Things That Go Bump

When I first started writing, I started off writing SF and Fantasy. This was partly due to being in my teens–I was on a total SF/Fantasy kick for reading. And it was what I was drawn to. Years later, I switched over to Regency romance–quite a jump most folks think, but not really. You see–it’s all about the world building. And the emotions.

In between the SF/Fantasy and Regency (and there’s a bigger cross-over in that audience than you’d ever know, given the Regency dancing that’s shown up at most SF conventions), I did some YA Horror stories–stuff that goes bump in the dark. Again, it’s all about the world building–and the emotions.

EdgeWalkersNow I’m back to SF/Fantasy for an edgy Urban Fantasy–Edge Walkers. This is one of those things where you shake your head as a writer and wonder what are you doing…but then you write the story anyway. When I wrote the story, I needed a change up from the Regency writing. I also wanted to get back to my roots with SF/Fantasy, and wanted to do a zombie book that worked for me (most of them don’t, however, I adore the movie, Zombieland–but Edge Walkers is nothing like that). I also wanted to do a book where the sex needed to be in the story–I was at a phase where I’d been reading too man books with sexy scenes that just seemed to have the scenes stuffed in there to add the sex. That didn’t work for me.

The trouble with all of this is that Edge Walkers isn’t part of the Urban Fantasy series I’m doing–the Demons & Warders series with Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, which is due out soon (and the third book is going to be Angels Don’t Burn). It’s not a Regency, and is nothing like those books in tone, so it’s going to have to find it’s own readership. I love the book, but then you always love your babies–even the challenged ones.

But now it’s out I do plan to get back to the Regencies–I have plans there. And I’m more than ready to step back into that other, lighter world.

That’s the best part of taking a diversion with the writing–it leaves you eager to go back to the other stuff.

Will Edge Walkers do well on it’s own? Maybe–or maybe it’ll be a grand experiment that leaves everyone (even me) shaking their heads. But a writer’s got to go what a writer’s got to do. It would just be nice, from the marketing side of things, if all my ideas fit better into a single box.


Backstory vs. Story

One of the most common bits of advice given to young writers is to cut the first three chapters–this is often good advice. Many a manuscript that I’ve read in contests could have used the first one, two, or even the first fifty pages cut. It’s all backstory, not story. Now, don’t get me wrong–a lot of times the writer needs to have written these pages. Writing helps you get to know the characters, but then you have to ask, “Does the reader really need to know this” and, “Does the reader need to know this in right up front?” Very often, the backstory, but it’s set up stuff. So how do you know what’s backstory.

1-Things that happen before the incident that sets the main story in action all belong to Burn Baby Burnbackstory. In Burn Baby Burn, the main story starts with the heroine finding a half-demon baby on her doorstep. That’s what I want on page one to kick off the story. There are small bits of information that need to be woven in later, but having Zie (our heroine) find trouble on her porch sets the action moving. However, I still needed to know more about Zie and Josh (her partner), so I had backstory to write–but that backstory didn’t belong in the story. (You can read these pages in a free PDF here.)

2-Things that impact the character may be needed in the story–but hold onto them until they are absolutely needed. Again, in Burn Baby Burn, I had information about the characters and how they met, but there were also secrets that each of the characters were keeping. I wanted the characters to hang onto these secrets for as long as possible. Josh, the hero, had to give up his secret earlier than Zie, but Zie’s secret was one she was ready to carry to her grave–it’s a huge moment for her to trust Josh with her past, and so hanging onto this information gave it impact in the story.

3-Weave in what the reader does need to know as if it were a strong spice–meaning keep it to a sentence or three, not a paragraph or three. The key word here is “weave.”  Obviously, some backstory helps the reader into the story. You need setting and some background in order for the reader to settle into a scene. Too little information is like throwing a reader into the deep end of a pool and the reader may leave the story rather than try to muddle through. (Or the reader just may not care because there’s so little to care about.) If you think of your story like a good stew, you want a rich flavor–but you don’t want the first spoonful to overwhelm the reader. Or, if you want to use the metaphor of weaving, think of your backstory as threads. You want threads in the weave, not a big lump.

4-Look for the story to start as close to the start of the main story arc as possible. In a romance, this means you want the main characters on the pages and meeting up and having major conflict issues as soon as possible. In other stories, such as Urban Fantasy, you want to get the reader into the fantasy–and the big issues for the characters–right away. The one way to break this rule is if you can make the writing–and the information–utterly fascinating, go ahead and put in a lot of background. However, this takes a lot of talent and work.

5-When in doubt, start with conflict–start when the main character’s life is pushed out of balance. Any character who is in trouble is pretty much automatically in conflict–that character has to decide what to do next. That’s at least going to give you something interesting for the character to do (and so you have a greater chance of grabbing the reader’s interest). In Burn Baby Burn, Mackenzie Solomon is a demon hunter–so finding a half-demon baby on her doorstep gives this character an immediate problem. She has to make immediate choices–she has a problem in her life (and conflict over what to do next). In the next book in the series, Riding in on a Burning Tire, she wakes to find security from work pointing guns at her–an obvious, immediate problem. Stories that start off with the characters faced with choices and conflict and a lack of balance in their lives will tend to pull the reader in more so than a story that starts with a character getting into a car and going to work and nothing happening.

6-Watch out for using action that is only action at the star of a book. This is one of those double-edged swords–done right, action can give you a great action opening. But there are dangers. If you throw the reader into the middle of bank robbery, the reader has no idea who to root for–the robbers or the cops? If you toss the reader into the middle of action, and the writing is not clear and crisp, you can confuse and lose your readers. Action that is just action might give a movie a big bang opening, but if the writing is not brilliant, this can be boring on the printed page. In general, focus more on the characters who are in trouble–strong characters will better pull the reader into your story.

New Book, New Genre

Burn Baby BurnWriting in a new genre always has its risk–in some ways, you’re starting over. Folks who have read my Regency romances may not like the new book, Burn Baby Burn, which is Urban Fantasy. That may seem a huge jump, but it wasn’t–and was a lot like old home week for me. I started off writing YA Horror stories (which I loved to do). And paranormal/Urban Fantasy has a lot in common with writing Regencies–it’s all about the world building…and the characters. The setting wasn’t hard, either–I grew up in and around LA, and I’m very fond of the place. It’s no longer my stomping grounds, but the City of Angels was a natural backdrop for a series about demons/angels and the folks who are trying to keep them from tearing apart everything in between.

The other fun part of Burn Baby Burn were the characters. Great characters are always fun, and when you have demon hunters, who have to get along with demonic jinn (otherwise known as genies), freelancers in the paranormal gray space, and charming charmers who may just be too powerful for anyone’s good…well it’s all good from a writer’s view. All of this made for a great change of pace for me…which is something writers need at times.

We all need to stretch every now and then and try new things and just do stuff because it’s fun. We all start writing with stories in our heads–it’s just that sometimes you get too caught up in the “what will sell” mode and you forget that you started off this adventure to amuse yourself. If other folks come along with you on the ride, that’s great. But it’s also gravy. It’s the bonus that comes after you’ve written the story and sent it on its way to have its own life.

Cool Gus Publishing has given the book a great cover. So even if folks who love the Regency stories (and there will be more of those) don’t like this book, it should find it’s own audience. There’s also going to be more books in this series–that was something else I’ve been wanting to do.

When you write, you fall in love with your characters. They become (or you hope they become) folks that you just want to hang with. I’m particularly fond of these characters–Zie and Josh, and Marion and Felix. They’re not hard to hang with. So it’s going to be fun to head out with them on their next adventure. I hope others feel that way, too.

And isn’t it great that there’s so many avenues for authors these days to bring books out and try new things, and find just the readers who like those types of books.