Wednesday, May 23, 2018

My Book Series Bible ~ Hints, Helps and Musts!!

A series bible?  Yep, if you're writing a series, then you need this. Seriously. 

When I mentioned the need to have one at a recent writer’s meeting, there were a lot of nods indicating agreement. But in another, unscientific, survey, I found that although the writers I’d polled knew it was needed (sadly, including me) they hadn’t started one, in fact, most didn’t know where to begin. It felt like a daunting task.

My aim today is to help you start.

I currently have 4 series and a new cozy mystery series about to begin, and I’m making a stand-alone book into a series!! So that will be 6. And yet, I hadn’t started on any of my bibles. I told myself umpteen times that I needed to but failed to do so. Sound familiar?
Well, now I had to get cracking, as my latest WIP begins at a house you’ve met before, with characters you’d grown to love, and the timeline was nearly simultaneous with the beginning of Believe In Me This Christmas Morn

I knew if blew details, my readers wouldn’t forgive me. Nor did I want to repeat names. In seven books I have more than 100 names. Some names are important, some walk-on parts. 😊 But still, I need to know.

So long story short, I’d begun learning how to use excel to plot out my new Jenna Hart Jewelry Mystery series, as well as creating a spreadsheet for the business end of my writing, sales, and listing links to nearly everything that is needed. Blogs, publishers, HTML links, etc. (A huge task, but oh-so-easy to find my info now.)

So I dug in and created an Excel spreadsheet for my bible. My writing friend Amanda Cabot creates a table in Word instead (she kindly sent along a sample, see below), and uses it as a hard copy, adding mostly by hand, but eventually entering the data into the computer and reprinting and then adding as necessary.  You’ll find a method that works for you, BUT the key is to start. 
Since I procrastinated doing this as I was writing the books, I now have to reread each of them for my information which is very time-consuming.  And believe me, you think you’ll remember all these details, but I can pretty much guarantee you won’t. Sorry.

As I began to create the columns for my sheet, I realized I needed more information than simply their name, hair/eye color, and age. I needed kitchen details, house, garage, office, favorite stores, music, phrases, friends, the old boyfriend, favorite foods, drinks...

And I needed to know which book they appeared in. If they were in more than one book, I highlighted the title they were introduced in.

Currently, my column headers are; Character Name, Book, Profession, Town/State Born, Town/State Now, Age in Book, Physical Traits, Misc. Info, House, Office. (Not all shown.)

Here's a tip, sometimes I simply add a page number in the proper column to show me where I can find the best specific information on a character and since the book is highlighted I know which one to look in. 

After I listed everything I could find during my reread, I realized that not only did I need the main sheet, but one for each book because the main sheet had already become a bit cumbersome to scroll through (and this was only after ONE book.)

I had to learn how to copy and easily move the data from the main sheet to each individual book's worksheet.  I found this tutorial on YouTube and it works well (our needed info starts at about 44 seconds in.)

One super thing about the main sheet is that I can select and copy the column of names, paste that into a Word document and sort it alphabetically.  This way I won’t repeat a name unless I want to. 😊

I soon realized that having so many rows and columns made it hard to see where I needed to add info as I scrolled up/down/sideways, so found a great tutorial on freezing the header and the first row so it moves with you, called freezing panes. Here is the crux of the info;

If you want to freeze both rows and columns, you need to freeze them at the same time.

To lock more than one row or column, or to lock both rows and columns at the same time, choose the View tab, and then click Freeze Panes. You will want your cursor to be below the row(s) you want to freeze and to the right of any column(s) you want to freeze.

I warn you that my spreadsheet is still a work in progress, and as I work, I'm thinking that mostly I’ll be working on my individual book sheets, with character names and main info copy and pasted into the main sheet. But I'm uncertain yet, and the nice thing about Excel is that it's easy to add columns and rows, so I can be uncertain yet still make it work as I change my mind. 

If you have any suggestions on how to make this spreadsheet better or tell me what you do that works, I’m all ears, so comment below.  Creating this document or spreadsheet may be a bit of work to start, but in the long run, it’ll be invaluable as a source document.

And remember, save, save, save, and BACKUP your data religiously.

If you want a blank Excel workbook but formatted with headers to start your bible, let me know in the comments below along with an email address and I’ll send you one. 

Hope this helps.

Warm Regards, 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mental Can Openers & Writer's Hash ~ Let's Give That Smelly Rose Another Name

Welcome back, Brad Leach...err, or maybe....

“A rose by any other name...” is a line oft quoted from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  While Juliet was a Capulet, a name deemed hateful by Romeo Montague’s family, Romeo found her enchanting.  Why, he reasons, should a name matter so much?  That’s a question many authors ask today.  

Pen names – the assumed appellation of our key-stroke commandos, present, and past.  Many famous authors have them.  Voltaire was actually Francois-Marie Arouet. George Eliot was actually Mary Ann Evans.  Lewis Carroll was known to his mother more properly as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Authors sometimes have more than one.  Joanne Rowling not only used her initials J.K. when she wrote Harry Potter (fearing Joanne would discourage boys), she’s also published under Robert Galbraith, Newt Scamander & Kennilworthy Whisp.  Benjamin Franklin?  Think Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Anthony Afterwit and Silence Dogood; Dogood even featured in the movie, National Treasure. Samuel Langhorn Clemmens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, used many monikers, including Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.  Clemmens used so many names in fact, historians today aren’t sure we have identified all his works.

So why use a literary sobriquet?  After all, don’t we want everyone to associate our written works with who we are?  Isn’t it simpler to avoid false names?  Shouldn’t we stand behind what we write – even if it’s way behind? 

There are several reasons to use a pen name.  Security concerns, and marketing top the list.  When John le Carre wrote the Spy Who Came in Out of the Cold, he was actually working for MI-6.  It wouldn’t do to have his real name, David John Moore Cornwell, splashed about.  One writer, whom I know personally, had her house broken into on the assumption that all writers are fabulously rich.  It was too easy to track down an address with a real name. 

Others may need to avoid association with materials unacceptable to their culture, such as Salmon Rushdie.  Many Jewish European writers during the 1920's, 30's and 40's used pen names to protect themselves and family members. And for some, they simply might not wish to embarrass family, such as P.L. Travers, aka Helen Goff, who wrote Mary Poppins based on her own father’s harsh practices.

More often, the use of a nom de plume, as the French say, comes down to marketing.  Readers come to associate a name with a certain reading experience.  Lester del Rey, aka Leonard Knapp, is associated with Science Fiction.  He even started the Del Rey imprint, under Ballantine books.  Del Rey publishes Science Fiction.  So if Lester were to write a romance set in Amish Pennsylvania, readers who buy it, based on his name, would be greatly disappointed.  And romance readers who’ve been around a bit would hardly look up Lester for an Amish romantic love-tussle.  A possible answer, had Lester wished to write romance?  Become “Marietta Greenplows” and watch interest jump. 

Name association is not the only reason.  Association with divisive issues can also be helped with a pen name.  If you’re a spokesperson making statements regarding gay rights, abortion alternatives or some political candidate, why choose to alienate a large segment of the public?  It’s not a case of being ashamed of what you write or what stand you take on social issues, it’s simply economics - separate names lessens the loss of audience?

Of course, another reason is a name that just doesn’t work either on the shelf placement an author might receive or a name that doesn’t fit the genre.  Frederick Schiller Faust sounds like some gothic mystery writer or even a German philosopher.  But change that name to Max Brand, and western cowboys spring to life.  Anne Rice, whose real name is Howard Allen Frances O’Brien, might have felt such an Irish name wouldn’t help her Vampire mystic.  Pearl Grey sounds like a tea, but change it to Zane Grey and it smacks of sage and saddles.  Who wants advice from Pauline Phillips?  But change it to Abigail Van Buren – well, of course, a Boston sophisticate would know what is proper to do or say in any situation!

My reason for a pen name?  Romanticism.  To be someone a little larger than ordinary life.  It’s hard to imagine an audience getting excited over some fantasy written by a leech – horror maybe. But Roulf Burrell and his magic candles?  Ask yourself, who doesn’t want to see Lemony Snicket rather than Daniel Handler or Dr. Suess instead of Theodore Geisel?  Seigfried Q. Hornblatt crouching below a balcony does not inspire.  But change the name to Romeo Montague and now that rose sweetens.🌹

~Brad, now known as Roulf