Lauren Roy: Five Things I Learned Writing Night Owls


Night Owls bookstore is the one spot on campus open late enough to help out even the most practiced slacker. The employees’ penchant for fighting the evil creatures of the night is just a perk…

Valerie McTeague’s business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away as possible from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren. She’s experienced that life, and the price she paid was far too high for her to ever want to return.

Elly Garrett hasn’t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side—until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on.

When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safekeeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors…

[Personal note from Chuck: I met Lauren a couple years ago at WorldCon, and I remember her telling me a little about the book and her journey as a writer and it’s incredibly exciting now to actually see this book exist in the world. Lauren rocks. Check out the book! Monster hunters working in a bookstore? I mean, you know you want that.]

* * *

LOSERS CAN WIN.

I lose NaNoWriMo. A lot.

I first participated in 2003 or 2004, and while I’ve become a more disciplined writer over the years, never have I “won” NaNo. I made it about halfway once, but 50,000 words in a month, with a full-time day job and other non-writing commitments is, for me, not feasible. The year Night Owls was my NaNo project, I got partway through, fell behind, tried catching up, realized I was spiralling into useless, infodumpy backstory, and put it back down.

For several years.

Finally, my friend and writing partner Hillary suggested I ought to go back and revisit “that one with the vampire in the bookstore,” and I figured, y’know, maybe it’s time.

The bones of the story were there. The characters had stayed with me. I knew how the first confrontation with the monsters (who would later become the Jackals) would go, what they wanted, and why that was a problem for the heroes. I got to work.

Six months later I had a completed first draft.

Which means: don’t abandon those stories, cats ‘n’ kittens. NaNo has no clause stating you’ll chuck any unfinished projects into the recycle bin come December 1st. “Losing” NaNo — or failing to place in any other writing-related event — does not mean you should give up. Keep writing.

GO WITH YOUR EPHIPHANIES.

My pantser-plotter nature means lots of smaller-scale revelations make themselves clear as I go, but two major ones shook up Night Owls’ plot and structure something fierce.

Around the same time I was wondering so what the hell is this book about, anyway? I was poking at a short story about a girl fleeing from a monster. My short stories have this terrible habit of turning into longer projects, so on one hand I was trying desperately to rein this one in.

On the other, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, the two plots existed in the same world, and the monster ended up at Night Owls because it chased the girl from the short story into town. It didn’t take too much thinky-time for me to say Yes! I am brilliant! and interweave Elly’s story with Val’s. Instead of one POV character I had two. New subplots! New character arcs! Writing is awesome!

The second realization caused much anguish and gnashing of teeth: things needed to happen during the day that Val couldn’t be around for, and Elly wouldn’t be around for. That meant introducing another POV character to bridge those gaps, but I was already a third or more of the way through the book. I spent a couple of days playing should-I-or-shouldn’t-I, because let’s face it, revising is daunting enough without having to rip the stitches out of whole chapters and rewrite them from someone else’s perspective.

Eventually I told myself, as our newest Disney princess advises, to let it go. (To those of you I’ve just earwormed, I’m only sort of sorry.) Drafts are where you try things out, and if they don’t work, you fix them in edits. I jotted notes of what to seed in for Chaz in earlier chapters, marked scenes I could switch from Val’s or Elly’s POV to his, but I refused to lose momentum by going back and rewriting mid-draft.

I won’t lie, it was a ton of work when it came to revising, but finding Chazí voice was easy, and I liked writing for him. In the end, I think it made for a stronger book.

SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO WALK AWAY.

I don’t mean giving in to table-flipping writer-rage, or a flounce and a dramatic sigh accompanied by a wail of Writing is so haaaaard. (I mean, it is, you guys. Writing is haaaaard sometimes and you should shower writers you know in sympathy chocolate or coffee or pictures of adorable kittens to help get us through.)

I’m talking about the times when my brain stops braining: I’ve been staring at a sentence too long, or picking over a plot point, or pondering how to get the characters from point A to point B in a way that makes sense. Then that obnoxious, nasty voice inside starts suggesting you can’t figure this out because the whole thing is terrible. Delete it all. Print it out and burn it. Stop writing forever because you are a complete and utter hack.

Yeah, those times when Imposter Syndrome gets shouty and kicks productivity in the shins.

That’s my signal to get away from the keyboard. I go for a walk. I fold laundry. Anything is fair game, as long as it keeps me occupied but lets my mind cruise along in neutral. This is important: clicking around on Twitter/Tumblr etc, listening to podcasts, catching up on TV shows, sticking my nose in a book, those all require active concentration, and that’s not what I want.

I don’t know why it works, but more often than not it causes those story knots to untangle themselves. Then I put my butt back in the chair and, y’know, write that shit down while the ideas are still fresh.

CHARACTER BIBLES ARE YOUR FRIEND.

I’m still figuring this one out, really. Not the statement itself, but how to organize one in a way that works best for me. Spreadsheet? Document? Three-ring binder? Ctrl-F, a bottle of whiskey, and copious tears?

I don’t know the answer quite yet, but especially when working on a series, it’s useful to have a place to go where you can find out the answers to burning questions like What color are Elly’s eyes? Is Val taller than Chaz or is it the other way around? Who the hell is this guy?

So far I’ve got a spreadsheet for basic physical descriptions and a document for deeper details, but I still do keep the manuscript open and searchable. My copyeditor listed character descriptions as part of the style sheet. (Copyeditors, you guys. I knew they rocked, but that gave me a whole new appreciation right there.)

I’d love to hear about other writers’ systems, if they’re your thing. Hint, hint. /waggles eyebrows at comments.

Point is, the one huge blinking beacon of a lesson I’ve learned for sure about character bibles so far is to have one. Because I like this cast. I want to write a whole lot of books about them, and that means keeping their details straight.

TALKING ABOUT MYSELF IS HAAAARD.

Growing up, I was taught talking about yourself is rude. If the spotlight shines on me, instinct kicks in and I start looking for the fastest way to make the conversation about, well, not-me. So now that author interviews and guest posts and occasional promotional tweets are part of my jobÖ erm. Thatís thirty-something years of habit I have to break.

An odd kind of stage fright comes along with it, too: what if Iím not witty enough? What if my interview answers bore the reader? Did I nail ìcharming and fun,î or did I go straight past it into ìflighty mess?î If the subject is ME ME ME, I will spend far too much time composing that single tweet. Finding my charactersí voices, easy. Finding my own? Eep.

Presumably, itís one of those skills Iíll develop with time. Thatíll start coming more naturally. Maybe by book three Iíll stop taking note of the furniture placement in the room, just in case I need to dive behind the couch and hide. Until then, come find me on twitter and weíll chat about space geekery and games and cat pictures and what books weíre loving, and maybe, every now and then, Iíll mention this neat stuff I wrote.

***

Lauren Roy spends her days selling books to booksellers, and her nights scratching out stories of her own. The Night Owls crew will continue their adventures in early 2015.

Lauren Roy: Website | Twitter

Night Owls: Indiebound | B&N | Amazon | Goodreads


17 responses to “Lauren Roy: Five Things I Learned Writing Night Owls”

  1. I feel you so much on the talking-about-myself thing. Also major revelations – it’s always sooo fun to be sitting at the computer near the end of the first draft stuck between going ‘Yaaaay!’ and ‘Whhhhhy?’ when you suddenly realize this BRILLIANT twist – that will require major rewrites.

  2. I hate talking about myself, but people force me to, so I say as little as possible and then change the subject. Or just not answer them. What you said about systems: I had an old giant binder that I decided to make my Writing Bible for the series I’m working on. In a way, it’s still disorganized, but I’m using a Scrivner free trial to figure it out. I did Nano last year….STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THIS STUFF.
    Oh, and by the way, I’m going to get this book. Once I find money.

    • Scrivener rocks big giant bells. 🙂 I’ve been using it for about a year now, and even though I’ve probably only figured out half the things it can do, it’s made organising my works-in-progress soooo much easier.

  3. Pinterest can be used as a character bible. Maybe. I’m still working this out, But you can post pictures with notes. Actually I haven’t used it for an individual character, but it ‘s been handy for me to gathe “world-building details for a species.

  4. Night Owls does sound pretty dang awesome (great title, too, btw, and digging the cover art). Adding it to my to-read list now!

    Character bibles…such a good idea. I think I need to develop mine/steal this idea immediately. My second novel is in progress and the cast quite a bit larger with more characters getting page time. This sounds like a terrific way of keeping track of the finer details, and certainly much easier than Ctrl+Fing may way through the manuscript for things. And yes, totally right – copyeditors do rock! They bring so much to the table it’s ridiculous.

    Good luck Lauren! Really looking forward to reading this one and seeing how the series develops.

  5. Thank you all so much! It was a lot of fun to write. And I hit the cover lottery jackpot. I keep boggling (still! even though I first saw it last fall!) that those are my characters, brought to life.

    Maure, I cut out a whole subplot in book two. It was some time after I’d outlined and before I’d finished the first draft, but even weeding it out at that earlyish stage had me questioning my life choices. Though, once I’d made the decision, it was kind of freeing.

    My one big recommendation if you’re starting a character bible is, try to have it open as you’re writing that first draft. That way you don’t have to go back and dig through the text weeks or months later hoping to find that one time you mentioned what Joe’s favorite brand of whiskey is. I do this to myself all. the. time.

  6. Scrivener!!! Scrivener has been a total and complete sending from the writing gods for me. Not only does it help certain disorganized writer-humans (*cough* me *cough*) stay organized, but it has built in templates for character sheets and location sheets and you can import pictures that inspire you and and and and…

    Scrivener, dude. Scrivener.

  7. Looks like a cracking read, Lauren! Luvverly-looking cover too. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts – and particularly the NaNoWriMo confession. As someone whose reaction to it is “Ya want whu-huh-HOW many words? In HOW long?” I feel a little better now.

    I’ve made (probably) the nerdiest character sheets for all of my guys and girls (according to a book I read recently, this is a form of outlining – and there was me thinking I was a crack-cocaine-strength pantser by nature. Who knew?) I even have pictures of them, grabbed mostly from Google images and other webby places (I’m sure Patrick Stewart will be *delighted* to discover he’s got a major role in my current w-i-p…) And I use the following categories of info for each character:

    VITAL STATS: Full name and any nicknames, age, height, appearance etc.
    BACKGROUND: little about their history, childhood – particularly any life events that helped shape their personality.
    STRENGTHS: Their good points, natural abilities and any specialist knowledge/experience.
    WEAKNESSES: Personality flaws, insecurities, any physical/mental deficiencies, lack of knowledge/experience.
    RELATIONSHIPS: for every character they interact with, what they think of that character and how that makes them respond to and deal with that character.
    PROBLEMS: Secret fears and phobias, stupid mistakes they keep repeating, self-destructive patterns of behaviour and daft beliefs they cling to – and why they do that/have them.
    GOALS: What they want out of life, what they think will make them happy – what they think they need to do to solve any perceived problems with themselves and their lives. (Which isn’t necessarily the same as what they ACTUALLY need to do!)
    OTHER NOTES: a catch-all for miscellaneous stuff like any strange quirks, habits, likes or dislikes that doesn’t necessarily fit under any of the previous categories.

    Over-the-top? Maybe. Fun? For a geeky-pants like me, hell yeah! And it usually covers everything I need to know about my characters. I’ve heard of other profiling techniques where they suggest listing stuff like characters’ favourite foods, colours and even books and tv programmes – but I don’t see any point in including that sort of stuff unless it comes up in the story. (I may be nerdy, but I aint THAT nerdy. 😉 )

  8. I do indeed use Scrivener, but mostly for the drafts themselves. I like that it lets me break the book up easily into chapter- and scene-sized chunks. I definitely haven’t used all of its bells and whistles, though, so that’s something to nose at for sure.

    Wendy, those are all good things to know and have handy, for sure! I’ve seen the longer ones like you mentioned, too, and felt overwhelmed just reading the lists. I think one of the ones on the NaNo forums was something like 500 questions. I don’t know if I even know the answers to all of those for myself, let alone a cast of characters! *grin*

  9. Great post, Lauren, and I love the sound of the book! Thank you, too, for talking about the difficulty of talking about yourself. I feel exactly the same way and it’s made me feel better to know I’m not alone. For the record, you sound brilliant, so you’ve totally nailed your ‘voice’ 🙂 Good luck with the book and your writing.

  10. Loved reading this post, it was very encouraging. For my more extensive projects, I use a program called “YWriter”. It is free, just Google it and it comes right up. The big thing is that it organizes all your chapters. It also keeps track of your characters and any information about them that you want. 🙂

  11. Looks like a cool story. Adding to my to-read list now.

    If you’re using Scrivener, then definitely try splitting your editor and locking one of them to a view of a “Character Bible” folder. Add one or more documents per character (maybe keep details in one and the deeper info in another?). As you add documents to the Character Bible folder, they will be added to the view of that list. You can rearrange to keep them in alpha order, or float the PoV characters to the top… any way that you find helpful, and all that info will be immediately searchable and right there next to what you are writing or editing.

    If you need any help on the specifics of how to accomplish this kind of thing, you should post questions for help on the Scrivener forums; the people there are nice.

    Alternative methods that I’ve seen work for other writer-shaped people:

    If you use Word, then keep a document where each character’s name is like a section title, and let Word create a clickable table of contents for each of these character sections.

    If you prefer to work with paper and pens, I’d caution against bound notebooks; you want something that lets you rearrange; that usually means ring binders, or if you want to be extra fancy, look at Levenger’s Circa system. Either way, adding in new pages and rearranging them should be easy, so you can keep them in a logical order.

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