Three Dirty Birds and Pacing

threedirtybirds-4001|Master List|

Three Dirty Birds are discussing Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! and her views on pacing your novel.

Zoe: This is the part of the book I need to spend more time with. I feel like I absorbed so much in the earlier parts that I ran out of processing room by the time I got here.

Ana: True for me too. It’s a bit hard to really visualize for me.

Kate: Now, I had the opposite thing happen with me. I found the plotting part overwhelming, but the concept of the triangle made perfect sense. Not only should your character’s choices become narrower and narrower, but it made me think a bit of a river or a stream where as you narrow the banks, the water moves faster. (I have weird visual associations.)

Ana: I understood what she was saying. I’m just not really sure how to apply it at this level.

Zoe: Same here. The concept makes perfect sense, but I fall down when thinking about how to apply it. Do I do it in the outline? As I’m writing? Theoretically I should do it in the outline, but do I want to put that much thought into it before I get to the writing—I’m worried that might hit my point of “too much known, now I can’t write it.” I’m kind of saving it for the revision stage.

Kate: I fine tune it, for sure, in the revision stage, but my whole structure is built on “How can I cut off choices? How can I force the character to think or react faster than he’s comfortable with?” The triangle makes perfect sense, because he’s wide open at the beginning, but at the end it comes down to two choices, and boy he better not pick the wrong one.

Zoe: You just got my wheels spinning. In most craft books, they say every scene needs a “goal,” and when I sit down to figure those out on a per-scene basis, I wind up watching TV instead. But if I frame it as a choice… “What’s the choice he’s forced to make in this scene?” I like that. I’m going to play with that today.

Kate: I’ve been doing it a lot in my fireman’s subplot, which is about how he’s trying to fit into his father’s legend. Most of it isn’t in the story yet, because I have to flesh out the romantic one first (though they overlap). But he chooses to transfer to his father’s old station, and work with men his father worked with. (Although I may change that.) Then he has to choose to listen to his mentor. Then he has to choose how to respond to the criticism he gets. At the end, he has to choose whether to face the possibility of the same thing that killed his father or to back away and be less of a man, as he thinks of it. But each chapter has to have something in it that puts pressure on the next choice. Choosing the easy path has to have consequences that he’s personally uncomfortable with. (I honestly don’t know if any of this makes sense–my brain is not linear when I write)

Zoe: My brain is stubbornly linear about everything. That’s why I found Libbie’s character arc/story core thing so great (or, one of the reasons at least)—it’s the first thing that’s been able to get me to see what an ending could be before I get to the ending.

Ana: I think my brain doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Zoe: 😀

Kate: And I work in more of a mind-map fashion–I have my character, I know where I need to get him emotionally and with respect to maturity. It all fans out from him. eventually everything lines up, but I’m more of a messy concept map in my head.

Ana: A lot of the time, my brain is all over the place, but if I don’t go through the story linearly, the individual pieces don’t end up making sense together.

Zoe: I did like the “cymbal crash” bit in Libbie’s book. I set up a separate sheet in Scrivener to go through and write down what the crashes will be for each chapter (if not scene). I just…haven’t actually put anything on that sheet yet. I’m still thinking it’s something that will be easier for my process if I think about it during revision. (I have Holly Lisle’s one-pass revision instructions printed out and ready to go for Dead to the World—I’ll just be incorporating Libbie’s pacing into that process.)

Kate; I liked her story about the historical novel that she read with all the problems that we complain about. And it made a lightbulb go off for me about so many books that I finished despite grumping the whole way through. The pacing dragged me through, never let me stop. (Not that that’s an excuse for slacking off on the other stuff, but if you have to pick one skill to work on, that’s probably the one to choose.) It probably explains a lot of those baffling 5 star reviews we scratch our heads about.

Zoe: Yes, I think getting it right creates a sort of magic. It’s like the show True Blood—I didn’t even like True Blood, but I was addicted to it. As soon as an episode ended, I was dying to see the next one. It really got pacing right. And it’s something I really need to work on.

Ana: I think I got some good practise in pacing from posting chapter by chapter on sites like fictionpress. If I wanted readers to come back I had to leave them wanting more at the end of a chapter.

Kate: That’s very true. There’s something to be said for that serial-like release.

Ana: I think one of the fastest ways to make me lose interest in a book is if nothing happens. I mean, then I can’t even snark about it to my friends! I’ve read some bad books only to see what other ludicrous plot development the author would come up with next. (I don’t want to encourage anyone to write a really bad book with really good pacing, but if you do, let me know!)

Kate: Lol.

Zoe: Choices and pacing, that’s what I’m going to focus on this afternoon. Maybe it can get me back into the story I’m working on.

Ana: Let us know how it goes.

Zoe: If I’m talking about movies and TV shows in chat all week, that’ll tell you how it went. *sigh*

Kate: We’ll pretend you’re just analyzing for practice.

Three Dirty Birds and The Ally

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The Three Dirty Birds are discussing Libbie Hawker’s Ally today.

Zoe: I think “ally” could use a better name. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat uses “love interest,” which is even worse. The “ally” doesn’t have to be a friend, and the hero may not even see the ally as someone who has his best interests in mind. It’s all about the role the ally plays in the story arc, not the role he plays in the story in general.

Ana: While I read about the ally I actually did think of my Love Interest because they’re often the person who won’t put up with the protagonist anymore unless the protagonist overcomes their flaw, and sometimes they tell them that. (You know, in novels where they actually talk.) But it can be other characters as well.

Kate: I’ve taken to calling it the catalyst.

Zoe: I like the “catalyst.”

Ana: I like it because it has cat in it.

Zoe: And we must save the cats. In James Scott Bell’s SuperStructure, he expands the ally beyond sentient possibilities, saying it could be an icon (like the mockingjay pin in the Hunger Games series) or a memory that bubbles up at the crucial moment and gives the hero strength to begin his strive for growth (or destruction, if you’re writing a tragedy).

Ana: Oh God. Don’t remind me of that book I read yesterday where the cat wasn’t saved. (That also shows something about a character.)

Kate: 🙁  But I just put Super Structure and Save the Cat in my shopping cart. You guys are killing my budget.

Zoe: I keep almost adding Save the Cat to my cart, then I read the reviews again and get scared off by the complaints that it’s a way to write a formulaic, blockbuster-movie story.

Kate: I’ve had so many people recommend it, though. I keep going back and forth on it. It’s been in my cart more often than wine (but has never stayed there, unlike the wine.) It is a book on screenwriting, so it’s not surprising that it would focus on the kinds of scripts that get you a director and a contract.

Ana: Maybe you should buy both and consume them together.

Zoe: Seconded.

Kate: I thought I might. I’ll let you guys know what Save the Cat is like.

Ana: So long as you don’t end up with nine rescue cats in your house….

Zoe: I like Libbie’s statement that the ally is the one who finally presents the hero’s need to confront his inner flaw in stark, unavoidable terms. That the ally is the one who forces your main character to change his actions, confront his weakness, and embark on the journey to win his hero status (or bring about his ultimate failure, if you’re writing a tragedy—this book didn’t really address tragedies at all).

Kate: Yes. In my Christmas story, the ally points out to the MC that he’s been fairly sheltered, middle class, and his ideas of how the world should be are not what it really is, and if he’s interested in pursuing a relationship, the ally is interested, but only if he gets his head out of his rear end. Then it’s up to the MC to decide if maybe he’s being an idiot, or if he wants to watch Cutie McSexypants walk out the door forever.

I got a kick out of her reference to Liam Neeson in Taken. I’d watch anything with him in it.

Ana: I had to google him. Did he play a crazy person at some point? I don’t know why, but I saw his face and thought crazy.

Kate: He’s done a lot of stuff.

Ana: Did you get the feeling that the ally had to be one character or that there could be more of them? I mean, different allies at different points of the story.

Kate: She didn’t make that part terribly clear, but I got the sense that you could have more than one ally. She keeps referring to Ender’s Game, and there’s way more than one ally in that story.

Zoe: I think in this section Libbie is talking about a specific moment in the story arc, that one when the hero picks himself up for the final battle. So there could certainly be minor allies along the way, but there’s only going to be one at this major plot point.

Kate: And that was a major plot point. But there’s a bunch of smaller ones that built up to this, and it couldn’t have happened without them. It would have been nice to see her demonstrate the build-up with one story, showing different allies and how they forced the MC to do something or become something.

Zoe: I rather like that she stuck to the major stuff.

Kate: True. I think that was important, but it does kind of leave the impression that there is only one, and I would worry about people that might miss the implication.

Zoe: The trade-off is that it gets people focusing on the most important one in the story/character arc, which helps them to make that one powerful, rather than diluting it because the book said there could be lots of little ones, and here’s an example of doing that.

Ana: Keeping it simple is probably the only way she got me to write an outline at all.

Zoe: Yeah, and then once you have that solid story arc core, you can build on it.

Kate: It’s certainly worked for me.

Zoe: I think I hear the pigs squealing out there as they zoom around. I didn’t think anything would work for Kate, outlining wise. (Not that I think Kate is unteachable, just that I had a feeling she’d already found what worked for her.)

Kate: I would very much like to find an outlining method that works for me. So far, so good. *Ducks flying pig*

Three Dirty Birds and the Story Core

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The Three Dirty Birds are back with more Libbie Hawker and we’re Taking Off Our Pants again! (Okay, bad pun. Bad Kitty) We’re talking about the Core of Every story, and Libbie’s Three-legged Outline (Which makes me giggle, ‘cause I’m just that mature today.)

Zoe: I remember laughing at the three-legged outline explanation. The book’s not just useful but funny.

Kate: I have to throw this quote from this section out there “before you can run freely through the literary wilds, sans pants”. *Snort*

Zoe: I hope there are no thorny bushes in the literary wilds. *ouch*

Libbie tells us that every compelling story shares five elements: A character, who wants something, but something prevents him from getting it, so he struggles against that force, and either succeeds or fails. This was the point in the book where I’d wondered if I’d just bought another same-old, same-old writing craft book, because there’s nothing new in that. (She was just lulling me into complacency though.)

Kate: I don’t think you’re going to find any writing book that doesn’t address the Hero’s Journey in some form, though. I likes the way she put it in a list. I like lists.

Zoe: Yes, she’s very good at making things concise. It’s like she didn’t feel the pressure to fill 236 pages; she just focused on conveying information. (A very welcome thing. Especially after that other “outlining” book.)

Ana: Not feeling pressured to fill pages is always good. I’m actually really enjoying not having a set wordcount for the story I’m writing now. And since I have story goals instead of word count goals, I don’t have a reason to look at my wordcount. (Although, of course, I do. Old habits…)

Zoe: Yeah, I jot mine down at the end of the day, because that’s the language we writers discuss our progress in, but I do enjoy writing to story goals much better than writing to word count. I feel like I’ve made progress more.

Kate: I like it too. You can see progress in the important part, which is the plot and character arcs, and not just filling in space, which may or may not give you a saleable story.

Zoe: Plus it’s more enjoyable to tick off the checkbox for “[insert important scene description here] than “2500 words.”

Ana: I remember especially during NaNo feeling like “I have all these words. BUT NOTHING HAPPENS.” And wondering how I managed that.

Zoe: Yes—How to Have a Character Open a Door in 1,200 Words.

Kate: I wonder, if I tried this method this year, could I put a story through NaNo? It’s kind of unfortunate that it happens at a time of year when I’m ridiculously busy, but since I plan to drop the second job this year, it should be doable–if I have the story well plotted.

Ana: Alternatively you could try one of the camps, if November is a bad time for you.

Zoe: Yes, those are April and July.

Kate: July might work.

Ana: For some weird reason though, I always succeed in the November NaNo, but I’ve yet to meet any of the goals I’ve set for camps. (I always end up in demotivating cabins…)

Zoe: I only tried one Camp, and I didn’t make it, but it’s because I wound up having to work on another project to meet a deadline. I’m signed up for April, though.

Kate: We should have a Dirty Birds cabin. “Don’t wipe your feet–we’re all dirty in here.”

Zoe: lol I don’t really like the cabin thing. It’s limiting. For instance, I have a writing group that has a cabin, but I’d also want to be in the Dirty Birds cabin, and they just don’t have that capability. I prefer the November forums to cabins.

Ana: I like November’s buddy system.

Kate: But, does your Buddy have a strong Story Core?

Ana: Depends on the buddy!

Zoe: Speaking of Story Core! 😀 Libbie piqued my interest when she got to the three-legged outline. (Mostly because I wanted to know what the hell a three-legged outline was, but then because it really clicked with me.) The three-legged outline is really, it turns out, the foundation of the story—and it has nothing to do with plotting!

Ana: I like things that don’t have anything to do with plot! But yes, this is why I thought this book would be useful even when not actually outlining a plot.

Kate: I have to say, it gives you tools and organizes them for you. Her Three-Legged Outline really is the basis of a good story. We all know the standard plot for romance, or thriller, or mystery. But it’s the quality of these three parts that make a book stand out, when there’s a dozen others that are technically as well written, with essentially the same plot structure. (I also like that she’s willing to discuss Charlotte’s Web and Lolita in the same sections. 🙂 )

Zoe: I did enjoy her selection of examples—and the fact that she continued with that selection throughout, instead of just picking different books to pull things from at different points.

I think the most useful thing I got out of this book—even if I forget everything else in it—is the character flaw. Not just that the character has to have a flaw, but that that flaw must impact their lives, and how it’s then used through the rest of the story: it’s what determines the external goal, it’s how your character makes his or decisions, and it’s even, to a good extent, what the obstacles arise out of, because the character’s flaw is going to color his or her perception of anything that comes at them.

Kate: When I think back to working out what happened in Bite Me Tender, I started from Levi having to reluctantly hunt his boyfriend to turn him into a werewolf. Why was he reluctant? Because he didn’t want to hurt him–he’d spent a long time learning to control his temper and in order to bite deeply enough, he had to be just a little more angry or out of control than he let himself be. The actual plot grew from that understanding of Levi’s character. And the theme came out as being “cruel to be kind”.

Zoe: I think it unlocked things for me because typically we read about what the character “wants” driving the story, and Libbie backs this up a step further. What a character wants comes out of who he is, and who he is is flawed.

Kate: And usually our strongest wants are tied up in our greatest flaws.

Zoe: YES!

So, recognizing how awesome this way of thinking was, I ran to a blank screen to start working on one of my characters’ flaw. And drew a total blank. I couldn’t even think of any flaws. Google to the rescue! I wound up on a site for personal growth that broke character flaws down to seven main types. At first I thought, “Well, that’s not going to be enough to write more than a few stories from,” but as I figured out which flaw type my character fell under, suddenly I was dashing off all this stuff about her and her flaw—where it came from, how it hinders her, etc. It was this site, and I’ve since used it with several other characters: http://personalityspirituality.net/articles/the-michael-teachings/chief-features/ I think I’ll be keeping it bookmarked for all future outlining.

Ana: It helped me too when you linked it to me. It doesn’t look like much at first, but you can probably fit most characters in there somewhere. And once I knew my character’s flaw, it became easier to figure out my story’s theme, too.

Kate: For anyone who bought Weiland’s book [on outlining], she talks about that somewhere near the end, though it was just a bald list, and not the explanations you find on this website.

Zoe: Oh yes—I remember thinking that section was useless. On the website, you can read about the different strategies people use to live with their flaw, the fears that drive the flaw, the two poles of each flaw (the negative and positive aspects), etc. It’s terribly useful.

Ana: It’s like a cheat sheet for writers. I like cheat sheets.

Zoe: Cheat sheets are good. Forms are bad. Except Libbie’s sneaky form that had me filling out a form. (The whole time going “I can’t believe I’m filling out a form.”) (I actually made a Scrivener template of the form.)

Kate: Lol, that’s hilarious. Libbie must be good, if she can get Zoe to fill out a form. Zoe is form-phobic.

Zoe: Unless it’s a form to claim money… (I’m just going to think of Libbie’s form as a form to claim money.)

Back to the flaw thing and obstacles…my goodness it helped me so much! She didn’t go into a lot of detail about this, but when I looked at the storyline I was working on, it just took things to a whole new level. I have a woman who is in law enforcement in the 1970s. Pre-Libbie, her obstacles were the fact that she was a woman in law enforcement in the 1970s—everything was external. It made for pretty one-dimensional antagonists, because they were just acting roles.

When I worked out her flaw, I saw that she suffered from impatience to get to the same level as the men she worked with. These men have been on the job for a while, they’ve put in the time. But she doesn’t see that. Everything that holds Libbie Lois back, she sees through the lens of sexism, even when her colleagues are actually trying to help her. Now her colleagues don’t have to be one-note characters anymore. They can be inadvertently sexist, but they can also treat her like they would any other trooper, and it doesn’t matter, because of Libbie’s  Lois’s flawed lens.

Kate: The unreliable narrator? Or is she just unreliable to herself?

Zoe: Unreliable to herself. She’s not narrating.

Ana: Your character’s called Libbie too?

Zoe: lol! No, Libbie’s just eating my brain apparently. She’s Lois. (*goes back and fixes*)

Kate: Zoe has a crush on Libbie now. She sees her everywhere.

Zoe: Little bit. She is the only person I’ve fanmailed for a writing craft book.

Ana: She’s the only person who’s made me write an outline. I thought I was outline-resistant.

Zoe: James Scott Bell got me doing an outline…it just wasn’t as effective. But like I said in our last discussion, I think his signposts pair really well with Libbie’s beats. By the time you get to Libbie’s “plot headings,” you really are focusing more on plot stuff, and Bell’s signposts pull some emotional moments back in—like the Pet the Dog signpost and the Mirror Moment.

Kate: We’re going to have to mash these two together and come up with our own Dirty Birds Outlining Book. (Not a Substibook)

Zoe: It’ll be 600 pages long and riddled with chocolate breaks. One thing Libbie’s book and Bell’s book have in common is their conciseness and focus. (Although, by design, Bell talks more about plotting and pantsing throughout his book. He’s attempted to give tips for each type in each section. I can’t say it works all that well. I recommend reading it for the signposts and skipping the plotters and pantsers sections.

Ana: I’ll look into it.

Zoe: (Speaking of chocolate, I have a chocolate eclair the size of a toddler’s head in the fridge right now.)

Ana: :O

Kate: Jealous.

Three Dirty Birds and Plot Bunnies

threedirtybirds-400

Dirty Birds birding on bunnies. Plot bunnies, that is. How weird will we get, and how many times will we get off topic?

Kate: We should do a contest one of these days. People can guess how many times we’ll wander away from the topic.

Ana: The Dirty Birds Drinking Game! Gets you just drunk enough to get through that first draft! Hey, we’ve never done that talk on writers and alcohol.

Zoe: Oh good, we’re at the beginning of the discussion and haven’t been on topic once yet. Situation normal.

I think my brain needs a story that has zero pressure on it, and that’s why it frantically comes up with new plot bunnies while I’m trying to get other projects done. The other day a friend of mine told me to start at least stream-of-consciousness writing about Walt & Donny, my two new head-resident serial killers, but I think if I did that, another bunny would just pop up in their place.

Kate: I think that’s why we all like the plot bunnies so much, no matter how much we complain about them. They are low stress, and a brand new plot bunny is easier to write than the soggy middle that’s driving us to drink. I love starting new stories, they’re so easy. Until you get about three chapters in……

Zoe: Yeah, my slowdown is usually around 11k-14k.

Ana: I have a confession to make. I have lived completely plot bunny free for at least two years of my writing life.

Zoe: I had six months without stories in my head, but it was a really bad time. I’ll take the stories in my head over that any day.

Ana: For me it was while I was working on my first novel, and then the sequel to it. I had those stories in my head, and plenty ideas for it, but I had no clue what I’d be doing when I was done with them. I was actually worried that might be the only story I had. I was super relieved when I was done and I found a plot bunny somewhere for that year’s NaNo. Now I get too many of them. I don’t know what’s changed.

Zoe: Whew.

Kate: I’d say. I don’t think I’ve ever been without bunnies. Too tired to do any writing, yes, but there’s a whole pile of them bounding around in my head, procreating and making messes. I’ve probably got at least ten years of writing up there. Even last summer, the bunnies were there, but the words were gone on vacation.

Zoe: It was a really strange six months for me, and really frustrating not being able to escape into fictional worlds in my head. I don’t think I did much beyond sleep and worry and panic during that time. Chemical issues in my brain.

Kate: I find that being tired makes the bunnies less active. I remember having them, but I can’t pull them forward. This past week I’ve gotten nothing done, and was worried about it, but then I slept most of yesterday and today, and I’m picking away at Kev ‘n Mo right now.

Ana: I remember when I didn’t know what I was going to do after I was done with the novel I was writing, I got annoyed at the stereotype of the writer with too many ideas. It made me feel like I wasn’t creative enough to be a writer. Even though I’d just finished a 90k story.

Zoe: Aw.

Kate: That’s a scary feeling. I wonder how common it is? I know last summer, I thought I was done, even though I’d finished, or mostly finished two stories. I wonder, Ana, if that down time was your mind changing gears because you were so focused on the first story and its sequel?

Ana: There sure wasn’t much room for anything else in my head. I was a bit… uh… obsessive? Sometimes I miss that.

Kate: That’s a great feeling, though, when the story is working so well that nothing else has room to butt in. I don’t get that near enough, which is why I usually have between 4 and 6 different stories going at once.

Ana: See, I wish I could work on multiple projects at once, but it’s still hard for me to switch gears.

Kate: The only time it works for me is when I’m almost done and I’m just filling in the last spaces before the end. Other than that, it takes a while for my mind to work through steps in a plot.

Zoe: I prefer working on two projects at once, though it’s not always possible. But it’s great to be able to switch when something’s not going well, and it’s great to be able to use one as a carrot to get work done on the other—”I reallyreally want to work on story B, but first I have to meet today’s goal on story A.” (Even when both stories are being difficult, there’s always one that’s a little less difficult.)

Kate: Yes! I love that about having more stories. Sometimes, I can write myself into the mode with one story, then the tough one works. Like a warm-up.

Ana: How do you decide which plot bunnies are worth pursuing? When there’s so many to pick.

Kate: I ‘feel’ my way down the plot, if that makes any sense. I often get visual images of what’s happening, and the clearer the image and the emotion are, the more likely I am to work on a story. The more images I have, too, the more likely I’m ready to start one. But it’s usually the one that’s been running through my head for at least a couple of weeks steady. I do a lot of plotting and planning by running ‘mock ups’ in my brain just before I go to sleep.

Zoe: I go by whatever one I actually have an opening for when it’s time to sit down and start something. Getting started is the hardest. (~she says, until she gets to the middle~)

Kate: If I did that, all I’d ever have would be beginnings. My muse would love it, though. She loves beginnings…

Zoe: You do have to stick with it and keep going after the start. 🙂 But for instance, my Walt & Donny plot bunny, I know tons about them and their story, but it has no opening, so it’s not at all high on the list of potential next stories. (Sorry guys.)

Ana: I think I mostly go with the most annoying plot bunny. I’m a push over. I’ll give in to whoever is most stubborn about being written. The ideas that keep coming back at me even when I try to ignore them.

Zoe: All my bunnies think they’re The One.

Ana: I get some that fade after a few days of my not paying attention to them. It’s a kind of plot bunny Darwinism.

Kate: Survivor Season 37: Ana’s Brain.

Zoe: 😀 My bunnies are like that old lesbian joke. They show up with U-Hauls after the first date.

Ana: But I do consider some other things too. Like, how much research would it take? Do I feel like doing all that research? Do I think I can sell this story? Maybe the last one makes me a sell out, but I’d be lying to say I didn’t consider the issue.

Kate: I’m not sure it’s being a sell-out, so much as being practical. There are stories that I chunk bits and pieces onto every once in a while, but they mostly sit on the back burner because I really want to write them, but I can’t tell if they’re saleable. I think, if you only have limited time to write, and you plan to make a money-earning career off it, you have to pick and choose a bit, especially at the beginning. Maybe later, those little favourites can be published, once you have an audience. Or maybe they’ll never be anything but your pet project. But I think it’s necessary to triage a bit.

Zoe: I never feel like my ideas are particularly salable. Maybe early on they seem like it, then I chunk things onto it that narrow the niche. Which I guess makes it easier to pick which story I want to work on—it’s whatever one I want to work on.

Ana: I’m not saying I discard every idea I think I can’t sell. If they scream loud enough, they get their shot. But I do still think about it.

Kate: The other thing is, if you have an idea that you think can’t sell on its own, you can look at your other bunnies and see which one might blend with this one.

Zoe: I’m way better at doing the reverse. Case in point: perfectly salable mainstream idea about a young man adrift after his brother is killed who goes down the wrong road with the wrong crowd…and I decided the wrong crowd would be a satanic cult. So much for mainstream success. 🙂

Kate: I don’t see why that’s a problem. Why wouldn’t it still be mainstream? A lot of people like horror.

Zoe: Horror’s a much smaller niche than mainstream. And changing it to horror changed the whole character of the second half of the story.

Kate: Is it really horror? I guess it depends on how you handle the cult. You could tweak it to mainstream thriller, too.

Zoe: I’m positioning it as a nostalgic call-back to the satanic cult books of the late sixties/seventies. I’m really happy with the idea; it’s just got a much smaller niche now. But that’s fine. Money’s great, but I only have so much time in my life, so I’m good with spending it writing what I want to write.

Ana: Writing’s hard enough when you write things you’re excited about. I couldn’t imagine what a slog it must be to write things you’re not that into.

Zoe: I imagine it’s a lot like a job then, and I already have one of those. I know there are people who recommend writing “what sells” to get yourself into a position where you can quit the day job, and then you’ll have time to write what you love. But I’d have to keep writing what sells to keep paying the bills, and I wouldn’t have energy to write what I love at the end of the day. By keeping the day job, I get to earn money without burning out my writing energy.

Kate: I have the quandary where I’m working two jobs and if I’d like to give up one so I have consistent writing time, I need to replace that income. So I’ll admit, I move more commercially viable stories up the list a bit faster.

Zoe: Yes, you’re definitely in a different situation than I am.

Kate: It’s awkward. I keep reminding myself that these are stories I would have written anyway, I’m just doing it earlier. But it requires a bit more discipline, to keep the brain working at developing them instead of something else which is quirkier (and probably less saleable)and makes me giggle quietly in the dark recesses of my brain.

Ana: I think it’s an important distinction though. You’re not looking at the market and coming up with a story to write to it. You’re just inspecting the bunnies you already have for their inherent market appeal. Or lack thereof.

Kate: I’ve never thought of it that way. I wonder how many of the big authors do that?

Zoe: If you visit kboards, it’s all the loud successful ones who post under anonymous names. STUDY THE MARKET. WRITE TO MARKET.

Kate: Okay, for a second there I thought you weren’t being sarcastic.

Zoe: I wasn’t. That’s really who does that. They are apparently raking in the bucks by putting out frequent releases geared to the market.

Kate: Do we have proof? I’d like to know how John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman choose their next bunny.

Zoe: Neil Gaiman chooses it by seeing which one gets him closer to the mountain. 🙂

Ana: I’d think he’s already on top of the mountain and waving down.

Kate: Lol.

Zoe: I do like his mountain analogy. I’ve been using a similar philosophy to make decisions about my writing career. His is “Does it get you closer to the mountain” and mine is “When I look back from my deathbed, will I wish…”

Ana: Mine is “Will it get me closer to chocolate?” if I promised myself some. But seriously, I adore Neil Gaiman’s  ‘teachings.’  I sometimes listen to that speech when I’m feeling uninspired.

Kate: I kind of think that he chooses the thing that’s going to push him somehow in his writing, but I’d like to hear it from him. Maybe I’m wrong and he has some other algorithm he uses.

Zoe: I’m Googling. So far I’ve found Neil’s answer to when he starts a story: “I start off a story when I know where it begins.”

Kate: My first thought was, “That’s not helpful.” Then my second, and much smarter thought, was, “Yeah, he’s got that right.”

Ana: Does he have any pointers on how to end a Birding?

Zoe: We can end it with another quote from Neil: “I decided that I would do my best in the future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work. Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me. I don’t know that it’s an issue for anybody but me, but it’s true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money, either.  The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.” So, we can assume Neil chooses his projects based on what he’s excited about.

Kate: Neil is wise.