Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Writers Coffeehouse for April 2016

By Dawn Byrne

Janice Gable-Bashman and Jon McGoran teamed up to lead the Philly Liars Club Writers Coffeehouse in Willow Grove PA. Topics? Character Voice and Outlining. They answered questions, and Jon threw in information on marketing.

Examples of distinct voice done well can be found in J.K. Rowling’s books. The very different voices of the alternating main characters in All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, ring distinct in the book’s characters with their similar backgrounds, living in the same place. “Be true to your character,” said Janice. Make sure the similar persons you design are individuals so the reader can easily tell them apart.

Jon spoke of economy in writing. The voice of a character should show the story, so exposition isn’t needed. You don’t want to undermine your character by violating their POV. If you need something explained in your story, let the character bring up the information needed and address it through his/her dialogue or internal thoughts in a way that’s natural and fluid.

Be conscious of how often you switch POV. Color-coding your manuscript is a technique that can identify where each POV character is in the story and how often you’re in that view. The different POV will pop off the page so you can see if there’s a balance. Scrivener and other software work well for this, but so do Post-it notes and 3x5 cards. Outlining helps in establishing your characters. You should understand your characters a bit before writing the outline, but you can find out more about them as you build the outline. Janice, while outlining, sometimes comes up with dialogue for her characters. She stops outlining and writes the dialogue down as it comes to her. A gift! For her last book, it took three months to create her outline, but she did less editing after the story was written.

Having an outline saves time when an editor or agent asks for changes. It also prevents bad surprises for the author by keeping information consistent and easy to check. Make sure when you do those changes that you also reflect them in the outline for later reference. If you’re creating a series, having a record of the completed books in an outline or other form, makes it easier to keep information throughout the series uniform.

But Janice and Jon agreed: “Do whatever works for you.” Steven James swears in Story Trumps Structure that one shouldn’t outline. Biographical character sketches should contain deep stuff about characters beyond their physical form and what they like to eat. Interviewing them can enable you to find their voice. For each character, you should know their unique POV, even if you’re not writing in their POV. Whatever happened in the character’s life before the story will show in their dialogue and actions. Even birth order is important with family characters.

A question about dialect came up. Suggestions: Find a few words to repeat to relay a character’s dialect, but go light with it. Alternate spelling doesn’t look good on the page, it bogs down the writing and tires the reader. The cadence of words spoken in English by a non-fluent character displays their background to readers. But don’t stereotype your people. There’s a fine line with this, so be sparing with colloquialisms and dialects. When sprinkling in non-English words, they shouldn’t need translation because of context.

Keith Strunk joined the meeting as Jon shared information about BookBub. “It’s huge. Seems to be a powerful tool,” said Jon. An email marketing tool for ebooks, BookBub works on price reduction to stimulate sales. Its thriller list alone has 2.5 million addresses. Similar services, like The Fussy Librarian, are smaller than BookBub, which averages 26,000 downloads. So for the prorated cost of their book, some authors have had success. But for ebooks priced at 99 cents, Jon suggested we consider what percentage of their buyers will purchase another book by that author priced above 99 cents. Harlan Ellison believes you should never give your stuff away. That may be what authors who go the 99 cents route with BookBub are doing in hopes of other sales.

MSWL Manuscript Wish List is a 12-hour pitch on Twitter to literary agents. Authors put up a tweet to see who likes their pitch. Agents who are looking to represent an author may request pages of a manuscript. How important, really, are business cards? “Networking is about touch. Lots and lots of touch. And that’s what business cards are,” Keith answered. A card is a memory, so you are “marketing memory” with your picture on the card. It’s about interaction with people, and a card can create a connection. But, “Networking is always a long term thing.”

Jon had a signing for his new book, Dust Up, after the meeting at the front of the store. Janice will be signing at the Barnes & Noble Teen Book Festival in Neshaminy PA on June 11th. Look for the many local conferences coming up. A few are ThrillerFest XI in New York July 6-9, the Philadelphia Writers Conference in Philadelphia June 10-12, the Annual Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA May 20-22, and Noircon 2016 in Philadelphia June 15-16.

There will be no Coffeehouse in May, although it resumes June 26th, noon to 2 PM with an additional hour for networking. Thanks for setting up this SJWG road trip, Sir Glenn Walker. Thank you Gail Priest for driving. The Liars are great, and so are you.

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