Categories
Fearless Self-Publishing Guest Post Self-Publishing Software Review Uncategorized Writing Help Writing Life

A Writer’s Guide to InDesign

By Kaytalin Platt – Cross-posted on Kaytalin’s website here!

I created the Author’s Guide to Typesetting in InDesign for authors who want a little more control over their book’s interior layout. InDesign can seem like a daunting program. There are a lot of tools and features, and many of which you won’t need for typesetting or layout. In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step, start-to-finish guide on how to publish your book with a custom-designed feel. We’ll discuss creating a document, creating the rules which will govern your document, laying out text, and exporting for print.

InDesign is the leading program professionals use for book layout and production. It’s complex features make for high customization and professional quality. Mastering the program can give you a leg up in production and save you money.

Note: Before starting your typesetting in InDesign, you should have completed all rounds of editing in your Word document. Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as possible before laying it out in book form. 

Working with a Template

Amazon doesn’t offer InDesign templates, but they do offer Microsoft Word templates. This has to do with the fact a lot of people don’t have access to InDesign or know how to use it. You can, however, still layout your book in InDesign and upload it to KDP.  

For the purpose of this article, I created a template for myself using the methods I’ll outline below. I’m making it available for anyone who would like to use it as a branching off point to create their own. 

Tools of the Trade

As I mentioned, InDesign has a variety of options you can use to build out your document. These are separated on either side of the screen. We have Left Screen Tools (located on the left side of InDesign) and Right Screen Tools (on the right side of InDesign). You can add more tools to the Right Screen by going to the Window dropdown in InDesign’s menu bar. 

Left Screen Tools:

The basic tools you’ll need for working on novel layouts are below. If you hover over the tools, their names will appear. These are in order from top to bottom on the tools panel, but I’m excluding a few you might not necessarily need for your project.

  • Select Tool – Selects an object or group.
  • Direct Select Tool – Selects a single object within a group.
  • Type Tool – Creates text boxes, highlights text.
  • Line Tool – Create lines to add interesting elements to your page.
  • Rectangle Frame Tool – Creates boxes you can place images into.
  • Free Transform Tool – Changes the size of objects
  • Color Fill – Changes the color of objects. To change text, select the text box with the Select Tool, and click the T beneath the Color Fill section. This will allow you to change the text color. Another way to do this is to Select All the text, and change the color using the Color Fill box. 

Right Screen Tools:

If you look at the menu bar running across the top of InDesign (following along behind File, Edit, Layout, etc), and select Window, it gives you a variety of tools to add to your workspace. You also have the ability to select pre-organized Workspaces. 

I, myself, work in Essentials Classic. But, there are other options. You may wish to work in the Book workspace, but, for the sake of this article, everything I’m describing is found by navigating using Essentials Classic.

Right Screen Tools you’ll need:

  • Pages – You will have a LOT of pages in your book. This is a compact way of viewing and organizing them. The Pages panel also allows you to create Master Pages, which you can style and apply to hundreds of pages at a time, without having to add elements to each individual page. This becomes handy very quickly, and we’ll go into more detail on this feature later. 
  • Layers – You may not use this very much, especially if you’re utilizing the Master Pages feature. It allows you to put elements on different layers and turn them on or off. This feature is especially nice for placing a Template on an InDesign page and hiding it away periodically as you work. 
  • Links – Any images you add to the document will be found here, in list form. It allows you to see, at a glance, any altered or missing links you might have. An altered linked (signaled by a yellow warning triangle) means you’ve edited an image and haven’t re-synced it with InDesign. To fix this, double click on the yellow triangle. A missing link (signaled by a red circle and white question mark) means the image you placed in InDesign no longer exists in the folder you got it from. If you don’t fix missing link issues, you’ll have pixelated images when you go to print. To fix a missing link issue, you must put it back in the original folder, or replace it in your file from the new location. You can also click the “chain” symbol to re-link manually to the new folder.
  • Stroke – Allows you to adjust the thickness or style of the line you’ve created. You adjust the color of the Stroke in the Fill Tool section on the left. Click the hollow box behind the Fill Tool solid color and it will let you access the stroke color fill options. 
  • Swatches – Quickly access commonly used colors or colors you’ve saved as swatches. 
  • Effects – Adjust transparency, create drop shadows and other stylistic changes to objects. 
  • Character – Select your font, style, character size, spacing between lines, and more in this section. 
  • Paragraph – Adjust your paragraph text to left, right, centered, or justified.
  • Glyph  allows you to add special characters into your text. I usually manually add this tool through the Windows dropdown at the top of the program.
  • Text Wrap – allows you to adjust your text around any images you may have added. 

Creating a New Document

Depending on which version you have, your document setup screen may look a bit different. I work on InDesign CC at work and InDesign 6 at home (probably soon to change now that I’ve updated to IOS Catalina -_-). 

When you select File → New → Document, the New Document screen pops up. 

Width & Height

In the Width and Height area, you might see numbers displayed a bit… odd (unless your version of InDesign is already set to inches instead of picas). Change the unit of measurement to Inches. If you’re in America, you’re probably more used to working in inches. 

The most common indie published book is 6×9. For the purpose of this tutorial, this is the measurement I’ll be using. You’ll want to set your document to 6” wide by 9” tall. But, don’t get carried away and click Create. We need to setup your margins and bleed. 

Margin

Margin can be tricky, depending on the thickness of your book. You may want a wider margin for super hefty tomes. But, for the typical 6×9 book, you can use these measurements below.

  • Top Margin: 0.875” or 1”
  • Outside margin: 0.625” 
  • Bottom margin: 0.875”
  • Interior margin: 0.75” or 0.875”

Bleed

Bleed is the term used to describe the content that flows off the edge of the page. You may not need this feature, but set it up anyway. You’ll want to export your document with bleed settings at the end of this tutorial. 

Most people suggest 0.125” all around for bleed, but I like a lot of bleed. I usually set mine to 0.25” all around. Better safe than sorry.

Once you’ve adjusted your margin, and added your bleed, you’re ready to hit “Create”. 

Building out your Template

After creating your document, you’ll set all the rules the document will live by. This will help you streamline your layout process and save yourself time-consuming edits later. 

Take a moment to think about how you want the interior of your book to look. Grab a few books off your shelf and flip through them, maybe use one as a guide in setting up your design. 

  1. Once you know how you want the inside of your book to look, go to InDesign and select the Pages tab on the right side of the screen. It’s the first tab, and looks like two pages side-by-side.

The Pages tab is divided into two sections. In the first section, you’ll see a list  of two items: [None] and A-Master. Beneath that, you’ll see a single page, which is the first page of your document. At the bottom of the panel, right to left, you’ll see the trash bin icon (to delete pages), a + icon (to add pages), and an overlapping vertical and horizontal pages icon (change paper size icon). 

  1. Let’s go ahead and add some pages to our document. There are two ways to do this. The long way is to repeatedly click the + icon. But, our document will require a lot of pages, so right click on the gray area within your Pages tab, next to your one, lonely page
  2. Select Insert Pages and enter the amount of pages you need besides the one(s) you already have. Don’t worry, you can always add or delete pages later. If you’re unsure how many pages you’ll need, take your manuscript word document and multiply the page count by 2. This will get you close.
  3. After adding pages, go to the area above the page list, where it says [None] and A-Master. Right click on the area beneath A-Master.
  4. Select “New Master”. Hit Ok.
  5. Once your new master page is created (should say B-Master, but you can name it whatever you want), double click on B-Master. This will take you inside the master page, and allow you to edit it. 

Why are we editing B-Master instead of A-MasterA-Master is going to control the part of our document which should be void of stylistic elements like page numbers, title, or author name. A-Master is for the places you need blank pages, where you’ll be custom adding information, like the copyright text, dedication, and title page. 

B-Master Page Design

I like to add the stylistic elements which will carry through a majority of the book to the B-Master pages. Here, I’ll add my page numbers, title, author name, etc. 

Build out your B-Master how you’d like. Choose the font you want for your whole document, or use something a little different for this section. Be mindful of font and element sizing. I recommend going on the smaller side (but not too small) for these elements. Make it readable, but not distracting. 

Page Numbers

How to add page numbers to your document. 

  1. Create a text box using the Type Tool.
  2. Add a letter or number, it doesn’t matter which or what.
  3. Highlight the letter or number you’ve created, then go to the Type dropdown menu at the top of InDesign.
  4. Select Insert Special Character → Markers → Current Page Number

You should do this for both the left page and right pages. You won’t see a page number. That’s okay. This is just a rule you’re setting for these text boxes which will apply to all the pages you connect to B-Master.

Page Layout

Once you’ve created your B-Master page design, you’ll set it aside for right now. Click out of it by double clicking the first page of your actual document in the Pages tab. This will take you to the live section of your document. 

Use the Type Tool to do a rough organization of pages. Just create small text boxes for each page and write what will go on that page. You’ll typically need:

  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Table of Contents (if applicable)
  • Acknowledgements (if you want them in the front, typically go in the back)
  • Chapter 1

When you reach the first page of Chapter 1, go back to your Pages tab on the right. 

  1. Select the first page of Chapter 1, and all the remaining pages beyond it.
  2. Once they’re all highlighted blue, right click on one, and select Apply Master to Pages
  3. Select B-Master.
  4. Click OK. 

Now, the B-Master design you created earlier has been applied to all appropriate pages. 

Take a look at the first page of Chapter 1. You’ll notice Chapter 1’s page number doesn’t start with Page 1 (as it should). Don’t worry. We’ll fix this later. For right now, we need to decide how the text should be styled—type size, line spacing, font, etc. 

Text Styling

Font

The font you choose is extremely important. Different fonts work for different jobs. A serif font (fonts with little wedge feet) are best for print because they are the easiest to read. You rarely want to use san-serif fonts for novels. 

San-serif fonts work best for digital platforms like websites or mobile devices (but not e-readers). Choose your serif font wisely, but don’t go crazy. Sometimes the best choice is the most common one. I’m particularly fond of Georgia, Garamond, and Lora.

Font Size

Font size is crucial. Too small, and it’s hard for the reader to see. Too large, and you’re wasting space in your book (and it can seem unprofessional). My design professor used to say anything over 11pts was for geriatric people, and would be considered that on viewing. So, I usually like to stick to sizing fonts between 9pts and 11pts, depending on what font I’m using. 

Different fonts appear in different sizes. With Georgia 11pts and Garamond 11pts, one can appear larger than the other. The best way to judge the appropriate font size for your chosen font is to create a test page to gauge varying sizes and line spacing.

Let’s do that. 

Creating Test Page

I’m going to ask you to do this in InDesign and not in Word. InDesign and Word treat fonts differently, and, as you’ll be typesetting in InDesign, you’ll want to test your fonts there.

  1. Go to your Chapter 1 page. 
  2. Create a text box that stays within your pink margin box. 
  3. Pull a short paragraph from your story, one or two sentences or one long sentence.
  4. Paste it into the box. 
  5. Add a line of text above it which says [Insert Font Choice] Size 9
  6. Select your pasted text. 
  7. Change it to your font of choice using the Character tab on the right side of InDesign (A icon). 
  8. Then, change the font size to 9. 
  9. Choose line height (directly right of font size). Adjust until it looks good to you. 

For example, I chose Georgia as my font, and set the font size to 9pt and spacing to 13pt.

  1. Once you’ve made your selections, copy all the text from the Font Choice + Size title, down to the end of your paragraph. 
  2. Paste the copied text 3 times beneath your styled paragraph. 
  3. Now, for each copied paragraph, go up a font size and spacing. (10pt/14pt, 11pt/15pt, 12pt/16pt). Be sure to keep track of your chosen size and spacing in the title above each paragraph. This way, you’ll know what you’re looking at when you print. When you’re finished, you should have 4 different sets of paragraphs at different sizes and line spacing. 
  4. Print this page out. (ctrl+p) Select range of pages and enter the page number of your font test page. 
  5. Hit print. 

Once printed, sit down with it. Have a look. Analyze the sizes. Find a font size and spacing you think works best for your size book and audience. You’ll use that font size and spacing going forward.

Go back to your document and paste a page of text into the text box you were using. Style it with your chosen font, size, and line height. Now, play with the line spacing. Adding, subtracting, until you find the look you want.

Having a good amount of line spacing between sentences is nice. It doesn’t make the reader feel crowded and lets the book breathe. Too close together and things feel muddied or crammed. Too far apart, and you’re wasting space.

For me, I went with Georgia 9pt font size, and 13pt line spacing. 

  1. After you get this set up, Select All. 
  2. Click the Paragraph tab on the right side of the screen and uncheck Hyphenate at the bottom of the panel. 

Tab Indents

Next, we need to set our tab indent. Tab a few of the paragraphs, if you haven’t already. 

The space of a tab should be around 5 characters wide. It can be a little less, but shouldn’t be much more. 

  1. Create your tab spacing by Selecting All text. 
  2. Click the Type dropdown at the top of the program. 
  3. Select Tabs
  4. Align the tab box over your text so you can measure 5 character spaces. 
  5. Click on the ruler in the area you feel is around 5 character spaces (usually just past the 0.25” mark). Your tabbed text should adjust to match this rule. 
  6. Click out of the Tab box. 

Grids

I like to add grids to my document so I can adjust everything to baseline, helping all the text align from one page to another. 

For Mac users, this is in the InDesign dropdown to the left of File. For PC users, it may be labeled as a Setting or Preferences dropdown, I’m not sure. 

When you find it, select Preferences → Grids.

Set the following:

  • Color: I set mine to Charcoal. Just don’t choose blue (all element boxes are blue).
  • Start: 0
  • Relative to: Top Margin
  • Increment Every: [Chosen Font Spacing pts]
  • View Threshold: 75%

Save your settings. 

Creating Paragraph Styles

Now, let’s create a Paragraph Style which will carry throughout the document. 

  1. Click inside your text box. 
  2. Select All. 
  3. Look at the Toolbar running across the top of InDesign. You’ll see a dropdown menu which reads [Basic Paragraph]+
  4. Click the series of lines on the right of the dropdown. There are two stacked on top of eachother. You want the one where all the lines are matched up. This will line your text to the grid we created earlier.
  5. Next, on the left side of the dropdown labeled [Basic Paragraph]+, click the Paragraph symbol. 
  6. Select New Paragraph Style
  7. Name your Paragraph Style (I named mine Chapter Text). 
  8. Set Based On to Basic Paragraph
  9. Click OK. 

Now, your document is ready to begin layout. Let’s start with Chapter 1. 

Laying Out Your Book. 

Start with Chapter one. Determine how you want your chapter lead-ins to look. Grab a few books to flip through to get an idea of what other typesetters have done. Once you’ve made your choice, go to your Chapter 1 page and start laying it out. 

I like to create separate text boxes for the Chapter Header and Chapter Text

Chapter Header

Feel free to get creative with your chapter heading, change it to a different font from your Chapter Text or leave it the same. It’s completely up to you! 

  1. After you’ve styled your Chapter Header the way you want it, select the text. 
  2. Go to the paragraph symbol next to the [Basic Paragraph]+ dropdown and create a new Paragraph Style for your Chapter Headers. You’ll be able to use this to style your Chapter Headers moving forward.

Chapter Text

I usually start my chapter lead-in textbox about 5/8 to 1/2 down the page, and go to the edge of my margin. 

  1. Paste your Chapter 1 text in. All of it. You’ll notice, it won’t all fit. That’s okay. We will link text boxes across multiple pages. 
  2. Select All your text (ctrl+a). 
  3. Go to the Paragraph Style dropdown at the top and change [Basic Paragraph]+ to Chapter Text, if it doesn’t already say that. This will convert your text to the style we created earlier.
  4. Next, at the bottom of your blue text box, you’ll see a red + symbol. Click it. 
  5. Then, click at the top of the margin on the next page (pink line). This will create another text box, carrying the hidden text over. Repeat until Chapter 1 is laid out. 
  6. Repeat the above steps for the remaining chapters of your book, until you reach the end. 

The Finishing Touches

If you have extra pages after laying out your chapters, that’s great. You can easily delete them using the Pages tab on the right, and trash can symbol in the bottom corner of the tab. More likely, you’ve had to add pages. (And hopefully applied the B-Master style to them along the way). After laying out all your chapters, add the “closing” pages to your book: the acknowledgements page, glossary, etc. You can keep the B-Master styling or apply the blank A-Master styling, this is up to you.

Page Count

Look at your page number count. In order for your book to print, it has to be divisible by 4. If you can’t evenly divide your book by 4, you must add a few pages to make this happen. You can fill these pages with individual thank yous, sponsors, or a glossary of terms for your novel. 

Page Numbering

Earlier, we created our page number styling on the B-Master page and left it at that. To get the numbering to work as it should, we must return to our Pages tab on the right side of the screen. 

  1. Select the first page of Chapter 1, and then all the corresponding pages until the very end (or when you would like to stop tracking page numbers). 
  2. Right click on the blue pages and deselect Allow Document Pages to Shuffle. This will remove your ability to move pages out of order. It also makes it a pain to add new pages randomly. But, why would you want to do that? At this point, you shouldn’t need to. 
  3. Select the first page of Chapter 1 again. 
  4. Right click. Select Numbering & Section Options
  5. Click Start Page Number at: and set it to 1. 
  6. Click Ok. 

Chapter 1 should now start on page 1, and the subsequent pages should follow. 

Proofreading 

Once you’ve completed your layout, you should print a copy of your book to review and markup. Use the directions below to submit a PDF for print. This helps you spot any issues you didn’t notice through the seemingly hundreds of rounds of edits you did before in Word. It’ll also help you spot any styling issues or errors you missed during typesetting. 

You can have proofs of your book printed through your printer, or you can print the document in spreads on 11×17 pages from a local print shop. It will be costly, but worth it. 

Time to Print

Once you’ve “proofed” your book and corrected any errors, export your book as a PDF from InDesign: 

  1. Click File → Export
  2. Name your document.
  3. Select Adobe PDF (print).
  4. Click Save. 
  5. At the top, in Adobe PDF Presets, select High Quality
  6. On the General Tab make sure All pages are selected. Export as Pages (not spreads). 
  7. On the Marks and Bleeds tab, select Use Document Bleed Settings. Don’t worry about anything else. Most printers, unless you’re doing single sheets, don’t need crop marks for books. 
  8. Click Export

You’re book is ready to send to your printer. 

As far as your cover, I suggest hiring a designer if you can afford one. It’s relatively easy to find one that works with your budget using the internet. Covers can range between $50-$500 depending on the designer you choose. (I typically do them for $150). A professionally designed cover can add value to your book, make you seem more professional as a writer, and draw attention to your work. But, if you can’t afford a cover designer, most printers have templates you can use. I know KDP has a few. Just remember to stay inside the margins and input the correct total page count into the template generator. 

I know this post contains a lot of information, but if all else fails, feel free to use the template I’ve made available for you to download. I’ve also included this post as a GoogleDoc for your printing convenience. 

There are also a lot of YouTube videos available to help you more. 

For more author design and marketing tidbits, follow my blog or subscribe to my newsletter. If you’re looking for a designer or typesetter to help with your next project, check out Copper Owl Press

Kaytalin Platt is an author and graphic designer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Raised in Deer Park, Alabama, a rural town north of Mobile, Platt enjoyed spending time in the surrounding woods and working on the family farm. Growing up on a farm gave Platt a peculiar set of skills, which she enjoys using on the random chance their needed–especially if it involves welding.

Platt’s mother contributed heavily to her passion for writing. They would listen to instrumental music, film scores mostly, and she challenged Platt to write down what she imagined happening as the music played. Platt’s love of music and writing only grew, and she began work on her first full-length novel during college. She worked on the novel, writing and rewriting, for nearly a decade before submitting it for publication in 2016. The Living God, Platt’s debut novel, was published in May 2019.

Currently, Platt is working on the followup to The Living God, and experimenting with stories on Wattpad, a reading platform home to over 80 million users.

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post Writing Help Writing Life

An Idea is Born: Guest Post by Author John Jamison

Good news! I am about to give you permission to sit down, watch movies, and spend time wandering around on the Internet. The best part? You can call the entire time “research.” And I am going to answer the question I am asked more than any other: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s something anyone can do who is willing to spend that time watching movies and web pages.

Yesterday after lunch, I turned on the television and came across the 60’s movie, “Psych-Out”, featuring a very young Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasburg, and Gary Marshall. Gary Marshall? Yeah, that caught my eye, too, so I opened the IMBD page on my iPad and started reading. One paragraph explained how Strasberg and Nicholas had been nervous about some of their scenes and calmed themselves down by discussing Reichian therapy which they had both experienced. Apparently, it was some kind of cosmic, bio-energy thing, but new to me. I opened a new window to the Wikipedia page for Reichian Therapy.

I read that William Reich was a student of Freud, but had then developed theories about a mind-body energy related to sexuality. My highly oversimplified understanding was that Reich believed that our mental and physical health was connected to a ‘cosmic’ energy that Freud called the libido, or sex drive. Repression of our sexual urges led to illness, mental and physical. It sounded like one of those things that would be in a 60’s movie. Reich built on his theory, identified that cosmic energy as something he called ‘orgone’, and created devices called “orgone accumulators” that would help us decrease our sexual tensions and improve our overall health. He also created a form of therapy called “Vegetotherapy”, which I’ll simply say violated the established ‘distance’ between patient and therapist. His work was banned in Germany, and in the U.S. he was eventually determined to be a fake, was thrown out of various groups, had his books and research confiscated, was arrested, and died in prison in 1957.

No, nothing much so far. Interesting stuff, but not the kind of material that great ideas come from. Then, I opened this morning’s New York Times obituaries.

I read that Mary Boyd Higgins died at age 93, after serving for sixty years as the Director of the William Reich Trust, the William Reich Museum, and the Orgone Energy Observatory that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Maine. As I read the obituary, I recognized things from what I had read yesterday, but there was more detail. For example, it explained that the reason Reich’s material had been banned in Germany was that he explained that Fascism and dictatorships were the result of sexual repression and not at all a healthy thing. Nazi Germany did not agree. And I read that, in 1954 in the U.S., after reviewing Reich’s 789 page FBI file, a Federal Judge wrote: “any journal or pamphlet that mentioned orgone “shall be destroyed,” that all orgone accumulators be destroyed, and that all copies of Dr. Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld” from circulation until such references were redacted.”

My neurons began to fire. I found it interesting that Reich was one of the few men I’ve heard of to be banned and have his books burned in both Nazi Germany and the United States. What bothered me the most was that line in the judge’s ruling that said any of Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld from circulation until such references were redacted.” One word? What was so dangerous about one word that might cause two groups who had completely different worldviews to link arms like that? What was it about “orgone” that made it so important that Dr. William Reich be silenced?

And then my mind said, “What if…?”

And that is how ideas are born. What if Reich was right, and the repression of sexual expression and ‘orgone’ does cause people to be less independent and self-actualized and more open to authoritarianism, Fascism, and dictators? What if encouraging sexual repression does help keep people under control, keep them weaker, more compliant, less likely to resist? What if there are groups ‘out there’ who know this secret and have been the drivers behind the cultural battles relating to sexuality and sexual expression? What if our entire medical health care system could be…What if…?

I may never know the answers to those questions, and honestly, I’ll leave that task to others. My goal was to find an idea to explore. My goal was to find a “What if…?”

Some may say that this experience was all a great coincidence, and I was just lucky to have the movie, Wikipedia, and obituary show-up like they did. Yes, it may well have been coincidence. But I am convinced that the more pieces and bits of information I pick-up and store in my mind, the more frequently those little idea-creating coincidences are going to occur.

Now, I need to go see what’s on television.

John Jamison is a life-long believer in the power of stories. First as a pastor, then educator, creator of Centers for Innovation at multiple universities, Director of a national Game and Simulation academic degree program, a consultant for e-learning and brand development, John has used the power of story to bring about serious change and have some fun in the process. John grew-up in a small river-town in Illinois, and describes his childhood as “kind of Tom Sawyer-ish with a blend of Wizard of Oz.” John says, “I grew up in a family of storytellers and liars, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out which was which.”

Mr. Jamison’s Website: https://pops.jamisonbooks.com/

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post Uncategorized

Timing, Reveal, & Appeal: Genre Conventions in Mystery, Suspense, & Thrillers

Today’s guest post comes from Kimberly Hunt, freelance developmental editor with Revision Division.

Let’s set expectations from the start. I am NOT a writer. Through extensive reading, professional training, and my experience as a developmental editor, I’ve learned the essentials of genres. A novel can contain elements from multiple genres but three components distinguish mystery, horror, and suspense.

They are: Timing, Revealed clues,and the Appeal, of the story to the reader’s emotions.

Any novel needs structural elements with tension provided by formidable conflict and character growth, but when you’re ready to pass your manuscript to a beta-reader, knowing your genre will help you know how best to describe it. Use the following key components to quickly identify if you’ve written a mystery, horror, or suspense novel.

Mystery

  • It’s all about the chase. Drop the reader in after the crime and let the story unravel – revealing the why and who at a moderate pace.
  • The hook in the beginning should establish a question that must be answered by the end.
  • Solve the mystery in the end or there is no story. Even if the criminal gets away, you’re expected to solve the crime.
  • Along the way, your style of writing characters and plot should make demands of the reader’s brain to figure out the puzzle. To help them, leave subtle clues so that it all falls into place in the end. 
  • No cheating – waiting until the end to present a tidy wrap up is not satisfying for readers.

Horror

  • It’s all about fear.
  • Often, a horror story includes themes of bad people or actions (or both) and usually leans toward the morbid.
  • Shocking plot twists are great, but it should be believable. In fact, that’s what makes it so scary.
  • Character motivations are still important even if horror is usually more plot-driven than character-driven. In order to evoke a strong emotional response, the reader must strongly like or hate the character.
  • The sought after emotional response is intense whether it be from fear or shock. Readers should be screaming at the book as they see the evil plot unfold.
  • Many authors embrace disgust head-on without flinching, unafraid to turn your stomach with graphic depiction, but use grossness sparingly as this can be perceived as a lazy trick, much like leaning on coincidence to solve a mystery or fate to wrap up a romance.

Suspense

  • It’s all about tense uncertainty. Suspense involves a main character trying to prevent something from occurring.
  • A reader of suspense novels should feel tightly wound and worried about what may happen.
  • Some authors leverage time limits to increase tension and speed up the pace.
  • If Mystery is about what already happened, and horror is happening now, then suspense is danger about to happen.
  • Similar to Horror, the reader is aware of the danger, perhaps even more aware than the main character.
  • Use your biggest fears against your characters slowly and subtly, leaving a little to the reader’s imagination.

New authors often struggle to categorize their work, but these guidelines should help. A blend of genres is great as strict rules are nonexistent. However, it’s beneficial to know early in the publishing process what your target audience hopes you’re about to deliver. And it’s absolutely mandatory later for marketing effectively when you’re querying or self-publishing.

Kimberly Hunt is a freelance developmental editor with Revision Division, specializing in fiction for self-publishing authors. She’s happy to answer questions about writing and editing but beware as she can go on at length about her passions: reading, running, and volunteering.

Please share!
Categories
Author Interview Guest Post Writing Help Writing Life

Interview with Annie Ward: On Writing Psychological Thrillers

Today on Writing Bloc we have author Annie Ward, whose recent release Beautiful Bad has been garnering attention all over the author-sphere!

Welcome, Annie! Your recent release Beautiful Bad was featured on the Indie Next List for March. Congratulations! Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your psychological thriller Beautiful Bad?

I was born and raised just outside Kansas City, Kansas. I relocated to Los Angeles for college with no intention of ever moving back home. I studied at UCLA and The American Film Institute where I received my MFA in Screenwriting. At that point I moved to Europe and stayed there for six years. Eventually when I came back to the States I ended living just down the road from the farm where I grew up and started my own family. That was an unexpected twist!

BEAUTIFUL BAD is a dark, twisty domestic thriller but it’s also a sweeping romance spanning decades and continents. At the heart of the book is a love triangle involving three badly damaged people who share a fatal attraction to disaster as well as a ferocious bond.

“Harrowing…. Evocative descriptions and strong senses of time and place complement the intricate, intelligent plot, which shocks and chills.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

In the tradition of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train comes the psychological thriller everyone is talking about, a twisted novel about a devoted wife, a loving husband, and a chilling crime that will stun even the cleverest readers.

How long have you been a writer, and have you always known that this is where you would end up? 

I would say that I’ve always been a writer but never had a clue where I would end up. I started writing short stories in elementary school and by high school I had moved on to what was probably very bad poetry. Then, while living in Los Angeles, I succumbed to movie fever and switched to screenwriting. I was never able to support myself as a writer until I moved to an inexpensive city in Eastern Europe, so I have a colorful career history including things such as cocktail waitress and PE teacher. If anyone had ever told me that I would one day be the author of a book that had sold to eighteen countries I would have burst out laughing. I never saw any of this coming.

Is there a primary message in Beautiful Bad?

Don’t rush to judgement based on stereotypes or appearances. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Also, trauma untreated is a dangerous disease.

Can you tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?

In the very earliest draft of this book, Maddie was me. I wrote a memoir about living and working in Eastern Europe, having adventures with my best friend and meeting the man I would eventually marry. When I decided to fictionalize the book and throw in some murder, betrayal and a whole lot of lies I had to change all the characters to the point that they only have a small resemblance to the original characters. I did however, end up with a tragic love triangle that basically involved me, my best friend and my husband, so that was awkward.

When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?

In this particular case, because BEAUTIFUL BAD started out as a true story, I knew all the characters at first. When I changed it to fiction, they started to do and say things that surprised me. Horrible things. They took on a life of their own, argued in my head and surprised me with their cruelty and cleverness. Sometimes I felt ashamed of what they had done at night when I pressed save and went to bed.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

I love them all, which is funny given that one reason some people have said that they didn’t like the book because, “There are no likable characters.” To me, the characters are all real. They have tempers, they make mistakes, they use poor judgement, they sleep around and drink too much. But I love them, especially Ian, who came from nothing and spends his life protecting others. He is mercurial and broken by what he has experienced but he’s also brave, loyal, funny and caring.

What is something you think readers generally don’t know about writing psychological thrillers?

I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised by how difficult it was to write about police procedure. I did a lot of research and had lunch with a number of local cops but in the end, if you’ve never been a police officer, it’s probably going to be a bit forced. I belong to the school of “write what you know” and writing about the running of an investigation was unfamiliar territory.

Are there any writing craft books (either genre-specific or not) that have helped you with the process?

I’ve got the HOWDUNIT FORENSIC GUIDE FOR WRITERS sitting next to me at the moment and the HIOWDUNIT Crime Scene guide has got to be around here somewhere.

Do you find that you have to be in a certain headspace to write your deeply psychological scenes, or are you able to transition between writing and regular life easily?

It’s not that easy for me. I tend to write the most important scenes at night when I’m on my own and I can lose myself. If my kids are around bugging me for snacks I will just stick to moving the plot forward in basic ways. Then I go back and add the “magic” later when I can focus.

Do any of your characters have interesting mannerisms or pet peeves?

Maddie’s neighbor Wayne Randall is a quirky fellow. He traveled to England once many years ago and is a fan of Monty Python movies. Whenever he sees Maddie, whether her British husband is with her or not, he insists on speaking to her in a bad British accent. I would say this habit of his also counts as a pet peeve. Maddie finds it pretty annoying.

Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

My dreams are honestly so bizarre that anything inspired by them would be science fiction and I don’t think I would be very good at it. Maybe even worse than poetry. I do have an idea for a book that involves a woman and her son who share the ability to lucid dream, so there’s always a chance for the future.

What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?

First drafts. I’ve never written a great first draft. Usually things start falling together in the second draft but that moment when you are still at the beginning and you’re convinced that your material is terrible can be pretty depressing.

Here is my favorite question that I ask everyone: If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

JK Rowling, Otessa Moshfegh, Patricia Highsmith, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Lamott, Ali Land, Gail Honeyman, John Boyne, Donna Tartt and Brett Easton Ellis. Just off the top of my head. That would be a wild book club party.

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?  

I just do everything I’m asked to do. I try to never turn down an appearance, a question and answer, a blog request, conference, dinner etc. I know what it’s like to have no marketing behind me on a book. This time around, if they want me to put on a funny hat and ride a pony I will be doing just that. As far as my own marketing, I try to stay caught up on social media and respond to people who are interested in me and the book.

What do you do to get book reviews?

For the American publication day of BEAUTIFUL BAD I reached out to a small group of influential people I’ve met over the years and asked them if they could support me by writing reviews and sharing posts. Luckily, I have a good relationship with the karma police and my friends were ready to spread the word.

Most of our readers are indie authors navigating the world of publishing. Do you have any other advice for them?

The best thing that ever happened to me was finding an agent who was also an experienced editor. She guided me through seven months of rewrites BEFORE we ever tried to sell the book to a publisher. It’s easy to jump the gun and go out with a book that’s not ready. My advice is to sit tight and make sure your work is your best work. Sometimes you only get one chance to impress.

When can readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?

I’m fifty thousand words into a new thriller, but I’m pretty sure about thirty thousand of those words are malarkey. I have a deadline looming so I’m forging ahead, but BEAUTIFUL BAD took me nearly a decade from conception to publication. As I mentioned in the last question, I don’t want to put out anything that I feel isn’t ready. Hopefully, with the help of my agent and editor, my new book will be ready in a year and a half.

It’s the story of a Natalie, a young woman who happily puts her mundane life on temporary hold to look after her older brother who has been in a serious mountain biking accident. She moves to a remote, affluent Colorado town. It’s the type of place she’d like to fit in. She joins a gym, hikes, explores, visits houses for sale and tries to make friends. When the daughter of a wealthy local goes missing and Natalie was the last to see her, the town turns against her. She realizes that she is a disposable outsider and she can trust no one, not even her own brother.

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links? 

I have a website that links to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It also has an option to email me. The website is Annie-Ward.com

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post Writing Help Writing Life

Free Writing Workshop Available on the Hubbub Blog

The Kickstarts! Writing Workshop is for: Reluctant writers, stumped writers, writers who think they are blocked, bored writers, writers just looking for some extra practice, even writers who don’t know they are writers…yet. Kickstarts! is for any kind of writer who wants to get some words on paper! And it’s FREE! Bounce on over to Brittney Cassity’s website and visit The Hubbub Blog every Thursday from Jan. 24th through May 23rd for a new, fun writing adventure!

Get started here: Kickstarts! (Week 1)

Brittney Cassity is an Author and Illustrator based out of West Virginia. Be sure to check out her website in the breaks during your workshop: https://brittneycassity.weebly.com/

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post Writing Life

Guest Post: The Art of Balanced Description

We know it’s possible to have too little description in our writing but what about having too much? Today we have a guest post from Pagan Malcolm on finding the perfect balance.

Description is one of the first things you learn about when learning to write stories in school.

My teachers always encouraged us to use adjectives and to avoid the word ‘said’—resulting in stories from my peers that probably could have rivalled dictionaries.

It appears that good description is something a lot of people struggle to write and teach—and funnily enough, description always seemed to be my downfall when it came to querying.

The very first time I queried my novel, Lanterns In The Sky, I got a knockback from the publisher (Lycaon Press). They liked the story, and they were interested—but they wanted to see if I could add more description first.

So I went ahead and did that, and they accepted the manuscript.

This was back in 2014—I was 17 years old, still in high school, and it must have been maybe the 8th or 9th draft of that book I’d been working on.

I quickly discovered, going through this process, how much of a difference adding more description made to my story. There were missing actions that needed describing, settings that needed more support, and other various areas that needed tightening up.

After the company went bankrupt, three more years passed, and about 10 more drafts went by before I got my second point of interest from The Parliament House. However, this time, they wanted less description.

So I went back to my story, toned a lot of it down—and they accepted the manuscript.

Once again, these changes made a massive difference to the (now) 18th draft of the story. There were parts where I’d repeated actions unnecessarily, times where the descriptions dragged on almost poetically, and parts where the description killed my most tense scenes.

So, this raises the question: what should writers aim for when it comes to descriptions?

I’ve outlined a couple of points from what I’ve learned from my experiences to help aspiring authors with this tricky aspect of writing:

  1. Make sure everything is explained clearly

For example, if a character is approaching, note their footsteps, or have another character detail how they enter the room.

The worst thing in a novel is choppy, jumpy scenes where characters appear out of nowhere, and the only indicator that they’ve joined the scene is their sudden dialogue.

Also, pro-tip: Just because you can see everything happening, doesn’t mean the reader can.

  1. When it comes to describing settings, choose the most important aspects for that scene

For example, if you want to describe a busy, bustling city—detail the skyscrapers, the hordes of people, and the beeping cars to help the reader visualise it. You don’t need much more for them to get the picture, and you don’t need to describe everything down to a tee.

  1. Action scenes need to be quick and fast paced

Think punches, scrapes, and describe what they’re feeling instead of detailing orchestrated fight sequences that last for pages and pages. You’re not teaching a karate class, you’re telling a story.

  1. As for emotional scenes, dig deep into your character

Get clear on character expressions, body language, and the sound of their cracked voice, their pounding heart, their heavy, dragging footsteps, etc.

Think about how you can describe what’s happening both externally and internally, in a way the reader can relate to.

  1. Spend some time practising your writing and creating a distinct, writing voice

For example, my writing style is very melodic and poetic at times, but can also be light-hearted and fun, or dark and mysterious. Each of these aspects of my writing usually result in different descriptions—they can be metaphorical, or they can be to the point.

When it comes to tightening everything up, you want to be clear on the kind of voice you want to put out there so that you know how to go about editing your descriptions.

I knew I wanted to keep the poetic side of my writing, so I was very careful in how I cut down and changed prose. Even if it didn’t read quite as poetic, the point still got across—and it read a lot smoother after some editing.

Overall, balanced description is just about knowing when to expand on, and when to condense your prose. Key indicators to help you figure this out will be the type of scene, the people and actions involved, and whether you’re deep into the scene already or just ‘setting the scene’, so to speak.

What do you struggle with most when it comes to writing description? Drop a comment below and let us know!

 

 

Pagan is the YA fiction author of The Ryan Rupert Series and The Starlight Chronicles Series. She is also a writing coach & business strategist for Paperback Kingdom.

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post

Guest post: writing a killer fight scene

Writing a crisp, adrenaline-pumping fight scene can be a challenge. Today we have a guest post from Kelsey Rae Barthel to examine how she approaches hers. Here’s Kelsey…

One of the most frequent compliments I have received about my first published book, Beyond the Code, is that readers love my fight scenes. My process for constructing these scenes is truly a love-hate relationship for me but I can’t argue with the results.

Writing the fight scene

Here are some tips on how you can make your own exciting and interesting action scenes:

  • Plan every step: The keystone to a good action sequence in writing, as well as film, is careful choreography. It is imperative when writing a stimulating fight scene that you plan out literally every step, every move, and every attack. It all needs to be plotted out ahead of time before you write a word. This method will insure that you don’t lose your audience in a confusing mess of movements that don’t mesh. Like a puzzle, it all has to fit together flawlessly to make the big picture.
  • Make it interesting: Another big part of weaving a pumping fight scene that will leap out at your readings is to constantly change up the moves. You can’t be satisfied with simple tit for tat throw down. You have to concentrate on making every attack inventive and new. Every battle is different and your warriors have to react and adapt to the changes. Keep it dynamite and always remember that there is always more than one way to accomplish your goal.
  • But also, keep it grounded: Despite my previous talking point about keeping things interesting, it’s equally as important to keep your action grounded in reality to an extent. Now, keep in mind, I don’t mean you have to only write action that would happen in real life. Fantastic powers are a norm in genres like fantasy or science fiction. What I’m talking about is keeping the action grounded in what could happen in your world. If you go too far out of the realm of possibility, you may be breaking your readers’ suspension of disbelief. You always want your readers to believe that what’s happening is possible in the context of your story.
  • Last but not least, don’t lose track of your characters: Above all else, remember your characters and what they can do. If one character that is involved in the fight has an ability to end it easily, you can’t conveniently forget about it in favour of a more drawn out brawl. Your readers won’t forget those details and will not hesitate to ask why you didn’t remember. You can either place a piece of dialog explaining why the character couldn’t end things easily or take them out altogether. Also, don’t lose track of the other characters in the scene. Realistically, if two people are fighting, their friends or comrades won’t just stand by while it happens. You can’t trap your side characters in a realm of inaction.

I hope you were able to draw some wisdom from my experience and I hope other writers out there decide to join me in writing action packed throw downs.

 

Kelsey Rae Barthel

Photo of Kelsey Rae BarthelToday’s guest post has been submitted by Kelsey Rae Barthel, author of Beyond the Code. Kelsey Rae Barthel grew up in the quiet town of Hay Lakes in Alberta, a sleepy place of only 500 people. Living in such a calm setting gave her a lot of spare time to imagine grand adventures of magic and danger, inspired by the comic books and anime she enjoyed. Upon graduating high school, Kelsey moved to Edmonton and eventually began working in the business of airline cargo, but she never stopped imagining those adventures. Beyond the Code is her first novel.

 

 

Beyond the Code

Check out Kelsey’s novel Beyond the Code.

Cover for Beyond the CodeTo the common world, Aurora Falon is merely the pampered daughter of a rich and influential family. But to the secret world of The Order, she is Luna, the powerful and formidable warrior knight, under the rule of her master, Cole Iver. Together, they strive to bring down Damon Lexus, a wicked master who uses her knights in cowardly and dishonourable ways for her own selfish desires. But when they obtain evidence that may bring Damon Lexus under the judgement of The Order’s ruling power, The Hand Council, Damon makes a rash decision and orders the assassination of Cole Iver.

By pure coincidence, Luna catches Damon’s knight in the act but is too late to save her master and kills the assassin in a moment of grief stricken rage. Luna knows the one with her master’s blood on her hands is not the one she killed, she seeks the assassin’s master. But after a failed attempt at revenge, Luna is pulled from the depths of her dark anger and put on a better path by the Hunter who was ordered to kill her. Together, they will work to break away from being mere tools for the powerful and become heroes.

You can find Beyond the Code in the following places:

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post Writing Life

Adapting Books to the Screen (And Vice Versa) by Liz Kerin

“Adapting Books to the Screen (and vice versa)”

by Liz Kerin

“To be honest, I liked the book a lot better.”

Adapting books to the screen is always tricky business.  When we read, we’re given the freedom to imagine something that fits perfectly into our preferred worldview. Violence is as visceral as we want it to be. We might picture our romantic lead with a few personalized characteristics. The world just feels a certain way in our minds. A good author allows their audience imaginative space to do this. But a good screenwriter or director needs to make bold, specific visual choices. And sometimes, those choices come at the expense of something you might have really loved about that book. It’s always a balancing act.

A few months ago, I was asked to put together a pitch to adapt a series of YA novels in which the main character’s inner monologue really drove the narrative. Because of this, there was a distinct “voice” in the book, and a lot of the practical information about our world and how people felt about each other was conveyed this way. It was all very internal. My job would ultimately be to make that internal external—to make the story cinematic. And it turns out that can be really, really tough sometimes.

Sometimes you just can’t capture the essence, the voice of a good book. Hollywood loves mining IP from literally anywhere, and if a book is popular for any reason, someone is likely to snatch up the rights. Producers and studios don’t always consider the challenges of the adaptation.

camera and coffee in front of a screenplay

It’s a strategic dollars-and-cents move: fans of the book will come out to see the movie. The property has a built-in audience. The writer (often writers plural) and director of the project often participate in a “bakeoff” of sorts. The person with the most cinematic, exciting take on the material gets the job. And, by the way, that’s not the “most exciting take on the material” as determined by fans of the book. It might not even be a decision the author has any say in. Tweet about your dream cast/director all you want. This decision is being made by whoever bought the rights to your favorite book.

Okay so, you’re an author. Cool, so am I! Nice to meet you. If you’re anything like me, you want your book to one day become a beloved movie that defies the odds and is received just as warmly as your book was. If that’s an end-goal for you, keep your future screenwriter and director in mind as you pen your manuscript. Make their job easier. Make sure your book feels cinematic.

“What does that even mean, though? How do you make something feel cinematic?” Well, simply put, it’s externalizing the internal. Novels, particularly literary fiction for adults, are often deeply introspective and character driven. They run the risk of meandering and feel more like a rhapsody on a theme than a hard-and-fast narrative. But take, for example, something like “Gone Girl,” a novel for adults whose suspenseful twists and turns translated perfectly to the screen. Gillian Flynn is a master at this, and she’s got a successful dual-career as both an author and a screenwriter.

Now, I’m not the authority on what goes on inside Gillian Flynn’s head when she writes, but I’d imagine it has to be similar to my own process. If I can’t write a book that also feels like a movie, I can’t write it at all. I consider setting—is this a world we’ll want to live in, onscreen? I think about my characters and how they move about this world—are they active and motivated at all times? Do they have a key objective, and is that objective something we can get invested in? Where’s the drama?

Three-act structure is king in screenwriting, and I also apply it to my book writing. The most successful book-to-screen adaptations I’ve seen are successful because the book and the screenplay had the same structure, the same DNA. It just makes sense.

“Well, what about when screenwriters go and change everything about a book that I liked! What gives?” This one is tough. We change things for all sorts of reasons, but you can usually trace it back to this whole question of what makes a story cinematic. Here’s an example: I was hired to adapt a book (and this project is still in progress, by the way, so you’ll forgive me for not naming it). The producers purchased the rights to this book not because the book itself was insanely popular, but because they saw potential in a very specific demographic.

When I first met to pitch, I was told I had free range to alter anything I wanted in the adaptation. The buyers weren’t satisfied with the story as it stood, and once I read it I agreed with a lot of their misgivings. It felt “soft,” which is a Hollywood way of saying the stakes were too low. I knew we had to up the ante and the tension. Our main character (who was super intriguing and cool!) had to face some really serious obstacles. It had to feel dramatic and dangerous. You know—cinematic.

I’m not sure how this project will be received once it’s produced, but I have faith that fans of the book will feel like we did right by our main character. We gave her an engaging world to inhabit with serious, emotionally complex challenges. Fingers crossed.

clockwork gears on screenplay

As for my book, I’m hoping I’ve managed to follow my own rules. My forthcoming novel “The Phantom Forest” was actually written as a screenplay first, when I was in my early 20s, new to LA, and knew nothing about anything. I saw it as a darkly whimsical animated film, like Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” Upon completing a first draft, however, I knew it needed to be a book before it could be a film. IP rules Hollywood, and I had the potential to create my own IP instead of waiting for a producer to dump somebody else’s into my lap.

I’m now writing my second book and planning for “Phantom Forest” sequels, as well as watering my screenwriting garden. For me, it’s been hugely beneficial to play both sides. If you’re an author, try adapting 10 pages of your book to screenplay form and see what sticks. If you’re a screenwriter with a script that just isn’t gaining traction, maybe that script is meant to exist as a book first. Try both! Try them at the same time! Wear all the hats! Worst case scenario, you’ll conduct a fun creative experiment and become a stronger writer.

Photo of Liz Kerin

Liz Kerin is an author and screenwriter. Her debut novel The Phantom Forest will be released by Inkshares in late 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript competition. To pre-order, visit: https://www.inkshares.com/books/the-phantom-forest

She’s also the co-founder of Script Prescriptions, a story consulting service. More info at www.ScriptPrescriptions.com

Twitter: @Liz_Kerin

Please share!
Categories
Author Interview Guest Post Writing Life

Guest Post: A Writer’s Convention Survival Guide, by Christopher Huang

Continuing our series on marketing yourself and your books at conventions, we have a special guest post from author Christopher Huang. In this article Huang summarizes his experiences with mystery and crime conventions, which, as he tells us, can be very different to a popular culture convention. It’s all about knowing the event you are attending and your reasons for being there. I’ll let Chris take it from here…

Please share!
Categories
Guest Post Writing Life

Developing an Antiheroine: Guest Post with Author Laney Wylde

(The following is a guest post by author Laney Wylde about the development of the antiheroine Sawyer in her forthcoming book, Never Touched.)

The Evolution of Sawyer: Creating an Unpredictable Protagonist

“Can we take a break from watching sex crimes?”

I cut my eyes over to my husband as the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit theme song pounds through the signature BUM BUM. Apparently, he finds the show “depressing” and doesn’t “want to watch the same season for the third time” and “the way you talk about Barba doesn’t reassure me that you’re not going to leave me for a Latino.” (E, you have no reason to worry unless I actually meet a real-life, Cuban, Manhattan ADA who wears three-piece suits and evokes a defendant to choke him with his own belt in the middle of court to secure a conviction.)

What I haven’t yet been able to convince my husband of is the fact that SVU quenches my thirst for justice. That’s what those “especially heinous” crimes deserve and often get from New York’s finest…and Barba.

NUP_180007_0980

In my favorite episode of SVU, Barba finds a loophole in the New York State law which gives the victim he’s fighting for tons more justice than most he represents.

And, boy, is that woman entitled to every ounce.

In the last scene of this SVU episode, said survivor is actually smiling and hopeful. And, as most episodes of SVU are, this was based on a true story. So, I Googled it and found a New York Times article about the two real-life victims Barba couldn’t get justice for.

If only their stories ended with smiles.

In the article, these women describe what each day is like as a survivor, the severe limitations their assailants shackled them with despite their talent, intelligence, and effort, and how no amount of justice the courts can give them will make any of it go away.

None of it will ever go away.

For a lot of us, trauma’s that etching an event carved under our skin. We’re all familiar with it to some degree. We watch the nightmares and we wake up. We take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, peel off the shirt clinging to our sweaty backs. We remind ourselves that it’s over. We fear it’ll happen again, but, for now, it’s over. We try to fall back to sleep.

These girls wake up, take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, see the rest of the world watching their nightmares. Years later. On repeat. With relish.

Now, I must confess that these resilient women were not initially on my mind when I sketched Sawyer. One of my friends still entreats me to title it after its initial three-word premise:

Stripper Math Genius.

Yes. I actually thought, “Hey, what if a stripper was good at math?” (to which my husband replied, “Is this your secret life?”).

But, after reading that NYT article and researching all I could, I took a terrifying step and scribbled a kind of trauma into Sawyer’s past that I had no experience with, no right to write about, praying that I’d tread carefully enough that those anonymous women in that article could read Sawyer and not want to punch me in the teeth.

I know, horribly presumptuous.

Let me be clear, I don’t know those women, but I know Sawyer. I know because I got everything about her wrong for weeks. But then she got her voice, and, holy balls, was it loud. So loud that I had to tear up the entire storyline I had spent hundreds of hours writing for her and start from page one. Once I did that, I learned just what she sounds like.

“My soul is crooked and dark, depraved and destined for hell.”

Ah, that’s my Sawyer.

Turns out, she is witty and socially inept, bookish and sexy, badass and scared shitless, and…

…didn’t love the guy I had destined for her.

Fotolia_181473783_Subscription_Monthly_XL.jpg

Yeah, that was a tough one for me to wrap my heart around. Never Touched was supposed to be about Sawyer and Guy A. Even when I was onto my fourth or fifth working title, Sawyer still ended up with Guy A. I kept working and reworking and re-imagining the final chapter and realized I had it all wrong.

I had her all wrong.

I was trying to construct her story when in reality, all I could do was write what happened. I couldn’t dictate the choices she made, just record the results of them. And she wouldn’t choose Guy A.

Enter Guy B.

Guy B was already there, sure, but he was supposed to be a transient figure. He walked in, left his mark on her, and exited stage right. But Sawyer wouldn’t have any of that. She fell stupid in love with him. And, much like love in real life, it screwed up everything.

But that’s also when I realized that Sawyer’s story isn’t a love story, though there’s one (or two) in it. Hers is a quest for security, a safety she knows doesn’t exist for people like her, and until I understood that, I wouldn’t get why she did all the logic-defying things she itched to do. Or resorted to doing.

So I stopped judging her. I stopped trying to fix her. Instead, I stood in awe of her. Then I gave space on the page for her thoughts, no matter how ugly.

And I’m going to ask you to do the same.

Because maybe you also have nightmares. Maybe you ache, too. Maybe your thoughts darken when you realize the justice you never got, never will get.

And, I’m betting you didn’t get Barba to plead your case either.

 

Laney Wylde’s Bio:

I’m Laney. unnamed (1)

Boy-mom, doctor’s wife, Christ-follower, mathematician, squishy powerlifter, lover of 30 Rock.

Most recently, writer.

I hope you’ll enjoy my debut, Never Touched, out November 12, and available for preorder!

 

You can visit Laney’s blog by clicking here.

Please share!