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How to Stay Organized While Writing a Series

Whether you begin writing with the idea for just one story or have the entire series of books pre-planned in your head, it’s best to be organized from the start. Keeping track of important details from the outset will pay dividends in the long run, saving you precious writing time and mental effort.

I’ve written a three book series (the Higher Elevation Series), and am currently working on two other series (One is a Contemporary Romance, the other is Fantasy Romance). I’ve curated a method that works very well for me. While it is true that every writer must use the process that works best for them, some or all of what I describe here may be useful to you. There is no one “Right Way” to write, or to organize your work, so take what you can use and leave the rest.

Note: I write using MS Word. If you use Scrivener or some of the other writing software on the market, your program may do some of the organizing for you or be done in a different way. I find MS Word suits my needs and some of my methods may still be useful for users of other programs.

Before You Begin Writing

The first thing I usually do when I get the idea for a story or series is to write a free-form outline. This can be in Word document, or hand-written in a notebook. The point is to write down any and all ideas I have regarding the story during that first rush of excitement. If I can, I break it into sections, as in plot, characters, and scenes. This way I can easily find these initial ideas later for development. I usually name it “XYZ story” if I’m typing a document. It’s meant to be a broad overview.

After the initial rush of excitement, if the story or series premise still seems viable, I’ll create several documents:

• Outline
• Characters
• Setting/World details
• Series Bible
• Research Notes
• Draft
• Scene List

The next step is to begin filling in these documents with more detailed information. I am not a heavy plotter, nor am I a “pantser” (writing by the seat of my pants). This method would work for both types of writers, because you can fill in as little or as much as you want before you begin writing. You can, and should add to each document as you write your draft, for the sake of consistency.

Filling the Well

Adding details to each document happens before I start writing, and continues throughout the subsequent drafts until publication. Sometimes details in the story are changed or added which need to be documented. Here is how I fill in those details:

Outline– Now I write a more structured outline, paying attention to scene placement. I want to be sure the rough order of scenes follows at least the three act structure. I also use a few other structure methods, depending on the type of story it is. Some of the structure aids I have used are Nick Stephenson’s/Mark Dawson’s Seven Key Elements structure; Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets; Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot structure; and Gwen Hayes’ book Romancing the Beat. Use whatever method works for you, just be sure you have at least a rough Idea of where the story is going from beginning to end.

Characters– I usually keep one document with information on all the main characters, but sometimes I write one document for each. It just depends on how detailed they are when they come to me. Then I add traits, quirks, and details such as backstory, emotional wound, etc., as I go. This way, I can refer to it when I forget where they worked or what color their eyes are. Minor or mention-only characters are kept track of in the Series Bible. You can write all these details about your characters in advance, or as you write the story, which is what I do.

Setting/World details– much of this will be in the Series Bible, but what I write here is more of a free-form description of the settings where the story takes place and why they are important. This is to help me imagine the setting so when I write there’s a rich backdrop for me to use when choosing which details to reveal.

Series Bible– This document is broken down into sections, and is meant only to keep track of important details. The sections are:

• Timeline- when the story starts and when it ends

• Characters-( brief description), name, age, what they look like, if it is important; if character is minor or just a mention, I add how they are related to any other characters if that applies
• Places- countries, towns, street names
• Companies- any business name that is mentioned and what it is
• Vehicles- who drives what car, and the year, make and model

For my Romance Fantasy Series, I added several categories because there was much more world building. In addition to timeline, characters, and places, I added details about:
• Government
• Religion
• Animals
• Plants
• Customs
• Dress
• Food
• Events

Anytime I make up something new, I add it with a short description to the list. When subsequent books in the series are written, I break the Timeline and Characters sections into “Book One” and “Book Two”, etc. This way the timelines and characters can be tracked from one book to another.

Research notes- Some writers us One Note or Evernote for this purpose, but I like having the document handy in my folder for that series. Any research I do, whether my own notes or a copy and paste of an article, goes here. You never know when you might need that obscure detail!

While Writing

Some stories go through only one draft that is edited several times; some need to be revised and rewritten. If I write more than one draft, I number them. With each draft, I write a separate Scene List. The scene List is a must for me, and has:

• Whose point of view is speaking (POV)
• What happens in the scene. Example- “Jane- She calls her mother; they argue about why she hasn’t called; she hangs up, and begins to cry; there’s a knock on the door; When she opens it ( hero) is standing there”.
• Throughout the scene document, I note what day of the week and date it is, so I can maintain continuity
• I write the scene description immediately after writing the text of each scene, to be sure it has served its purpose

The scene list also helps if I get stuck. Reading all the scene descriptions up to the point I am stuck usually gets things moving again. I also review it once again when the story is done, before I begin self-edits.

All of the above can be used to write a series, adding the details to each section as you write. You could also keep one document to diagram the series arc, if you have one, adding and changing it as the stories unfold.

I can’t count the times I had to refer to these documents when some minor detail skipped my mind. It’s especially helpful if you skip around on projects and some time has lapsed between writing. I prefer concentrating on what is yet to be written, and this method helps me to do just that.

What methods do you use to keep track of stories in a series?

Here’s some helpful Links:
Renee Regent- http://www.reneeregent.com/books
Nick Stephenson- https://www.blog.yourfirst10kreaders.com/blog/
Jami Gold- https://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/
Michael Hague- https://www.storymastery.com/six-stage-structure-chart/
Gwen Hayes- http://gwenhayes.com/romancing-the-beat/

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Why I Choose to Write Romance

“So, you also write romance? Well, I guess you have to eat.”

Condescending much?

I regret that when another author made that comment to me, I let it slide. We met online and decided to swap newsletters, since our work had some themes in common. We exchanged several pleasant emails, did the newsletter swap, and then he disappeared. I don’t know why we stopped communicating, but his initial comment still bothered me several months later.

Here We Go Again

There have been countless articles and posts written about the unfair bias against the romance genre, so I won’t rehash any of those here. But yes, it ticked me off when another author implied that romance as a genre was inferior to other genres, and the only merit it had was producing content in order to make money.

In other words, no “serious” author would stoop to writing romance. This was from an indie author, too—someone who knows how much work it takes to bring a book to market and how scary it is to put yourself out there without the backing of a publisher. He wrote the book that was in his heart, and it was well done, and well received. But you know what?

So did I.

It Goes Both Ways

My first book, Unexplained, (Book 1 of the Higher Elevation Series), was written with a central love story in mind. The heroine is a skeptical journalism student, and the hero is a psychic with the ability to project his mind outside of his body. They become tangled up in danger while trying to understand the meaning of their strange mental connection. The book ended up being a suspenseful Cold War spy story, with a twist. I never meant to straddle the mainstream and romance genres, but that’s how the story turned out. Readers who normally don’t read romance enjoyed it, and those who love romance enjoyed it, as well.

Because Unexplained attracted some non-romance readers, I was able to get some feedback from them, and I noticed something—there was often a “disclaimer” that they don’t normally read romance, but made an exception for this book. Why is that even necessary? The romance readers didn’t make any comments about having to read the non-romantic parts of the book. Will the stigma of romance being part of a story, or the entire story, ever go away? Gore and violence are often accepted, but not falling in love.

It doesn’t make much sense.

Romance Is Strong

However, the bias against romance won’t slow it down, because readers will continue to read voraciously, and authors will continue to write romance stories, myself included. My next novel, Not So Broken, is a steamy Contemporary romance, the first in a series. I chose to write this story because I love to hear how couples got together.

Isn’t that a universal question we often ask others—“How did you two meet?”

Don’t we all love to hear how a couple met, especially when there seems to be an element of fate? It’s fascinating to think that being in the right place at the right time led to a relationship. What if he had missed that train, or if she had decided to stay home instead of going out to that club? How can a chance meeting turn into something life changing?

I like to get inside the heads of my characters and figure out how to get two mismatched souls to come together despite the odds. The HEA, or happily ever after, is the destination and the story is all about the couple’s journey to get there.

Every group of people on the planet has those kind of stories—about two people falling in love. Love is love, and romance is universal, even for those who look down their noses at those of us who write about it.

That is why I choose to write romance. I’m damn proud of the title, “Romance Author”, and many of us are eating very well, thank you.

What To Do If Your Characters Won’t Talk To You

Or do they talk too much?

 

Is there a “right” way to communicate with your characters?

I pondered this question late one night when I couldn’t sleep (the places a mind can go at three in the morning!). The topic was on my mind due to a Facebook discussion, where an author was concerned she had a problem because her characters wouldn’t “talk” to her. She had heard other authors say they had regular and vivid conversations with their characters, and she felt left out because she didn’t.

Many in the responses assured her she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Several authors, myself included, said their characters don’t communicate with them like disembodied entities. The consensus at the end of the thread was, like most aspects of writing, there’s no one right way. How your characters communicate with you is part of your writing process, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Whose Head Is This?

Personally, my characters don’t talk to me, they talk through me. I do a rough character sketch before I begin writing a story, but the characters, whether main or secondary, reveal themselves to me as I write. They don’t get inside my head, but I get inside theirs. When I am writing in a character’s POV, I am that character. I inhabit their mind, see what they see, feel what they feel. I think that is why I am able to write in deep point of view, and also why I can’t stand “head hopping” (alternating POV in the same scene). It may also be why I write slower than some writers, because it takes time to get into, and out of, character. The only downside is, when I write from the POV of an antagonist who is psychologically messed up, or a villain type, it sometimes creeps me out and takes a while to recover!

My reviews have cited “a wealth of character development” and now I know why. I didn’t even realize that I was, so to speak, “inhabiting” my characters until I thought about how other authors communicate with theirs.

Characters Are Crucial

Characters and their motivations, quirks, and personalities are extremely important in fiction. No matter what genre you write, character development is what makes the reader care about what is happening plot-wise. Some genres have more emphasis on character development and interaction than others, but knowing your characters is crucial for all fiction.
So, what can you do if they aren’t jabbering?

Here’s a few tips I have heard about getting to know your characters:

Write a character sketch– it can be a few paragraphs, a list, or a dossier. Some writers swear by this, and it helps them to know what food the character likes, what astrological sign they are, what happened to them when they were six, etc. Much of the information may not be used in the story, but serves as background, which helps to develop the character’s motivations and quirks.

Interview your characters– pretend you’re a journalist or a psychologist, and grill them with questions. Many writers find this helps when they are stuck, to ask the character what he/she wants to happen.

Try deep POV– even if you are not writing your story that way. Really get inside your character’s mind, and figure out why they behave the way they do. Writing a scene or two, which you may or may not use, can trigger you to discover aspects about that character you were missing.

Map it out– use a structural template, such as Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, or something similar, to map out your character’s development and arc. Sometimes breaking it down like that can trigger all sorts of ideas and provide insight into the character’s psychological makeup.

Brainstorm- talk it out with another author or a trusted beta reader. If you feel disconnected or blocked from a character, talking it through with someone else can also trigger understanding. Sometimes just voicing your concerns out loud can make the character more “real” and you can gain insight into what they want or should do in your story.

The bottom line is, there is no one right way to communicate with your characters. Whether they are noisy or quiet, how they get the story through you and onto the page is highly personal and individual. While it is a good idea to try new methods, don’t compare yourself to other writers. If your way makes you comfortable and works for you, bravo!

Do your characters talk to you? What’s your process for finding out what they are all about?

The Writing Process- Are You Doing It Wrong?

There are unlimited books, blog posts, webinars and podcasts on the subject of how to be a better writer. Advice on how to plot, to develop characters, or to nail the perfect dialogue…the list is infinite. There is no shortage of instruction on “how to” write a novel.
But one thing no one can teach you, is what your writing process should be. Because the way each writer goes about the process of actually writing is as unique to the individual as are fingerprints.

Plotter or Pantser? Or Planser, Maybe?

Of course, there are similarities. But even the two main designations of “Plotter” and “Pantser” fall short of describing most authors, many of who profess to be a combination of the two. Then there are the linear writers, who write a story chronologically, and the non-linear writers who craft the scenes according to which ones they are most excited about or inspired by, and assemble them into a coherent timeline later.

But other than that, processes can vary tremendously from one writer to another, and sometimes from one project to another. There is no one right way to craft a book or story, so each writer’s personal process must be respected.

Writing Quirks

Some like to sprint, others don’t. Some are obsessive about keeping to a certain word count per day or each writing session, while some, like me, write by scene. While having word count goals may be the motivator that gets some writers going, others are just as motivated by finishing a scene, however long or short it may be.

One author friend confessed to me a writing habit that made me realize just how individual our “process quirks” are. She was discussing a WIP (work in progress) with a friend, who kept asking her what was going to happen further on in the story, plot wise. The author knew everything about her own story, every plot point, the ending, etc. But she refused to fill her eager friend in on the details, because if she talked to anyone else about her story, she’d “feel” as though she’d already written it. She was afraid she would lose interest and momentum in the story by discussing it with others, thus jeopardizing her ability to write the story as she envisioned. For some writers, discovering the story as it is being written is their process.

Some other “quirks” of the writing process might be:

Listening to music while you write
Having to sit in a certain room or chair
Needing a particular snack or beverage before you begin
Re-reading the previous chapter before you start
Never reading the previous work you’ve done on a book until it is finished
Discussing each step along the way with a trusted friend or critique partner as you write
Not discussing the book with anyone until it’s finished
Write out scenes or outlines long hand
Use note cards, post-its or storyboards to plot

Respect The Process!

So, while it’s fine to discuss with others how your personal writing process works, keep in mind it may not work for others. So many factors come into play—personality, level of experience, living situation, time constraints, and energy level, to name a few. We don’t have to approve of or understand other writer’s processes, but we should respect them.

Because, unlike the (so-called) writing “rules”, a writer’s process is very personal. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to write. Some methods may seem more or less productive than others, but we all must find our own way to the end of our writing projects. Personally, I think it’s amazing how we can all end up at the same place (completed books) via so many different ways of writing.

What are your writing process quirks? Has anyone ever criticized your writing process?

Cover Reveal of Running In Snow-A Holiday Novella

I know, autumn has just begun and in many places, it still feels like summer. At least it has here in Atlanta with ninety degree temperatures. But the Holiday Season is right around the corner and this year, I have a Holiday Novella release!

It’s called Running In Snow, and that is the cover in the featured photo. Elle at EJRDigital Art did a fantastic job at capturing the mood of these two heartwarming yet emotional holiday tales. Release date is November 7, 2017, and it will be available for preorder in October, date TBD.

Full disclosure here—I never had the desire to write a holiday story, or even short stories for that matter. But this is proof that writers can get inspiration from anywhere. The idea for the first story, Noelle’s Promise, hit me out of the blue. I read a blog post (sorry, I cannot recall the author) about writing holiday stories, and the idea came to me—what would happen if someone who didn’t celebrate the holidays was in a situation where they had to? Why would they not want to celebrate? How would that play out?

I guess it may be an unusual twist, but that seems to be what I do. If you’ve read my Higher Elevation Series, then you know I come at subjects from a different angle sometimes. These holiday stories are deeply emotional, and my characters go through some real soul searching. But they end up on a happy note.

Here’s the cover copy for Running In Snow:

Two heartwarming tales of love and redemption. And snow.

Noelle’s Promise

Does your past define the future?

Noelle has one cardinal rule─never, ever celebrate the holidays. But now she’s promised to spend them with her boyfriend, Logan, and his extended family. As the festivities begin, bad memories surface. She manages to suppress her anxiety and join in the celebrations, until an unexpected incident sends her fleeing into the night. Can she overcome her past before it ruins her future?

Eve’s Hope

Can a holiday be unlucky every year?

When her heater goes out in the middle of a rare Atlanta snowstorm, reclusive Eve accepts the invitation to her handsome neighbor’s party. Expecting to be bored to tears, she encounters a few surprises before the countdown to midnight begins. Can she survive just one New Year’s Eve without her bad luck kicking in?

 

I’ll be posting soon when more information becomes available. Until then, you can follow my Amazon Author Page for updates:
https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01M4IHA1A

Or follow my Goodreads Page:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15611048.Renee_Regent

Or subscribe to my newsletter. They got to see the cover a few days ago, and enjoy exclusive content, and giveaways. You also get your choice of up to FIVE FREE mini-ebooks just for signing up:

http://www.reneeregent.com/newsletter-sign-up

And you can also get excusive news and giveaways for being in my Reader’s Group on Facebook, Renee Regent’s Readers. Message me and ask to join:

https://www.facebook.com/Renee-Regent-Author-1625365841109181/

 

I’ll be sharing this cover reveal on social media and would greatly appreciate any likes, shares, retweets, etc. I am so excited to share these stories with you! Thanks again as always, for your support.

May I be the first to say, Happy Holidays!

 

 

Are Newsletters On The Way Out?

The warning signs are everywhere. “Newsletter fatigue” is setting in among readers as authors (and well, pretty much every business on the internet) inundates their inboxes with special offers. Yet, authors are still being told by every marketing guru out there that a newsletter to your fans is a must. But how effective is it as a marketing strategy?

Gold Fever

I’ve heard the mantra since I got serious about becoming a published author years ago. “Your mailing list is gold. They are your fans. They want to hear from you.” I believe the essence of this is true, in theory. If someone signs up to be on your mailing list, they are agreeing to hear from you, right?

Not always.

Part of the problem is the sheer number of authors using this tactic has overwhelmed the market. It’s no longer new, or unique; pretty much every author has a newsletter sign up on their website for which they actively seek subscribers, promising freebies, exclusive content, and other goodies in exchange for their coveted email address. So the competition factor has forced authors to be more creative in enticing readers to sign up. Just liking your books seems to be the last reason readers sign up these days.

More Free Stuff!

Another common way to get readers to sign up is mass promotion, or cross-promotion. Promotional companies or groups of authors offer gift cards or other prizes to readers in exchange for signing up to the mailing lists of several authors listed on their promotion. This seems to work, and sounds like a great way for readers to find new authors. But when the main motivation for someone signing up is a prize, and not you as an author or your books, will they stick around and actually read your newsletter? Or will they opt out the first chance they get, or worse, put your emails into spam?

Speaking of Spam…

I have been getting occasional emails from authors I have never heard of, spamming me about their book. I couldn’t figure out how that was happening when I had not signed up for their newsletters. But today I saw a conversation on Facebook where another author received over sixty (!) unsolicited emails from other authors spamming about their books. The thread was long as others commented they, too have been inundated with unsolicited emails from authors. Somehow, author newsletter swaps are occurring and getting into email lists. These kinds of abuses are precisely why readers are getting fatigued.

Sending your email to someone who never asked for it is spam, plain and simple, whether you do it directly or through a co-opted swap. It is also illegal and likely against the Terms of Service of your email service provider.

Another reason you want your list to be comprised of engaged readers is the fact that maintaining a list can be costly. Most email services charge when you get to a certain number of contacts or send out a certain number of emails. Which is disheartening when you find the open rate is small compared to the number you are mailing out and paying for. Some authors go through periodically and delete contacts who don’t open the emails, but apparently some email platforms allow reading without fully opening, so they may be purging engaged readers. There is no definitive way to tell for sure if the newsletter is being read. So, rather than having tons of subscribers who may or may not care to be on your list, wouldn’t it be better in the long run to cultivate a list of readers who really do want to hear from you?

The Struggle Is Real

Email itself has become a necessary evil in our lives. It’s a struggle for many to keep up with. I have a friend whose little red dot on her phone says she has over six thousand unread emails! I’m sure she is not alone, and some of those unread emails may well be from some of her favorite authors. (I am one of those who obsessively clears my emails, so no red dots for me. But I still struggle with reading them all in a timely manner).

No doubt newsletters still work for many, but there are challenges. If you end up with a certain percentage of loyal readers who really do read and respond to your email newsletter, then it will be worth it. Just don’t engage in abusive practices, or expect miracles from your newsletter. It is just one tool in your marketing arsenal. Like anything else, it all boils down to discoverability and engagement.

When you find that, it truly is gold.

 

 

 

 

Why I Love To Give Free Stuff

I’ve been giving stuff away lately, and I have to admit, it feels pretty good! And I’m not even concerned about getting anything back. That’s the best way to give, isn’t it? Pay it forward and all that. So when I give I try to do so with pure intentions and hope karma does the rest.

Free Works, Apparently

I was pleasantly surprised this month when I had my “free days” on Amazon. My first book, Unexplained, had almost four thousand downloads! I had run some promotions on social media and a few newsletters, and it seems to have paid off. All three of my Higher Elevation Series books are in Kindle Unlimited right now, and the sales and page reads have been better than I ever expected. The idea of giving away that many copies felt weird to me at first, but at least my books are out there, finding an audience. So I consider this a win.

I’ve also given away paperback copies, signed, of course. I ran Goodreads Giveaways, I gave away books through my Facebook Group, Renee Regent’s Readers. I gave away an Amazon gift card when I did a takeover on Facebook. This is nothing new, authors have been doing this and more for years, but I never realized how good it would feel to do it. I knew giving things away was a good business strategy, but it’s more than that. It’s something I actually look forward to. Even though it’s common now to hand out swag and free books, people still get excited about it, and for me, seeing their excitement is the fun part.

But Wait, There’s More!

All this giving away of goodies had me thinking, “What else can I give?” While looking through the statistics report of my blog for ideas, I decided to compile a free mini ebook. Or two. Well, I ended up with five, actually!

I’ve been blogging since 2013, and according to WordPress, I have over 2,400 followers. I’ve written over one hundred posts on various topics, some of which have been viewed thousands of times. I love blogging and have covered diverse topics over the years, so I compiled some of my most popular posts into mini ebooks by subject. They’re a quick, easy read, and I hope readers will find them fun and informative. Here’s a rundown:

Romance Novel Trends– a (sometimes humorous) look at the trends shaping Romance Novels today, from those ubiquitous “Ab Covers” to Seasoned Romance

Writing Tips on Marketing– the elusive Holy Grail of discoverability, and ways to find it

Writing Tips on Craft– Useful and practical information I’ve learned along the way. I put myself through the ringer so you don’t have to!

Supernatural/Metaphysical– curious about the Law of Attraction? Wondering if ghosts are real? Find out in this exploration of the unexplained, which often end up in my stories

From the Heart– In which I share stories from my real life experiences. There’s some humor, some heartbreak, and of course, love.

 

Whether you are a writer, a reader, or both, I hope you’ll find something interesting in these posts. They are available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers. If interested, you can sign up here.

There’s also a page on my website called “Free Reads”, where you can read the first chapter of Unexplained.

When it comes to giving, I feel like I’m just getting started. I have plenty of stories and blog posts still in my head, so don’t worry, there’s more to come. If you were one of the readers who downloaded or bought my books, or read them on KU these past few weeks, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

That’s the best gift anyone could give me.