’d sold books. I kept at it. And I sold some books. I won awards. And I still didn’t feel comfortable with the title of “writer.” Author wasn’t so bad—I could do that at book signings because I had the dammed books in front of me so if someone asked The Question (and, yes, they did, even with the books sitting there), I could just gesture like Vanna. Here’s the goods—go ahead and give me that look, I dare you! But the rest of the time…

Well, still struggling. After all a real writer makes her living from books. Well, that’s what I do now, and guess what…I’m almost comfortable with the word. And I’m thinking it’s about time I do more than get comfortable with it. I need to own it. Looks from folks be dammed, it’s what I do.

Nowadays, I can talk about what I write a bit better. The looks still come, particularly when I cannot whip out a book to show someone—eBooks are great for a lot of things, but not so much for ego validation. The comfort zone is widening. I still aspire to more…to best seller lists, and to that ever elusive deal that someone will bring the validation I’ve wanted.

But I’ve figured out there’s never going to be enough of that from the outside. No deal will bring reassurance—I’ll always wonder afterwards if I can live up to it, or if they just got the wrong person by accident. No award will be enough, and no lists will make me into what I want to be. If it’s coming from the outside that means it goes away, too—the outside stuff always does.

It’s got to be an inside job, this idea that you’re a writer. That I’m a writer. It’s got to be grabbed and believed and fought for and defended. It’s got to take root so deep that it’s part of saying your name. It’s what you do—it’s who you are. You’re a writer because you write. Good stuff. Stuff to be excited about and want to tell folks about and grin like a loon when you talk—and make it into more than just a hobby, because it’s part of your soul, your heart, your being.

So…time to jump out of the closet and off the cliff. I’m Shannon, and I’m a writer. Now, what do you call yourself?

Paths of Desire – A Regency Historical Romance

Paths of DesirePATHS OF DESIRE

On Amazon Kindle

ISBN: 978-0-9831423-9-3

With too many secrets in her past, and too little future as an actress, Theodosia Newell wants one thing more than all else—security. She’s seen her mother abandoned, her younger brother die, and she’s vowed never to be poor. But then her path crosses that of a man who tempts her to abandon caution and all thought for the future for a passionate affair. Can she find the courage to break from her deepest fears? And will her love prove enough to save them both?

Born with a soul for adventure, David Llewellyn cannot resist a challenge—and his enthusiasm for life is as magnetic as his personality. But two women share his life, and only one can be his. Will his stubborn refusal to make a choice between them lead him to lose everything? Or will he find, in the journey to the lost city he dreams of discovering, a path to a deeper love than he thought possible?

For ten years, the affair between David and Thea goes from passion to love. Lives are changed.  Secrets come out. Marriages end. And new ones begin. Through it all, the desire of two strong-willed people lead them to clash, and to eventually find their own path–to each other and to facing the need and love they share.  From London to Italy to Syria, the Paths of Desire lead them on a journey they must make together.

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My first step into a self-published novel — I’ll be posting updates each month to let you know how it’s going.

Christmas Stories

It’s Dicken’s fault–he started the trend. Now, maybe there were Christmas stories around before A Christmas Carol (favorite film version being the one with Alistair Sim), but Dicken’s became the one trotted out every year with the trees and holly and mistletoe. And why fight success. But I actually never set out to write a Christmas story.

Under the Kissing BoughUnder the Kissing Bough started life as a short story. It was supposed to be about 100 pages, and I actually didn’t start out with a time of year, but I did want to see if I could do a novella. I’d been writing a lot of novels and hadn’t done any shorter fiction in a long time, and I actually really, really like the shorter format. It’s a challenge to work in, but can be rewarding. I forgot one thing–you cannot do a short story with lots of characters. Not and do all the characters any kind of justice.

You see, I love to give every character a ‘star turn.’ I think of them all as actors, and every actor–even ones with bit parts–loves to have that great screen moment with wonderful dialogue that moves the story (and the audience). All this mean that with large families (heroine has two sisters, and her parents; hero has father, two brothers, and a former love interest who is now married), I knew that by page seventy, no way was this story ever going to fit into 100 pages. So I put it aside.

And then my then editor at Kensington asked if I’d like to do a holiday book–a Christmas story. “Sure” is always the immediate answer I provide in such situations. And then I had to figure out what I could do for Christmas. Because I can’t just stick on some holy and call it holiday. To me, if an element is not important in the story–and to the characters–it’s got no business being stuck in.

This mean research–as in I needed to dig into English Christmas customs (not difficult since I had a grandmother from Yorkshire and a lot of handed-down family traditions). And I dug out my short story to take another look.

The December setting suited my characters very well–I’d already set up a ‘marriage of convenience’ story (always a wonderful plot to use for historical fiction). Now I could weave in the holiday customs, make them part of the plot and the story (because, in England, you really, really need a very good reason to get married in the cold of winter). There were a few things I couldn’t quite fit into the story due to the limitations of page counts (from the days when that mattered so very much in print)–as in it would have been fun to do more with Twelfth Night celebrations. But I did get other things in there that I loved adding.

And I ended up with a Christmas story.

I’m toying this year with rereading it. I don’t often reread my own work. When you’ve spent a long time writing and revising, another read seems more of a burden than a treat. But it would be fun to do another holiday story. Mmmm…maybe Guy Fawkes day.