Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Mini Blog Tour

My Kickstarter project is up! Yes, I'm a nervous wreck. Just keep writing... just keep writing...

I am guest blogging in a few places to promote the project, and this will be an index of those posts for future reference.

If you are looking for a guest blogger to fill in the gaps this July, email me! My project runs until July 29th and I'll be trying to get the word out until the bitter end. My email is blankenship(dot)louise(at)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Still more Kickstarter stuff

Bookmark design
Fancy bookmarks. People seem to like them. Roni Loren recently asked her readers about promotional swag, and the answers were very interesting. I will be printing up a set of bookmarks to give away to my Kickstarter backers -- this is the current design, but it's probably going to be replaced once I have the cover artwork. Or maybe I'll print two bookmarks. 

I'll admit, I'm the sort of person who uses store receipts and other scraps for bookmarks. Anything with a tassel on it seems to suffer... an unfortunate demise, in this house... glares at cats.

I hope my Kickstarter project will be live by the end of the week. It will run for four weeks. I hope to raise $3,500.

And I will need to promote it! Are you looking for a guest blogger? Somebody to interview? I will gladly do that in exchange for a chance to plug my Kickstarter project while it is running. I can blog about writing, or about Kickstarter projects, or anything about Disciple, Part I that you'd like to know.

Email me: blankenship-dot-louise, at gmail.

And no, blogging this week will not follow the usual schedule.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book trailer -- second draft

Thank you for all the great feedback -- I think it's definitely better now!

Any other problems jump out at you?

I also shot a brief bit to say hello and... well, it's me, what do you want. Nothing is going to keep me from cringing at the sight of it. I'll put it after the trailer and then list the picture and sound effect credits.

Then I need to polish up the story portion of the Kickstarter project, polish up the sample of the story, and we may be ready. The financial arrangements went through.

Urgh. Butterflies. Just keep writing, just keep writing...

Compare to the first draft!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kickstarter banner - first draft

Each Kickstarter project needs a 4:3 banner (I went with 800x600 pixels) for its listing. Here's my first stab at one, featuring the new and improved monster eyes that I will put into the video tomorrow.

Look for the second draft of the video tomorrow.

I've also started a new blog for book-related stuff -- just to reserve the name, for now. I need to redecorate before I start posting there, and that'll have to wait until I get this project up and running.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book trailer -- first draft

(deep breath) Well, that was different.

An introductory movie is pretty much required for Kickstarter projects, so I put together a little (one-minute) trailer for Disciple, Part I. Now I'm glad of the money I spent some years back on a community college class that taught me the basic theory of multi-layer composition and basic animation. Luckily, I got AfterEffects as part of my Adobe Creative Suite package. And I know where to find decent, free, stock photos.

After staring at it for -- seventeen hours? -- I've decided it's over-wrought, corny, and probably too rushed. I'm also the wrong person to crit it right now. So, for your weekend blogging pleasure, a book trailer to crit. I know what I think is a problem -- what do you think?

Now for the part of the video where I sit in front of the camera and try to sound like I know what I'm doing. This should be hilarious...

Compare to the second draft!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The dark night of the soul

The phrase "dark night of the soul" comes from Christian theology and refers to those dark times when you wrestle with doubt and despair. It's in the same vein as "it's darkest just before dawn." Dramatically, it's applied to when the characters are handed a major setback and all seems lost. Often, this is just before the climax of the story.

"Moon and trees 3" by Subtitled. Available free at
It's difficult to pull these off, since genre expectations may have already dictated the ending. If a happy ending is required -- romances, most notoriously -- the crisis is a fake-out. Plain and simple. Everyone knows the couple will overcome whatever personality clash the writer threw out, it's just a question of what contortions they need to go through.

If your genre requires a mass slaughter of the cast -- horror, darker thriller/action stories, etc. -- then the crisis is also something of a fake-out because the question of "Will this work out?" still has its answer. The answer is no.

Since it's easier to point out how things go wrong, some more things to worry about in your plotting:

Bullshit arguments
We've all seen stories where the conflict was based on something that five minutes of real conversation could have cleared up. In a similar vein, sometimes the crisis is invoked by the characters suddenly turning into idiots and misunderstanding, getting angry for poorly defined reasons, or suddenly clamming up.  This makes for a less than convincing "dark night of the soul" because, again, five minutes could clear it up. 

Another situation where this happens is when the writer forgets/overlooks an obvious solution to the supposedly traumatic problem. For example, let me pick on Prometheus for a moment since I've kept mum on my opinions... at one point, Dr. Boyfriend stood there insisting he be set on fire to protect the crew. He could have just taken his helmet off and suffocated in the atmosphere. And then been burned, once dead. But no, we have to go with the horribleness of someone burning to death. 

Legitimate complaints
On the other hand, sometimes the crisis is a result of completely legitimate character conflicts. Then, the problem is getting the relationship back on track without invoking the modern reader's gag reflex.
  • Woman deciding she loves this asshole because... well, if he's an asshole, no excuse will do. 
  • Guy deciding he loves this bitch because... oh, come on, she's a bitch. Again, no excuse will do.
  • The leopard changes his spots at will. This is something that must be earned over the course of the story. It can't be pulled out of a hat. Seriously, did anybody believe that Danny's switcheroo at the end of Grease was going to stick? Or Sandy's, for that matter?
In terms of action/adventure situations, this manifests as the Godzilla vs. Bambi problem. The characters are facing the destruction of the universe with just their moxie and a bent spoon. Either they've been beaten down so hard or the enemy is so well prepared that there's no light at the end of the tunnel. The writer is going to have to:
  • Invoke serendipity, which means the characters didn't earn their success.
  • Call in the cavalry at the last moment, which the characters might have earned but it's still not their win.
  • Make an otherwise competent enemy screw up and ruin himself, which the characters didn't earn.
None of these are good solutions.

Which of these annoys you the most when you see it in a movie or a book?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Vote for a logo!

I announced a few weeks ago that I would self-publish the first part of my fantasy monstrosity before the end of the year. I will be running a project to fund the professional editing, cover art, a small press run of paperbacks, etc.

Now that I've finished Part IV, it's full steam ahead. First order of business: a logo. What do you think?

Number one

Number two

Number three

Thanks for voting!

Results: This page got 20 hits (according to Blogger) out of which 9 people voted. #2 was far and away the winner -- though I'm glad that #1 and #3 did get some support. I do like all three of the logos, for different reasons, and that was why I wanted unbiased opinions.

On to the Kickstarter video!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Did I promise you a rose garden?

As a continuation of my thinking about payoffs for the readers and Chekhov's law: stories are a promise to the reader. As a writer, I've promised my readers entertainment and it's on me to know what I'm doing sufficiently well to deliver on that. (Insert rants about grammar, technique, and literary aspirations here.)

It's worth repeating: know what you're doing. Things you may have promised your readers include...

Big Damn Heroes
Your characters not only save the day, they do it without compromising their honor and it's a solution that will hold for the forseeable future. They deserve a standing ovation and celebratory beverages all around.   

What He Deserved
You've inflicted a particularly awful villain on your characters and your readers want him to come to a particularly awful end. For example, what happened to Burke (the slimy, evil corporate rep) in Aliens.

The Answer
However bad it might be, that question hanging over the story needs an answer. Hazy answers are not answers, they're new questions. Stories built on mystery (Twin Peaks, X-Files, Lost, etc.) tend to dodge these and some stories (The Blair Witch Project, etc.) can get away with dodgy answers. (What is the Blair Witch? Dangerous.) If you have multiple questions, you don't have to answer them all. But if you answer none of them... you've told the reader you can't be trusted. 

OTOH, many mystery-based stories fall apart when they try to answer their questions. But they also cannot continue to not answer them. It's a catch-22. See: Twin Peaks, X-Files, Blair Witch, Lost...

The Showdown
Maybe you have two characters who've been on a collision course throughout the story. Often, it's the protagonist and antagonist, but it can also be two characters on the same team. If it's the latter, this often manifests as a fight for the alpha position in whatever group your characters have formed.

Or, if you're writing a love triangle, it's centered on the romantic lead. (note to self: how about a triangle of one guy and two women?)

Showdowns come in many shapes and sizes, from elaborate combat sequences to purely psychological duels where a few words set off a chain reaction that results in utter defeat. The genre you're working in and the premises you've set up have a huge influence in your reader's expectations, here.

Finally, a Kiss
If you've been teasing your readers with a relationship, you've promised them at least one major step towards romance. Those major steps being: a kiss, a confirmation that the other party is interested, a first sexual encounter, a clear sign of commitment, or you can go all the way to wedding bells and happily-ever-after. Or, if you want to be different, you've promised them a definite, final "no" to the relationship.

I am wrapping up the raw draft of Disciple, Part IV -- not quite a first draft yet -- and this has been weighing on my mind. What have you promised your readers?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Paying off your readers

This always sounds like a no-brainer when it's said, but... the writer has to deliver on his/her promises to the reader. The corollary to this being: if you are telling a story, you have made promises to the reader. You've promised them that your story will be interesting, fun, action-packed, an emotional roller coaster, thought-provoking, hilarious, and exciting. Some of those, at least.

Most importantly, worth the hard-earned money they put down for it.

Because if I wanted unrelenting grimness where nothing ever improves, I could turn on the news and get it for free. Hell, I could get it 24/7 on five different channels. If I wanted to wallow in a directionless mire, I could get up from the computer and... well, okay, never mind.

Characters need to move toward a goal, in the story, and how you go about doing that is a how-to-plot book unto itself. Build-ups, setbacks, side-tracks, they all play into getting to the payoffs. The climaxes. Sometimes, they're the climax of the whole story -- but they don't have to be.

These are a few of the things that can go wrong.

There's no escaping the final confrontation
Character did not take an active role in the climax
Does Frodo let Sam take the ring into the Cracks of Doom to destroy it? Did Ron Weasley kill Voldemort? No. If your character has been working toward doing something, he must do it. If it's a major decision to be made, he must make it. The work must be done and the consequences must be suffered.

When presented with all the evidence, Neo decided to  join the fight against the Matrix. He didn't whine about going back to his cubicle job; he chose to step up to his responsibility as the one who could defeat the Matrix. The big action sequence was, in a way, not the climax of the movie. Once he'd made his decision, we knew how the action sequence would go. (Well, we knew that anyway because it was a Hollywood blockbuster, but that aside...)

This brings up a good point: it may be that your main character's climactic moment is not the big action sequence -- but if your readers are invested in the big action sequence, they're going to be disappointed if there isn't a big action sequence. Which leads me to the next failure.

Writer chickened and skipped the scene
Tolkien didn't write the Ents' attack on Isengard. No, I don't know that he chickened out, exactly, but it's a big missed payoff. Peter Jackson knew that he couldn't get away with skipping it in the movie.

I can't get away with skipping a major scene the readers are invested in, either. It may be tough to write -- the research you might need, the complex fight choreography, the emotions you need to subject yourself too -- but it's a finite thing. It can be tackled like any other scene.

Teased the audience until they stopped caring
The X-Files teased us with hints of a relationship between Mulder and Scully for how many years? Milked it for all it was worth. And when they threw one last near-miss tease at me during the first movie, I finally said "Whatever." Stopped caring. Walked away from the show. 

Teasing is good. Teases keep your readers reading and your watchers watching. Don't think that you can delay the payoff forever, though. They're keeping count of how many times you threw a monkey wrench in the works.

Payoffs aren't a simple thing, admittedly. They often frame major plot points, but they can come in many shapes and sizes. I'm not covering much, in this post. I'm sure I will get back to this. Needless to say, it's been pressing on my mind due to some long-term payoff scenes I had to write in Disciple, Part IV. And I was worrying about the above points.

What are some of your favorite movie or book payoff scenes?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Five things I want to write

Strange Ink's list caught my eye and got me thinking. I know bucket lists are fashionable these days, but I don't have one. I am actually very bad at long-term planning, setting goals, etc. -- they don't interest me much. I always get distracted and wander off in some other direction.

But I'm posting this one publicly, so let's see what happens.

Van Gogh's Trees and Undergrowth, just because it's a fave
1. High fantasy -- from the mentor's point of view
Because I find myself sympathizing with older characters, as I'm getting older, and their trials and tribulations trying to steer a bunch of starry-eyed youngsters toward saving the world. No wonder they die halfway through. It's exhaustion, I'm telling you.

2. Fables from an invented world
That highly stylized voice, the mythic characters... but not our fairy tales. I want to write the stories that the main character of Disciple is going to tell her baby at bedtime. I got a name, the other day: the Red Hunter of the Winter Wood.

3. Aliens
It may sound odd given my love of science fiction, but something in my gut balks at creating aliens. They're so often used as stand-ins for the monster under the bed, for other human beings, or for deities... I want to coax my gut into telling me what it wants in an alien race, and write a story with them.

4. High hermetic magic
This may be a side-effect of playing White Wolf's World of Darkness system back in the day, but for me "hermetic" magic is that massively organized, anal-retentive down to the microscopic detail, putting science to shame with its rigor, brand of magic. My gut has always said that scientific rigor should be applicable to a magic system, and I'd like to give it free rein.

5. Utopia
You know what would be tough to write? Utopia. And I don't mean a crust of utopia maintained by some horrible dystopic mechanism that the characters will fall into. That's been done, and done well. I mean an honest-to-God clean-livin' utopia. What would the conflict be?

That's a long shot, but hey. You won't improve your aim if you only shoot at things in arm's reach.

What's on your to-write list?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Homework addendum

One more.

Debra Doyle, Ph.D.
I was recently reminded that Dr. Doyle offers freelance editorial services at a rate of $1,000 for an 80-100k novel -- which is competitive. Rates for shorter or longer novels are negotiable, and she has a short story/first chapter only rate also.

She needs no vouchsafe from Absolute Write, for me, because she's one of the instructors at the Viable Paradise workshop that I attended in October 2011. I would gladly sell the car and hitchhike to Martha's Vinyard to sit at her feet for another week.

The deadline to apply for VP 2012 is coming up fast -- June 15th -- so if you've been thinking about submitting GO FOR IT. If you don't have anything ready START PREPPING FOR NEXT YEAR.

See the rest of my self-publishing homework here.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Researching freelance editorial services

If you just Google for editorial services, you'll get a lot of hits. Who are these people? Do they have a clue? Will they steal your manuscript?

Even if they list testimonials on their site, you have no idea if those are real. You need the word of someone you trust.

When I went looking for recommendations I could trust, I went to Absolute Write. I've been a member there for a while now, though I don't drop by as often as I should. It's an independent forum with a large membership that ranges from complete beginners to professionals with many years of experience in the industry.

If you're looking for a crit partner, writing advice, experts in nearly any field, or you just want to talk about your favorite genre, it's a great place. 

One of their best services is the Bewares, Recommendations and Background Check forum wherein you can learn about just about any agent, publisher, or freelancer out there. I crawled through that forum vetting each of the companies that came up in Google, as self-imposed homework for publishing myself.

And I'm going to let you steal my homework. These four companies are my short list for editing Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet.

The Editorial Department
Offers manuscript critique, line editing, and publishing services for fiction and non-fiction. I was most interested in the proofing and line editing, at 2 to 6 cents a word, and the manuscript evaluation at 0.8 cents a word. They'll annotate the manuscript for 1.2 cents a word.

Editing For Authors
Offers comprehensive editing at 1.7 cents a word and proofreading at 0.9 cents a word. Publishing services too.

Based in the UK. They also work with writing for children. Their prices convert to a bit lower than the above two, actually, though some of their rates are hourly. And you have to send them a query.

The Book Doctors
This site was well spoken of on Absolute Write, but their list of services is more vague. They offer consultations as time blocks: 15 minutes for $90, 30 for $150, an hour for $250.

Addendum to the short list.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plot surgery on the fly

I was going to send my fantasy characters on a hunt. If you've been following my Pinterest picture board, you've seen the handful of hunting-related photos I've been staring at.

Hunts, in stories, are usually where an accident (which always turns out to not be an accident) happens and somebody dies. I wasn't going to do that, but I got to within a couple scenes of sending them out into the woods and... my gut told me we don't need this, it'll only get in the way.

A clean snick of a sword and the hunt didn't happen. On further reflection, here's how I know my gut is right:

Cutting it has zero impact on the plot
Which was a dead give-away that the scenes were useless. They mainly addressed relationship development. And even then...

Cutting it has almost zero impact on the character arcs
Almost zero. There's one relationship that will need more work, as a result of the cut, but it's not my first-person narrator's relationship so it wasn't the main focus in any case. My narrator can see other parts of that relationship happening in other contexts, though. I'm confident I can get it in someplace. But most importantly...

It would've promised something I wasn't going to deliver on
Unlike real life, fiction is supposed to make sense. And as much as I dislike Chekhov's law (because it makes story-telling predictable) everybody knows it on a gut level and readers expect that topics introduced have a reason to be there.

The topic doesn't have to be tied to the plot, but the more time you spend on it the more expectations get attached to it. Just seeing a gun doesn't have to mean someone will get shot. It could be a piece of character history or world-building. Characters could talk about the gun in order to develop that. I would have no problem with the gun then being put on the mantle and never touched again.

But if a character takes it down and loads it, now you're committed to using it. If someone notices it's missing, it had better turn up in a significant way.

My hunting scene would have spent time on something that would not have later turned up in a significant way. I don't intend to be a sloppy writer, so snick. Gone.

What do you think of Chekhov's law?
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