Writing A Standalone

**Warning, this blog contains swearing, humour… and some strong opinions. Proceed with caution.**

“I actually forgot how to write a standalone…”

…I said to my husband the other day.

One of the reasons I decided to write a standalone this time round is that my own tastes are changing and I find myself more and more frustrated with long-running series. I find that sequels sometimes take forever to come out, or when they do, the characters don’t sound the same… or maybe it was so long ago since that other book in the series, you find yourself having to reread again and again so you can keep the flow going and stay connected to the characters. I also find that with series comes pressure for the author and often, the first book in a trilogy will be really strong and then books that follow don’t measure up. Maybe that’s just a sign that once a series is established, an author becomes too comfortable in their writing and after that, writes exactly what they want instead of perpetuating what they set out in the beginning? Or maybe, time constraints are involved… and the first book was evolved more organically, before everyone developed an opinion of their own.

A lot of writers I work with don’t write series because they want to, but because they think they have to. Many writers in the Indie world, especially, are writing series with the thought, “I can give this one away for free, then people might read the next ones…” Hey, we’ve all been there. I’ve got the t-shirt. Someone even recently said to me, “People will only take a chance on an Indie author if it’s free.”

When I said that to my husband (I forgot how to write a singular book), I really meant it. I forgot how to write a standalone. As of today, right now i.e. this moment in time, my forthcoming novel Tainted Lovers is the only standalone novel of mine to date. When I wrote Unbind, it was sooooo meant to be a standalone. However, during the writing of it, I’d written loads of material from Cai’s POV for my own benefit, so me – the author – was inside his head and better able to represent him. However, low and behold readers read Unbind and wanted more from him. There were questions left over. While my editor’s opinion was that sometimes it’s better to leave some things unsaid, the readers voted with their feet. WE WANT MORE!

So then, I wrote Unfurl which is probably the second best book I’ve ever written because I really felt like me and Cai were on the same wavelength and I went hell for leather on the editing. By midway through Unfurl, I knew in my heart that Kayla also had a story to tell – so a trilogy was forming – and I didn’t want Unfurl to be the shitty middle book full of sex and filler and crappy cliché to get to the last and final chapter, which gives you all the flash/bang/wallop.

Beyond Angel Avenue was something I wrote out of love. I’d missed Jules and Warrick and felt like enough time had lapsed to tell what happened next. I.e. they’ve changed (like I’d changed) and it wouldn’t be the same book, it’d be a book to stand alone but a sequel still.

I think a lot of authors these days feel under pressure to write series, from a marketing point of view, because a series is an investment for readers to get stuck into. However, through series, are we short selling ourselves? Stretching ourselves thin? When in actual fact, a standalone has the ability to pack a whole lot of punch in one, swift round? A former agent of mine said series attract publishers/agents because it basically means more pounds and pence.

If you think about Game of Thrones, which everyone is in uproar about because they take so bloody long to write, Mr Martin’s books are only soooo absorbing because he takes time to make them that good. Whereas, many other authors are given three months between instalments to write their books. Is that short changing their talent, or are we able to write more than we think we are? I am starting to believe that the world in which we live expects… and probably the reason why 50 Shades did so well was that all of the instalments were out at the same time and nobody had to wait in between for them. (Or did Amazon spot a marketing opportunity and set their algorithms to explode those books…. hmmm… *scratches chin*… I think Amazon saw a way to earn some money.) I say love what you love, enjoy it, and if you do, great. However, the hype told everyone they had to have those books and so everyone went to Asda and got 3 for 2 and most of the Vol. twos and threes languish somewhere (I did a poll, so I’m not lying about this) and most people I spoke to read the first and then forgot about the other two. I hasten to add Mr Martin only intended GoT to be three books long, but that damn wheel of fortune bloody well said no, you will write seven damn books (and now the TV show is ahead of the books… what does that tell you about supply and demand??? Are we just a load of needy gits…? Oh yeah.)

I mean… look at Great Gatsby at only 50K and yet it’s been done numerous times on film etc. Jane Eyre, voted the greatest novel of all time over and over, rides well above 200K. Today, a marketing firm would no doubt slice Charlotte’s book in two and… you know, spoil the fucking thing.

Word count is so stupid. A story will be told, in how ever many words it needs to be told.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!!!!!!

I am but a liar. Now… I put on my editor’s hat for the latter portion of this blog… with a list of editing mishaps I wanna scream at myself and others sometimes:

  • Less is more.
  • Not everyone wants to know your shoe size, or what colour underwear you’re wearing. Cut that shit out.
  • Hey, you totally used that plot twist to dramatise what was otherwise a simply boring, boring novel…!
  • Set targets; they bloody work! A deadline gets shit done.
  • Set a word count and make sure you get that whole story told within that bastard.

When I said I forgot how to write a standalone, I am really not kidding. The writer in me wanted to venture down all sorts of avenues and here’s where things went wrong along the way (as my thought processes swam beyond the buoy):

  • “I could make this two, 90,000-word books and put a massive cliffhanger slap bang in the middle to make people want more… (my editor says, okay, maybe that could work) …everyone would be talking about it, OMG, what’s gonna happen next.” Then… Reasonable Me says it will take me 4-6 months to write the sequel and I will get to the end wondering why I did this. People will have forgotten they care. They are loathe to re-read the first and… it’ll not be as strong as book one.
  • I could make this a trilogy!!! Yes! Another trilogy. I will throw in loads of really, really well-written sex cos I am da balls at that. Oh yes. (editor says noh, in a David Walliams-type Little Britain voice.)
  • Editor in me goes: Write that hard shit, write it, damn you woman. Writer in me goes: No, don’t wanna.
  • How do I arc a story? Fuck. I forgot… better learn that again (I arc’ed once before, in Beneath the Veil/The Radical and that shit was good).
  • B–b–b–b–but if I write a series, I can use tail ends to write loadsa great twisty-turning shit… in the sequels, YAY!! (editor rolls his eyes, stamps on my stupid notions, and shouts WRITE A SINGLE FUCKING BOOK!). p.s. love my editor.

One of my favourite chicklit/romance reads ever is Me Before You (film out this year) and I loved it because it had a moral, it had incredibly beautiful, poignant, life-changing moments, and it was real. I damn well refuse to read the sequel because I know it will spoil my love of the first book.

Notwithstanding all my opinions above, which are just my opinions, not fact… here’s what I found from finally writing a true, standalone novel.

  • I changed the title at least twelve times.
  • I changed the character names at least the same amount of times.
  • I rewrote certain sections dozens and dozens of times.
  • I gave care to each chapter, each section, each line, each paragraph, each fucking full stop. I gave so much care to this book because it is THE BOOK and the only book, right now, that I feel shows the breadth and entirety of my writing skill.
  • With a standalone, you know you only have one chance to get that shit write/right.
  • It’s going to blow your wigs off, knock your socks flying, kill your heart, then rebuild it.
  • I focussed on words. On manipulating. On crafting. I cut out the twisty shit and crafted words. Crafted and crafted and crafted.
  • I wrote stuff I didn’t want to write, but had to.
  • I pulled up my big girl pants and rocked that shit. Left out explicit sex (still hot though) in favour of meaningful encounters.

p.s. I wrote Tainted Lovers on a diet of gin and lots more cussing than what’s in this little here blog post.

Oh yeah… and do you love my cover??

full paperback cover

Out soon…

With love, Sarah xxx

 

The Beauty of Science Fiction

I recently did a guest post on another website but thought I would post this here too… it pretty much says everything I am currently going through… 😉 and it’s all good!

The Beauty of Science Fiction…

As an author of erotica and contemporary romance, plus science-fiction, I have been on all sides of the writing spectrum. Each genre has its own challenges. In fact, genre is something widely discussed amongst the Indie writing community purely because many Indies have books that don’t necessarily fall into one category and therefore have been passed over numerous times by agents and/or publishers.

When I say science-fiction, in my mind I think of Quantum Leap, Star Wars, Star Trek or The Fly (this film terrified me when I first saw it). I think of Stephen King and The Stand, another story that left a lasting impact. I think of Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and even Demolition Man (don’t beat me with a stick). There are so many other films/books/comics I love because I love science-fiction. In fact, there are so many books/films that bob under the sci-fi radar because it is a genre that is all-encompassing. Did you think The Adjustment Bureau was necessarily sci-fi? Did you think Never Let Me Go was? The Time Traveller’s Wife?  Sci-fi does not leave those who prefer more romantic stories out in the cold.

My husband and I met through a mutual love of the arts. We were sent together to a Press night to review a play for a university magazine and it turned into a story… nine years on we have a daughter and have been married almost six years. When I met him, I had no idea I was marrying into science-fiction madness. His mother is a mad Trekkie. I am talking super mad! She can name you the title of any Star Trek episode just from the first line. She dragged my husband to Star Trek conventions when he was little and he has been indoctrinated in all the various offshoots of Trek… and beyond. My own love of sci-fi was something burning deep but not on the surface. I am just a lover of great stories… aren’t we all? It was only when I started writing sci-fi that I realised what a great source I had in my husband for ideas and opinions. Thus he became my editor.

When I started writing my first novel, all I saw was a theory. I didn’t classify it as one genre or another. I knew there would be a love story at the heart but I also knew the book would be set in the future and in some respects, this already placed it in the sci-fi bracket. Yet I also had a yearning for romance and felt I had to weave this in. I needed that too. So when I was asked to write this post, I got to thinking what differentiates straight erotica, straight romance, straight sci-fi. Setting perhaps, language maybe, yet you still have to throw a lot of imagination into whatever you try to tackle, whichever genre that may be.

Erotica was something I wanted to try my hand at because it was a challenge. It is not necessarily where my heart lies. Don’t get me wrong, I love erotic stories. I didn’t love Story of O at first. In fact I hated it. However, I grew to love it and now class it as one of my favourite books. Every reading always produces another insight or a different reaction. When I finished writing a pair of erotic novels last year, I was pretty pleased with the result. Some said the books were much more than erotica. And they were. I tackled some subjects that I felt were important to explore. In fact, there are tons and tons of erotic writers out there that have written much better stuff than will ever see the bottom of a jumble sale. That is because erotica, when done right, allows us to explore emotional issues no other genre allows so easily. Erotica can be so much more than just fantasy. It can be a vehicle of exploration for how intimacy and sexual honesty between two people can be such a force of good.

So after writing two erotic novels I wrote a contemporary romance titled Angel Avenue. It was such a joy to write, so easy in fact. I wrote about exactly what I knew. It is set in my own environs and it features characters I am familiar with, or versions of real people I know and respect and love. If any writer ever tells you they are not inspired by life, they are lying. Whether directly or indirectly, we all are. We are sometimes subliminally, subconsciously, inspired by real life whether we like it or not. Anyway, it was this switch from erotica to contemporary romance that made me realise a few things. It made me realise sometimes we forget the small stuff, which can make a heck of a difference in books. It makes us connect with characters so much more.

As for the sci-fi, that very first novel I began during maternity leave almost three years ago turned into a trilogy. It spun wildly out of control and I never thought I would get any success at all from it. In fact my first novel was my first creative outing. I had never even attempted a short story before then! I just had this dream and I followed it. I explored ideas and theories until they were wrung out. The point of this article is that I have recently gone back to these books and re-written/re-edited and re-imagined them. When I went back to the drawing board after writing three romance novels, I realised just what a task I had accomplished in writing a trilogy of sci-fi books. Because as you can imagine, sci-fi sometimes requires a whole new setting to be explained and described. It asks that we IMAGINE like we never imagine with any other genre. In science-fiction anything is possible. Nothing is off the table. As a romance writer first and foremost, that was difficult for me to master at first. I constantly thought of things in terms of would this actually happen ?? When in actual fact, I should have been telling myself, this is science-fiction and anything can bloody happen! My point is, science-fiction can comfortably feature action, thriller, romance, drama, adventure and fantasy, all within a completely different world. It can comment on universal political, social, moral and ethical issues. The challenge is immense but it is one I love and relish. Nothing excites or enthrals me as much. The possibilities are endless. It is exploring the people we are, through the things we could be capable of. And that is the beauty of science-fiction.