Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Only Trouble is Interesting

Thanks to Molly for yesterday's post (even if my books didn't make her list!). There's some good reading material there.

One of the first lessons I learned when writing was "Only Trouble is Interesting."

Conflict doesn't have to be earth-shattering, in-your-face, knock down drag-em-out. In fact, sometimes the best conflicts are the everyday events. They may not be "exciting" in terms of things like car crashes or explosions, but readers can relate to them. And these sorts of things can keep the tension going in between the big stuff. And too much of that 'big stuff' can either exhaust the reader, or get boring..

Recently, All Romance eBooks opened its doors to individual publishers, so I decided that I'd upload my two books, What's in a Name? and When Danger Calls to their online store. I'd already uploaded them to the Kindle Store and Smashwords, so I figured it would be simple enough.

Nope. First, there's no formatting provided. If you want to put your book on their site, you have to provide it in the formats they offer. Although I can handle PDF and HTML easily enough (those are simply "save as" options in Word), I was clueless about things like lit, PRC, mobi, and epub.

There are those who will do this, but there's a fee. And frankly, any time I can do something myself and save money, means that my royalties (which are usually minimal) won't have to cover paying someone else. I've heard of Calibre, a free program that's supposed to take documents in one format and convert them to others.

I downloaded the program, but the user's manual seemed focused on how to take an ebook you owned in one format, and convert it to another (so if you bought a Kindle book, you could convert it to something your Nook could read). I couldn't find how to take a document and make it a book. Luckily, a Yahoo group made up of people who are uploading books provided someone who told me where to start, and the basic steps to conversions. It took some trial and error, but eventually, I was able to create the books in enough formats to upload.

Then came the next challenge. Setting up an account, getting approval—those were the easy steps. Dealing with the upload form was a bit more challenging, as some of the fields weren't intuitive, and there was a lot of starting over.

However, What's in a Name? and When Danger Calls are now available for sale at the ARe site.

Conflict? Not a whole lot. Some frustration, yes. Time consuming? (the first time) Yes.

Another 'everyday' conflict I faced was the fact that the books I'd ordered from one of my publishers were shipped to my old Florida address, and there's nobody living there. An e-mail to the contact person went unanswered. The next day, I tried calling, but the phone system wasn't working. I did finally reach someone who promised to look into it, but as far as a resolution goes – nothing yet.

How can you turn these setbacks into interesting conflict? You have to consider the consequences. What happens if either task ISN'T finished? Or what happens if the character can't do what he/she wants or has to do because these interfere?

I was "lucky" in that I didn't have a lot of other pressures. But I got almost no writing done. What if I was on deadline?

You have to go back and look at the character's goals – is it to upload the books? Or maybe it's doing something else, but she can't do it until the books are uploaded, and what she thought would be a simple task ends up taking too long. What happens if she doesn't get them done? Is your character good at multi-tasking? Or a 'focus on one task' person?

These are the questions you have to ask, and then decide which route will create the conflict for your character. There might not be explosions, or a gunfight, but these things keep tension on every page. And you can always have the "big stuff" later.


Rachel Lynne said...

Great post Terry, as usual!
I like what you said about "big" events on every page being exhausting. I see a lot of reviews for romantic suspense that say "reads like an action movie" and I always think, "is that a compliment?"
I surely can't be the only one that doesn't particularly like action flicks? When I think of my favorite movies I think The Lord of the Rings and yes, it had action, but the reason I loved it (and the books-which were even better!) was for the emotions and human struggle. THAT was the conflict that drew me and makes the plot linger in my mind, not the battle sequences; they were merely stimulating.
I have several English author friends and we've talked about the differences between UK and US in culture. Over here, we've gotten away from the story and upped the violence. A perfect example is the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The original film is violent, very violent, but it moves the story forward and overall the plot is what drives the movie and the book and the movie is very long (3 hours I think.
I think the US remake coming out will be all about the action sequences and they'll cut th length drastically.
My husband says Americans won't sit still for the time it takes to unfold a gripping plot. I don't know, but if it's true, it's very sad.
Keep writing your 'cozy' style and I'll keep writing mine; hopefully we'll start a trend in romantic suspense; or a new genre!

Terry Odell said...

Rachel - I recall reading an older book - something about an Arctic expedition, and the whole thing was go go go. It was too much. Pacing needs to have ups and downs, not just one steep mountain. Part of why I didn't like the Sherlock Holmes film was it was turned into an action movie.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and good information to know about the formatting. Would you send me the yahoo group address or how you searched it? Thanks,
Liz Arnold
Message to Love
The Wild Rose Press

Terry Odell said...

Liz - not sure what you meant. Are you asking for the name of the Yahoo group where I asked my original question. Email me and I'll try to answer. (Address in the Contact tab above.)

Elspeth Futcher said...

I firmly believe that if you have noise all the time, people stop hearing it; like living on a busy street and after a while you don't hear the traffic. I wouldn't have the first idea how to format a book for e-publishing. You have my admiration.

Terry Odell said...

Elspeth, I don't know much about formatting either. I just learned enough to know what buttons to push for 'in' and 'out' at Calibre.

The Word Place said...

Putting mss in various formats is something I have yet to master, but I am working on it. As far as conflict, you're absolutely right that it doesn't have to be something huge--it's the "little" things building up that reflect real life.

Paul Hansen, Ph.D said...

I love action books, but in my writing, I like to make a slower start, vs starting with some terrifying action or threat to the main character. I prefer to build suspense and tension, let the reader get to know the character first, so they really can identify or sympathize with him/her. I hate it when an agent or editor says, "It didn't grab me in the first paragraph."
Paul Hansen

Leigh D'Ansey said...

Another great post, Terry, giving examples that are relevant and thought provoking. Thank you!

Patricia Stoltey said...

More good information for us, Terry. Thanks!

Ron at CM said...

There are a number of ways you can define action. Sure, the most common is a car chase, a fight scene, the proverbial secretary around the desk... but as Thomas Harris with Hannibal Lecter, and Alfred Hitchcock with a bunch of fast cuts and a woman in the shower, action can be incredibly subtle and yet magnificently engrossing.

Re: ePub... one of my favorite techie writers, Elizabeth Castro, has a book out called "Epub Straight to the Point" that simplifies a lot of the process.

Ron at CM said...

PS... I forgot some of my favorite "action" stuff is the solid 131 minutes of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" - not a single car chase, explosion, or world-ending catastrophe in the lot.

Terry Odell said...

Ron - I think we agree: action can be tension. It's something that keeps the reader in the story, turning pages.

Thanks for the reference, too.